This is a day-by-day account of the odyssey of Cosmonauts Vladimir Titov and Musa Manarov, the first human beings to spend an entire year in earth orbit aboard the Soviet Mir space station.
Thursday December 10th 1987
The two crews (prime and back up) left Moscow for the Baikonur Cosmodrome with approximately ten days to go to launch. 40-year-old veteran Vladimir Titov (left) who hoped it would be third time lucky on this flight led the prime crew. On his first flight in 1983 he failed to dock to Salyut 7. Later that year, his launch was aborted when the rocket caught fire and he escaped with his life. It is no surprise that he has been characterised as having exclusive powers of self-control and nerves of steel.
The Flight Engineer was 36-year-old ‘rookie” Musa Manarov (left) from Azerbaijan, (the first non-Slavic Soviet in space). He had previously worked at Moscow Mission Control.
The third member of the crew was 46-year-old Anatoli Levchenko from the Ukraine also on his first space flight. He was a top test pilot and would only be staying in space for one week returning to conduct tests for the upcoming Soviet shuttle .The back-up crew consisted of Alexander Volkov, Alexander Kaleri and Alexander Shohukin.
Saturday December 19th 1987
At dawn in Baikonur the rocket was rolled out on to the launch pad and final intensive preparations for Monday’s launch (due at 11:18 GMT) were in full swing.
Sunday December 20th 1987
Today the crew was officially chosen. Meanwhile, Yuri Romanenko, already in space, said that he was looking forward to meeting the new crew. His crewmate, Alexander Alexandrov, said that he wished the newcomers a fine stay on the “warm, well-lit house in orbit”.
Monday December 21st 1987
There was extensive build-up to today’s launch of Soyuz TM 4. Soviet radio began live reports from a snow—covered Baikonur on the morning of December 21st, following closely the suiting-up of The cosmonauts and their traditional drive by bus from their crew quarters to the launch pad. The Cosmodrome was shrouded in fog but this would not prevent a take-off on time.
Reflecting the confidence of the Soviet space programme, Kerin Kerimov said before the launch “the hardware is quite reliable….that applies to the booster rocket that we use”. To emphasis that this would be a long flight Yladimir Shatalov said that there would be extensive space studies for peaceful purposes over many months.
The external service of Radio Moscow began live coverage of the actual launch 3 minutes prior to blast-off which came precisely on time at 11:18 GMT. Forty-five seconds into the flight, Vladimir Titov reported that everything was normal on board. Fifteen seconds later, the first television pictures from inside the spacecraft showing the cosmonaut together with a small wooden “matryoshka’ (Russian doll) hanging in the cabin for good luck. The launch phase continued smoothly with Titov calling out at regular intervals to Moscow Mission Control that the flight warn normal. At 11:27 GMT the spacecraft was in orbit; a specialist in Mission Control described the blast-off as “perfect”.
Titov and Manarov were now weightless, a state in which they would remain for a year.
Tuesday December 22nd 1987
Soyuz TM 4 was in a 298 x 260 km orbit with a period of 89.9 minutes and an inclination of 51.6°. Although it took only 9 minutes to get into orbit, it would take Titov, Manarov and Levchenko two full days to reach Mir. According to Cosmonaut Vladimir Aksyonov, it would be possible to dock to Mir at once or within 24 hours but the preferred procedure of two days would be more economical.
Aboard Soyuz TM4 things were going so well that ‘Led Zeppelin’ could be heard on the downlink. Mission Control, on waking up the crew after their first night in space, asked them how they had slept. Titov replied that all was well on board and that he had slept soundly. Manarov complained that he did not get enough sleep, spending the night in the Orbital Module. He went on to say that he had had “only 5 hours of sleep” and admitted that amount of time was not sufficient for a healthy person. Mission Control sympathised and hoped that things would improve once the crew had settled down aboard Mir.