Soviets Back on Earth After Record Year in Space

Times Staff Writer

Two Soviet cosmonauts returned to Earth on Wednesday after a year in orbit in the longest space flight yet undertaken, part of the Soviet Union’s preparations for manned missions to Mars and elsewhere in the solar system.

Vladimir Titov and Musa Manarov landed safely in their Soyuz TM-6 space capsule in Kazakhstan at 12:57 p.m. Moscow time on Wednesday (1:57 a.m. PST). They had blasted off at 2:18 p.m. on Dec. 21 last year.

With them was Jean-Loup Chretien, a French cosmonaut, who had joined the orbiting Mir space station almost four weeks ago as part of a joint Franco-Soviet space program.


“Immediate medical checkups showed that the cosmonauts are feeling well,” Radio Moscow reported after they had landed about 110 miles southeast of the city of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan, where the temperature was a frigid 3 degrees, the wind was howling and the skies were unusually thick with clouds.

The three were then flown back to the cosmonauts’ training center at Star City, north of Moscow, where Titov and Manarov will undergo carefully monitored rehabilitation from the effects of prolonged weightlessness.

Their return was delayed by three hours by a malfunction in the Soyuz spacecraft’s computer system caused, according to Soviet space officials, when new programs apparently overloaded the computer’s memory and an older, backup program was then substituted.

“It’s nothing, boys,” Flight Director Valery Ryumin told them after canceling the first landing to give the mission control center time to resolve the problem. “You flew for a year so you can wait another two orbits. Let Jean-Loup take another look at Paris from above.”

The problem was traced, Deputy Flight Director Viktor Blagov said later, to “the faulty interaction of some of the new software with the old package of programs.”

After the cosmonauts switched back to an older program, the Soyuz computers functioned without further problems, Blagov said, adding that the new programs will be reworked.

The new programs, which were to control the spacecraft’s descent, were designed to prevent a repetition of the serious landing problems experienced by a joint Soviet-Afghan flight in September, when two cosmonauts spent an extra day orbiting in their cramped spaceship, running low on food and water, while ground controllers worked out a way to bring them down safely.

On that occasion, an infrared sensor that helps the spaceship orient itself while re-entering the atmosphere failed just as the capsule crossed the dividing line between night-time and daytime. With solar rays hitting it at a 90-degree angle, the sensor oriented the craft toward the sun, rather than Earth, and safety devices quickly shut down the engine. When the angle of the rays changed, permitting the sensor to get a proper fix, the time for firing the engine had passed, and ground controllers eventually deferred the landing for a day to resolve the problem.

The new programs were developed to avoid such problems, Blagov said, but they were “loaded into the computer and tested on the ground, and the possibility of a computing breakdown like the one that happened Wednesday was not foreseen.”

The yearlong mission of Manarov and Titov was intended to gain valuable experience as Soviet cosmonauts plan even longer stays in space, including the establishment of a larger orbiting space station and, around the year 2010 or 2015, a trip to Mars, which would last several years.

Lasting almost 366 days, their flight broke the 326-day endurance record set last year by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Romanenko, who complained of fatigue, listlessness and homesickness when he returned last year. The longest U.S. manned space mission, aboard the old Skylab space station, lasted 84 days in 1973.

Manarov, 37, and Titov, 40, exercised twice a day aboard the Mir space station to keep in shape, according to Soviet space officials. They ran on a treadmill and rode an exercise bicycle. They also wore special spacesuits that forced the blood to concentrate in the lower parts of their bodies, simulating the effects of gravity.

The intention was “not to allow the cosmonauts to become too accustomed to weightlessness,” the flight’s medical director O. D. Anashkin said.

The vigorous exercise limited the calcium loss common on long space flights, officials said, but both men still shrank in size as their leg bones lost calcium. Before returning to Earth, both took additional vitamin supplements to increase their blood circulation.

A specialist in space medicine, Dr. Valery Polyakov, was sent along with Chretien and another Soviet cosmonaut to the Mir space station on Nov. 26 to supervise Manarov’s and Titov’s last month in space and to do extensive medical tests on them while they were still in orbit.

At that point, there were six cosmonauts aboard Mir, the largest number since the station was launched in February, 1986. Polyakov and the other two cosmonauts are scheduled to remain in orbit until April, according to Soviet space officials.

Manarov and Tito spent their year in space conducting extensive astrophysical studies, medical tests and technological experiments, Soviet officials said. They also studied objects in the solar system and beyond as well as the sources of X-ray and ultraviolet radiation. And they took more than 12,000 photographs of the Earth’s surface.