Space Cover #38: Soyuz 4 - Soyuz 5 Turns Into a Hot Time
This week's space cover is a first day cover for the Russian souvenir sheet Sc #3571, honoring the Soyuz 4 and 5 cosmonauts for their rendezvous, docking, and crew exchange. This cover was postmarked in Moscow on January 22, 1969, the day that the souvenir sheet was issued. It was also autographed by the joint crew of (l - r) Vladimir Shatalov, Boris Volynov, Aleksei Yeliseyev, and Yevgeny Khrunov. The cachet is fairly standard for Soviet space stamp first day covers. I am not sure if this is one of the "Kniga" covers or not. Perhaps one of you who are better versed on the Russian covers can chime in and let us know.
So, a little philately talk here before we get to the story of Soyuz 4 - 5. As mentioned, this is a first day cover, which is defined as being postmarked on the day of issue of a new stamp. Most of the previous "Space Cover of the Week" entries have been "event covers", postmarked on the date of a launch, landing, or other significant flight event. Some people erroneously use the term "first day cover" to describe any philatelic cover. It is important for collectors to know the difference between a first day cover and an event cover.
Soyuz 4 lifted off almost 41 years ago, on January 14, 1969, with Shatalov aboard. One day later, the other three cosmonauts lifted off onboard Soyuz 5. On January 16, Soyuz 4 and 5 docked with each other, the first Soviet manned rendezvous and docking. A direct tunnel between the two spacecraft was not available, so Khrunov and Yeliseyev spacewalked their way from Soyuz 5 to Soyuz 4, the first-ever crew transfer in space. Soyuz 4 returned safely to earth the next day, January 17. Soyuz 5 returned to earth on January 18, but its story was a nailbiter.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, it was finally revealed that when Volynov and Soyuz 5 re-entered the earth's atmosphere, the Soyuz Equipment Module (EM) failed to separate from the re-entry capsule. This caused the combined EM and re-entry capsule to re-enter nose first (remember that capsules need to re-enter aft-end-first). The nose of the re-entry capsule did not have sufficient insulation to take the brunt of the re-entry heat. Volynov began to feel the re-entry heat coming through the walls and saw smoke coming into the cabin. He tore out his flight log pages and stuffed them under his clothes, hoping that this would help keep them from totally burning up in what was shaping up to be a fatal disaster. Then one of the propellant tanks in the equipment module blew up from the heat, causing the equipment module to finally release from the capsule. The capsule swung around to the correct re-entry position and all seemed well again! But...
...Volynov and the re-entry capsule were still rolling, causing some of the parachute lines to snarl. Soyuz 5 landed so hard that the impact threw Volynov across the cabin. He broke some teeth but was otherwise well. Crisis averted! But...
...with all of the nose first re-entry, the capsule had landed a long ways from its planned recovery point, and in an area where the temperature was -38 deg C (-40 deg F). It took hours for the rescue team to reach the capsule, not knowing if they would find a frozen body or a live cosmonaut. They found neither. Volynov had left the capsule and walked through the -38 deg temperatures to a hut several kilometers away where he was being showered with hospitality by the occupants!
I think Boris Volynov is my new hero!