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VOSTOK-3 & 4

First group space flight of spaceships Vostok 3 and Vostok 4 with Andrian Nikolaev and Pavel Popovich started with Vostok 3 launch on August 11, 1962, following Vostok 4 next day. The goal of the 3 day flight was to perform rendezvous of two spaceships, teaming of the cosmonauts on various profiles of space flight, understand the effect of the long duration flight on the human body and ability to work in space. Evaluate the cosmonaut selection and training process. Test ship-to-ship and ship-to-Earth communications.

The rendezvous point was reached 180km above the Earth when the spaceships were 6.5km apart keeping visual contact. During this flight the cosmonauts first time ever went unbuckled and weightless for some 3 hours each.  Besides pure scientific program the flight had clear military application – to test the procedures of location and interception of satellites. Due to the total secrecy in USSR around military programs no word appeared in dozens of years.

The most interesting thing about this flight is probably landing controversy. Vostok 3 with Nikolaev was planned to de-orbit on August 14, but its flight was prolonged for another day to make it record breaking 94 hours. Pavel Popovich was eager to keep the 4 day flight as well but due to the humidity and heating issues the decision was not very simple (considering that Nikolaev already established the record).  Suddenly just an orbit away from the planned re-entry point Popovich said “watching the thunderstorm” that had a meaning of severe vomiting in the space-communications slang. Medical decision has been made immediately to bring him back, though he was just watching the real thunderstorm with lightning. Popovich tried to explain and convince but there was no time to revert the decision and he landed on August 15, just several minutes after Nikolaev touchdown, logging 70 hours of flight time.

Some interesting facts about Nikolaev and Popovich:

Nikolaev and Popovich carried on to make another space flight each aboard Soyuz 9 and Soyuz 14, both participated in Lunar program and trained to land on Moon, both served in the armed forces and retired in the rank of generals.

In 1963 Andrian Nikolaev married Valentina Tereshkova (first woman to fly to space aboard Vostok 6). So called “space wedding” was cheered by Nikita Khrushchev and by the way it was the first ever public appearance of Sergey Korolev.   Their marriage lasted 18 years.

In 1969 during unsuccessful assassination attempt on Brezhnev by military officer, Nikolaev was scratched by a bullet. The car that was hit carried four cosmonauts but no Brezhnev.

Pavel Popovich was ethnic Ukrainian, born in the vicinity of Kiev and by many considered as first Ukrainian cosmonaut. This fact is reflected in astrophilately by some dedicated Kiev club covers from 1960s and modern as well.


Another interesting moment – Popovich was christened “space hooligan” by NASA personal. The story came in the heat of Moon-race when USSR sent unmanned Soyuz spaceship to orbit Moon codenamed Zond. In 1969 during one of such flights Popovich sitting in Space Communications center, took the mike and transmitted “closing to the Moon, ready for landing!” The signal went to the spaceship that was actually closing the Moon, reflected from the surface and came back to Earth to be intercepted by NASA. Following decoding this was immediately reported to President Nixon who was very unpleased by “Russians landing on the Moon” and demanded clarifications.

Popovich was an advocate of extraterrestrial life, stated to have witnessed the UFO. He was a chairman of Russian UFO association.

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