Valeri Bykovsky 1

A Soviet Cosmonaut

by Gordon R. Hooper FBIS

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Colonel Valeri Fyodorovich Bykovsky


Valeri Bykovsky was born on 2 August 1934, in Pavlovsky Posad, a small suburb of Moscow, the son of a transport worker. At the beginning of World War 2, the family moved to the town of Kuibyshev, and then a month later, to the town of Syzran. Then at the end of 1941, Bykovsky’s father was posted to Teheran, Iran. The whole family moved there and did not return to the Soviet Union until the summer of 1948, When they settled in Moscow.

In 1951, Bykovsky joined the local aeroclub. As a child, he had always wanted to become a sailor, but at the age of 17, suddenly became interested in flying.

In 1952, he entered a primary pilot’s training school, and made his first solo flight in a Yak-18 on 27 September 1952. Upon graduating from the training school, he enrolled at the Kachinskoye Air Force School, from which he graduated in 1955. He then joined the Soviet Air Force and became a jet fighter pilot and parachute instructor.

His father once said of his career “He has always been courageous, and exciting and dangerous professions attracted him.” A report by his commanding officers described him as a “bold, intelligent pilot,” who was “calm in flight, and makes fast decisions in complex situations.”

In 1960, he became one of the first to join the cosmonaut team, and he volunteered to try out the original Soviet space-training devices, including the isolation chamber. This was at a time when no one really knew what effect-prolonged tests in an isolation chamber would have on a man. In recognition of his work, Bykovsky was awarded the Order of the Red Star. He was very popular with his fellow cosmonauts, and they described him as “a jolly good fellow, the general favourite.”

A group of six men was formed for advanced training for the Vostok flights, and when Valentin Varlamov was removed in July 1960 following his swimming accident, he was replaced by Bykovsky, who is reported to have shown remarkable endurance on the centrifuge, tolerating 9 g’s for 25 seconds.

It is believed that his first assignment was as the 2nd back up for Vostok 2, launched on 6 August 1961. He then served as the back up to Andrian Nikolayev, the pilot of Vostok 3 launched on 11 August 1962.

Bykovsky did not belong to the CPSU at the time of his selection, and only applied to join shortly before his first spaceflight, which came as pilot of Vostok 5, launched on 14 June 1963. He learnt during the flight that his application had been accepted.

Lift-off had originally been scheduled for 12 June 1963, and it was only after Bykovsky had taken his place in the Vostok that the State Commission decided to postpone launch for a day due to an increase in solar activity. He was therefore evacuated from the spacecraft, and a further attempt was made the next day. However, the same thing happened again, and the launch was postponed once more.

On 14 June, Bykovsky again entered the Vostok, and in the absence of the solar activity problem, was fully expecting to be launched. But his problems were far from over.

During the early stages of the countdown, the Vostok ejection seat was fitted with safety devices, to prevent accidental firing. Just before the hatch was dosed, a technician was supposed to pull a string, which armed the ejection seat. The string was supposed to separate cleanly, but it snapped, and a length of it remained under the seat.

This was reported to the designer of the seat, and to one of the other Chief Designers, but they chose not to tell Sergei Korolyov.

However, as launch neared, they became increasingly worried that during the ejection, the string might catch on something with potentially dangerous results.

They therefore reported the problem to Korolyov, who ordered the hatch to be opened and the offending string to be removed. It was estimated that the job would take 20 minutes, and Korolyov assembled a group of eight technicians and told them “I will pay 1000 roubles for every minute saved!”

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