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V. N. Branets and E. V. Gaushus

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V. N. Branets and E. V. Gaushus.


People in the Control Loop

The S


-23 spacecraft, which had lifted off on 14 October 1976 with 

a crew comprising Vyacheslav Zudov and Valeriy Rozhdestvenskiy, was on its 

way to rendezvous with the Almaz station (Salyut-5). The program called for 

automatic rendezvous and final approach. Igla’s radar had executed “lock-on,” 

and the process of autonomous approach without human involvement began. 

The crew did not react to the spacecraft’s clearly abnormal oscillations around 

its longitudinal axis and unacceptable propellant consumption. The ground-

based group understood that Igla was behaving abnormally on the channel 

measuring the line-of-sight angular rate. The range made it impossible to switch 

to manual approach, especially since the fluctuation of Igla’s parameters might 

have resulted in erroneous actions on the part of the crew. The group made a 

difficult decision—abandon rendezvous.

Once again I found myself reporting before the ministry collegium about 

an emergency situation associated with the off-nominal behavior of Igla.

“Large fluctuations occurred in the radio channel measuring the line-

of-sight angular rate. The control equipment perceived these fluctuations, 

and the attitude-control engines responded to them. As soon as the process 

was transmitted via telemetry to Earth in the coverage zone, mission control 

issued the command to shut down Igla and terminate the approach mode. The 

accident investigation commission is continuing its work.”

“Why didn’t they decide to make a second approach?” asked one of the 

members of the collegium.

“There was a great deal of temptation to make a second attempt. However, 

the risk of consuming too much propellant remained, and we are required to 

have a guaranteed supply to return to Earth.”

“When you were preparing the vehicle on the ground, why didn’t you pay 

attention to these very fluctuations?” asked Minister Afanasyev.

The question was legitimate, and the response was difficult.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t standardize the range of fluctuations in a single 

document and there was no mention of monitoring this parameter. The testers 

had the official right not to pay them any attention.”

The individual who bore primary responsibility for Igla’s behavior—

Mnatsakanyan—stepped up to the podium. He tried to explain the physical 

nature of the fluctuations but was unable to answer intelligibly why they hadn’t 

observed it earlier and why he, Igla’s chief designer, had not demanded that 

the range of the fluctuations be monitored during ground testing.

“Now you are going to establish the range of permissible fluctuations, and 

before the next launches you are going to personally report to me that you 

guarantee Igla’s reliability,” said the minister.

Here Mnatsakanyan made a mistake. For three years now at his institute 

they had been developing the new, more advanced Kurs (Course) radio system 


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

for measuring relative motion parameters. Kurs was supposed to replace Igla

As usual, routine work on Igla diverted the main contingent of specialists away 

from future developments. Mnatsakanyan was interested in placing further 

limits on bringing in new specialists [for work on Igla].

He declared, “It’s useless to set fluctuation norms for Igla—further use of 

Igla is tantamount to death. We need to introduce Kurs more quickly.” The 

words “tantamount to death” stunned the audience. Glushko was the first to 

regain his senses.

“Sergey Aleksandrovich,” he addressed the minister, “in connection with 

this statement from Igla’s chief designer, I request that you schedule a special 

investigation. We are also in favor of Kurs, but Igla is on the upcoming vehicles. 

Such an irresponsible statement jeopardizes government-approved programs 

for orbital stations.”

It was dangerous to stir up a scandal in the collegium when high-ranking 

officials of the Central Committee, VPK, and Ministry of Defense were present.

“We shall thoroughly examine comrade Mnatsakanyan’s irresponsible 

statement,” declared the minister, “and we will take the appropriate actions.”

Despite pressure “from above” to meet deadlines, the accident investiga-

tion commission produced an exceptionally extensive body of investigative 

work. According to one of the hypotheses put forward by Mnatsakanyan, 

elastic vibrations of the rod on which Igla’s gyrostabilized antenna was 

mounted caused the fluctuations. Eduard Korzhenevskiy, together with 

TsNIImash, set up strength and resonance testing for the rod. They had to 

reject the hypothesis. At that time we simply were unable to find the true 

source of the fluctuations, but we determined that they did not occur in 

the majority of the series-produced hardware sets or they were not strong 

enough to pose a hazard. The commission proposed a procedure for factory 

measurements of the fluctuations in order to sort out instruments that were 

suspicious based on these indices.

Without waiting for the commission’s final report to appear, officials 

at MOM prepared a portentous order, which the collegium approved on 

2 December 1976: “For insufficient ground testing and shoddy procedures for 

measuring the main parameters of equipment during all stages of its manufac-

ture, testing, and operation, which resulted in the failure to fulfill the flight 

program of Soyuz-23, NIITP Director and Chief Designer Mnatsakanyan is 

given a severe reprimand and put on notice that if effective measures are not 

taken to rectify the situation, he will be relieved of his post.”

On 9 December 1976, Mnatsakanyan and I flew out to the firing range 

for the preparation of the latest Soyuz-24 spacecraft. We wanted to try one 

more time in the anechoic chamber to determine the nature of the fluctuations’ 

occurrence. Late that evening Mnatsakanyan stopped by my hotel room to see 


People in the Control Loop

me and showed me a radiogram that urgently summoned him to Moscow. On 

10 December, the chief of the Main Directorate of the ministry recommended 

that he [Mnatsakanyan] submit a “voluntary” resignation notice. Mnatsakanyan 

refused. On 6 January 1977, the minister issued an order: “For failure to ensure 

proper supervision of operations at the institute, comrade A. S. Mnatsakanyan 

is relieved of his post as NIITP director and chief designer.”

Armen Mnatsakanyan took it very hard. He was not permitted to con-

tinue working in another post at his home institute. He transferred to work 

for Andronik Iosifyan, who was not afraid to take in people who had been 

burned in other organizations.


“We accept all ‘insulted and humiliated’ individuals,” said Iosifyan’s deputy 

Sheremetyevskiy, “under the condition that they are have character and talent.”

Working at VNIIEM as laboratory chief, Mnatsakanyan continued to 

“demand his rights.” He was even so bold as to make a request to the Presidium 

of the Twenty-sixth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union 

to appoint a commission to conduct an investigation of his work as NIITP 

director and of the persecution that he had endured in the Ministry of General 

Machine Building.


 On 9 April 1981, an instructor from the general depart-

ment of the Central Committee informed Mnatsakanyan over the telephone 

that “no action had been taken” on his letter.


While we were preparing the latest Soyuz-24 in February 1977, fluctua-

tions were negligible. The crew of Soyuz-24 (launched on 7 February 1977)—

Viktor Gorbatko and Yuriy Glazkov—safely docked with Salyut-5. Gradually 

the fear of fluctuations disappeared.

On 29 September 1977, the latest orbital station, the Salyut-6, was 

inserted into space. On 9 October 1977, Soyuz-25, carrying cosmonauts 

Vladimir Kovalenok and Valeriy Ryumin, was sent up to meet Salyut-6. The 

process of approach with automatic control proceeded normally. According 

to the program, in the final approach zone at a range of 100 meters, the 

crew shut down Igla and switched to manual control. When they were just 

1 meter away from the station, the cosmonauts allowed a 2° deviation of 

the spacecraft’s longitudinal axis relative to the nominal position, which is 

 41.  Other dismissed designers and scientists (such as Yakov Tregub) had also found refuge at 

Iosifyan’s institute, the All-Union Scientific-Research Institute of Electromechanics (VNIIEM).

 42.  The Twenty-sixth Congress of the Communist Part of the Soviet Union was held between 

23 February and 3 March 1981.

 43.  “Instructors” were apparatchiks who worked in the Central Committee as aides to the 

top-level secretaries of the Central Committee.


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

From the author’s archives.

This drawing shows a slightly unusual configuration of the third-generation DOS 

station, one with two docking ports. The first third-generation station was flown 

as Salyut-6, launched in late 1977. This image shows the basic station with one 

Soyuz 7K-T transport ship docked on each end. The spacecraft docked to the right 

is docked to an extra “Modernized Equipment Compartment” that was never used 

in the flight version. The legend below the drawing provides some basic statistics 

on the station. These included crew size (2–4), maximum flight time of the station 

(180 days), average stay of a two-person crew (95–110 days), time of stay of a 

transport ship at the station (5–60 days), and orbital parameters (350 kilometers 

at 51.6° inclination).

completely permissible. Based on simulation results, a deviation of up to 4° 

is permissible. However, at just 1 meter from the station, with all systems 

functioning completely normally, the cosmonauts’ conditioned reflexes of 

ground training let them down. The simulator did not have an exact replica 

of the station’s image in the optical sight’s field of vision when the vehicle’s 

axis deviated by more than 1°. The cosmonauts perceived the image that 

they saw at a range of 1 meter when there was a 2° deviation as the “station’s 

belly”—they reported this to the ground, halted the final approach process, 

backed up from the station, and tried twice to perform docking manually, 

after shutting down Igla. Both docking attempts failed because the cosmo-

nauts had not been able to adequately perceive the real situation. At TsUP 

they quickly realized that the fuel allocated for docking had been entirely 

consumed. There was only enough left for descent. It’s true, they still had 


People in the Control Loop

the “emergency supply” (NZ) in the so-called backup system—but that was 

the last chance in case the main system deorbit burn system failed.


Flight director Yeliseyev made the decision to prepare the vehicle for land-

ing. However, after three final manual approach attempts, the vehicle had not 

received the backout pulse stipulated in the logic of the shut-down automatic 

system. And over the course of three orbits, the Soyuz was dangerously close 

to the station. The threat of collision was quite real. A dynamic backout would 

require the consumption of fuel, reducing the guaranteed supply for return to 

Earth. Ultimately the upper atmosphere slowed down the station after all, and 

the vehicle backed out to a safe distance. The crew safely returned to Earth 

without having fulfilled its main mission.


In 1974, operations began at the Mission Control Center (TsUP) on the 

outskirts of Moscow. It was built for the Apollo-Soyuz project. In the fall of 1977, 

a new station—Salyut-6 (DOS No. 5)—was controlled from the new TsUP. 

Regular long-duration piloted flights began with this station. The flight control 

service was reorganized. Instead of a quasi-guerrilla mob similar to the Cossack 

army, made up of several hundred specialists “from various tribes” who came 

out to the Black Sea, a professional service emerged with an efficient structure 

of responsibility and a division of functions among stations, vehicles, and shifts.

With great enthusiasm, Aleksey Yeliseyev completed the creation of the 

professional flight control service, which Tregub had begun. Yeliseyev deserves 

the credit for developing the efficient structure on the basis of a single authority 

and strict responsibility during flight preparation and throughout the flight. The 

Main Operations Control Group (GOGU), as a temporary interdepartmental 

command organization, gradually evolved into a permanent and professional 

one. Since 1974, GOGU has been run by a flight director who was a cosmo-

naut and representative of TsKBEM (subsequently NPO Energiya). The first 

was Aleksey Yeliseyev. In 1986, Valeriy Ryumin replaced him in this post, and 

from 1988 until the present, Vladimir Solovyev has directed the service.


The first generation of control specialists remembered the control center in 

Yevpatoriya as paradise lost. The Black Sea, kilometers of wild, sandy beaches, 

 44. NZ—Neprikosnovennyy zapas.

 45.  Author’s note: A. S. Yeliseyev provides a detailed description of this event in his book 

Zhizn kaplya v morye [Life Is a Drop in the Sea] (Moscow: Aviatsiya i kosmonavtika, 1998).

 46.  These three men were all veteran civilian cosmonauts from the cosmonaut detachment of 

NPO Energiya. Valeriy Viktorovich Ryumin (1939–) was appointed to become flight director of 

Salyut-7 operations on 1 January 1982. He became a deputy general designer at NPO Energiya on 

5 June 1986 and simultaneously became flight director of Salyut-7 and Mir operations. Vladimir 

Alekseyevich Solovyev (1946–) became flight director of Mir operations in April 1988.


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

the steppe covered with scarlet poppies in the spring, inexpensive dry wine, 

grapes, melons, fruits, the caressing sea breeze—all of this Crimean romanti-

cism has faded into the past.

The powerful computers of the new TsUP in suburban Moscow processed 

telemetry virtually in real time during a communication session and delivered 

it in an intelligible form to the specialists’ screens. On his own screen, the shift 

flight director could call up any parameter and any information having to do 

with navigational and ballistic flight support or the status of an on-board system.

The new mission control center was built in response to a special resolu-

tion of the Central Committee and USSR Council of Ministers. The state did 

not scrimp on the construction and outfitting of the facilities, which by the 

creators’ design was supposed to surpass similar American centers in all aspects.

Ustinov personally supervised the construction of the new TsUP. The NIPs 

in Yevpatoriya and Simferopol were under the dominion of the Ministry of 

Defense. Originally, they intended to make TsUP in Podlipki an independent 

organization of the ministry, but eventually they put the director of TsNIImash 

in charge of it. Afanasyev, Tyulin, and Mozzhorin devoted exclusive attention 

to the creation of TsUP. We had grown accustomed to the rather shabby service 

facilities at the firing ranges and at the Ministry of Defense’s control centers. 

The palatial splendor of the new TsUP, in particular the part that had been built 

especially for the Apollo-Soyuz project, astonished us because it was so different.

The marble steps covered with Kremlin-style carpet runners, colorful 

stained-glass windows; a mosaic wall bearing the likenesses of Tsiolkovskiy, 

Korolev, and Gagarin; numerous offices with upholstered furniture, televi-

sions, and an abundance of telephones; an amphitheater with visitors’ seating; 

a separate hall for the State Commission; the Blue Hall for meetings and press 

conferences; offices for the chief designer and flight director; lounges for the 

top brass; a separate grand entrance; a buffet bar for foreigners; maximum-

security guards allowing admission according to a roster—at first all of this 

bore heavily on the psyches of the control specialists, who were accustomed 

to freewheeling Yevpatoriya.

The “Indian Shrine” was the term used to refer to that part of TsUP 

designed to impact the psyche of American guests.

“We didn’t use as much marble as they did in the Taj Mahal, but in terms 

of the amount of plastic and aluminum oxidized to look like copper and gold, 

we surpassed it by far,” boasted Mozzhorin.

It seemed that we were now armed, equipped, and organized so that we 

would be able to easily overcome any off-nominal situations. But a human 

being was still a human being. In the new spacecraft and station control loop 

built using state-of-the-art science, the human being, as one of the links in 

this loop, retained to right to make mistakes.


People in the Control Loop

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the flight control service, 

A Brief Course on the History of the Flight Control Service was published. This 

document shows that the directors of the service had not lost their sense of 

humor, which is so essential to a modern human being.


 The Brief Course 

says that before each regular expedition, public Party-Komsomol meetings 

were supposed to be held. Without these meetings it was considered gener-

ally dangerous to begin any serious business whatsoever. Vladimir Ivanovich 

Volkov, the Party Committee Secretary at the complex, giving instructions to 

prepare for such a meeting, said, “We will hold the usual Party-Komsomol 

prayer service asking that victory be bestowed on us….”

At these meetings the chiefs of all the groups solemnly promised to 

make every effort and not dishonor the control service. For example, usually 

when Arkadiy Sudachenko finished his speech he loudly pronounced, “The 

analysis group will fulfill its assignment!” and quietly added, “If there are no 

off-nominal situations.”

The new magnificent TsUP 

didn’t save us from off-nominal 

situations. On 19 April 1982, 

the Salyut-7 orbital station (DOS 

No. 5-2) went into space. Seven 

expeditions visited it until 1985. 

Seven piloted vehicles approached 

and docked with Salyut-7, and 10 

Progress cargo transport vehicles did 

so in purely automatic mode.


Analyzing the causes of the off-

nominal situations, we realized that 

an on-board computer could save us 

a lot of headaches. The simplest on-

board computer could shut down 

From the author’s archives.

The Salyut-7 was launched in 

1982 and hosted seven long-term 

expeditions between 1982 and 1985. 

 47. The title of the publication (Kratkiy kurs istorii sluzhby upravleniya poletami) was a 

play on the infamous A Brief Course on the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union 

(Bolsheviks) published at the height of Stalinism in 1939.

 48.  The Progress spacecraft (7K-TG) was a cargo variant derived from the original ferry ver-

sion of the Soyuz (7K-T). A total of 13 Progress vehicles visited Salyut-7. These were Progress-13 

(1982) through Progress-24 (1985) plus Kosmos-1669 (in 1985).


Rockets and People: The Moon Race

the system when there were manual control errors such as those that Beregovoy 

committed. Propellant would be preserved, and it would be possible to repeat 

the approach in a purely automatic mode.

In the off-nominal situation described above on Soyuz-15, an on-board 

computer could have recognized the target and issued Igla’s commands cor-

responding to the actual range or could have shut down the system and made 

it possible for the ground to decide what further actions to take.

Actually, an on-board computer supplementing an already well-mastered 

“computer-free” control system was inefficient. It was much more tempting to 

develop a fundamentally new system in which the on-board computer was not 

an appendage, but a main link making it possible to solve control problems on 

a qualitatively new basis; to create a system that was considerably more reliable. 

They decided to implement this idea on a modification of the Soyuz vehicle (fac-

tory index 7K-S, drawing number 11F732). The 7K-S transport vehicles, which 

were designed to deliver crews to orbital stations and were intended to replace the 

7K-T (Soyuz), were assigned the index number 7K-ST. During their flight testing, 

which began in 1974, the first five unpiloted vehicles were called Kosmoses. The 

revolutionary leap in technology for controlling these vehicles made it possible to 

produce the strapdown inertial navigation system. The on-board digital computer 

was given the task of mathematically simulating the vehicle’s orientation and 

motion. Position sensors—infrared verticals and Sun trackers—were retained for 

the preliminary “setting” and correction of the mathematical model. The main 

sensitive elements, the data from which underwent numerical integration, were 

digital angular rate sensors and accelerometers.

Branets, Shmyglevskiy, and the young enthusiastic MFTI graduates who 

joined them began developing the idea behind the system in Legostayev’s depart-

ment in 1968. MFTI graduate Mikhail Chertok was among them. The final deci-

sion to install a strapdown system, among other innovations on this modification 

of the Soyuz, wasn’t made until 1972, when we were confident that we could 

series-produce an on-board digital computer. It took six years from the beginning of 

development until the first unpiloted flight of the new computer-controlled vehicle! 

The launch of the first 7K-S No. 1L spacecraft, called Kosmos-670, didn’t take 

place until 6 August 1974. Flight testing of another four unpiloted Kosmoses—

Kosmos-772Kosmos-869Kosmos-1001, and Kosmos-1074—lasted five years!


Finally, on 16 December 1979, 7K-ST No. 6L lifted off. It was referred to 

publicly as Soyuz-T. The unpiloted spacecraft in automatic mode approached 

 49.  The first three (Kosmos-670Kosmos-772, and Kosmos-869) were 7K-S variants. The final 

two (Kosmos-1001 and Kosmos-1074) were 7K-ST variants.


People in the Control Loop

and docked with the Salyut-6 station, executed joint flight for 100 days, and 

safely returned to Earth.

However, the first attempt at automatic docking using the on-board digital 

computer misfired. It wasn’t so much that the computer was capricious, but 

that it “threw a fit” as a result of the disregard that the “ground” showed for its 

character. They had loaded a regular self-check algorithm into the computer’s 

program. It set up the test itself in order to “go to work” being confident that 

it was “spruced up” and ready to go. This test lasted just 5 seconds. TsUP began 

to enter the program assignment for approach right after switching on, during 

these very sacred 5 seconds. The next day, 19 December 1979, they took into 

account the computer’s caprice, and the automatic docking of the unpiloted 

Soyuz T spacecraft with the Salyut-6 station took place without incident.

In May 1980, cosmonaut No. 2, German Titov, as deputy chief of TsUKOS, 

issued a finding that cleared the 7K-ST vehicles for piloted flight.


 The first 

flight-control computer thus received its ticket to space signed by Earth’s second 

cosmonaut, General German Titov.

Finally, on 5 June 1980, 12 years after the beginning of development, 

7K-ST No. 7L (Soyuz T-2) lifted off with cosmonauts Yuriy Malyshev and 

Vladimir Aksenov on board—the first testers of the new spacecraft. For 

reasons unknown, the unpiloted version successfully executed approach 

and docking, while more often than not 

in piloted flight during the final approach 

segment they ended up terminating auto-

matic mode and requiring human inter-

vention. At a range of around 200 meters 

from Salyut-6, the approach-monitoring 

program loaded into the on-board digital 

computer’s memory generated an emer-

gency message and switched off the digital 

control loop. TsUP gave the cosmonauts 

permission for manual control of final 

approach. A ground investigation of what 

From the author’s archives.

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