Prior to the Soviet space missions many incorrect ideas abounded regarding the effects of weightlessness on the human body. This subject is discussed in a detailed article1, excerpts from which are cited below:
K.E. Tsiolkovsky assured that it (weightlessness) promotes health, while other authors even suggested sending old men into orbit in order to prolong their lives. From the very first actual steps into space, weightlessness presented the main surprises. Although the first short-term missions inspired optimism, after the 18-day Soyuz 9 flight in June 1970, it turned out that weightlessness can kill.
The most powerful aspect of zero or micro-gravity on a spacecraft (and only on a spacecraft) is that of hypodynamia, (abnormally diminished strength or power) as a result of an astronaut's inactive lifestyle while in orbit. Physical activity and regular exercise is the only way to fight hypodynamia. But life on a spacecraft is highly constrained. It’s not possible to put a fitness machine onboard such a craft.
Weightlessness and hypodynamia jointly destroy a cosmonauts’ health. They deprive the body of the necessary physical activity. As a result, the cosmonaut's body rapidly becomes weak.
During spacecraft re-entry, due to a sharp deceleration a BLOW of 3-4 g-force strikes an astronaut's weakened body. An even greater g-force (up to 5g) occurs when a parachute is deployed. Rescuers are well aware that even with a successful landing there are times when cosmonauts lose consciousness as a result of high stress, (documentary film3, at 22:41).
A veteran of the Baikonur/Tyuratam cosmodrome N.V. Lebedev (1967-1968) was a member of many recovery teams, working as a meteorologist. After completing his military service up until 1986, due to the nature of his work, he often visited the cosmodrome, so he knows very well how a cosmonaut's recovery was organized during the Soviet era.
Pilots delivered recovery and medical personnel to the landing area. The task of the recovery team was to place the landed capsule into a secure position and to open the hatches. Then doctors took the cosmonauts from the capsule and put them onto stretchers, since they could not move about on their own. Some of them were given injections of toning agents. The cosmonauts were then taken by helicopter from the landing site to site Number 1 and put into the intensive care unit of the local hospital. There experts from the center of space medicine, located in Star City, would be waiting for them. After the cosmonauts’ initial examination, a decision on the urgency of their dispatch to Star City was made. As a rule, this happened approximately three days after the cosmonauts’ landing, but in urgent cases cosmonauts could be sent to Star City almost the same day.
And today it is usually the case that in the procedure of a cosmonaut’s recovery and evacuation not much has changed. The only difference is that the straight stretchers have been replaced with comfortable portable chairs, and nearby a field hospital is speedily deployed.3
In general, by the time of landing the cosmonaut's state of health sharply deteriorates as a result of the process of re-entry and descent. After just five days in the Soyuz 7 craft in 1969, cosmonaut V. Gorbatko could not walk on his own.
The maximum mission duration on a spacecraft is 18 days (1970, Soyuz 9). The Soyuz 9 cosmonauts returned to Earth in a preinfarction state (decreased blood supply to the heart muscle). They could not get up for more than six days. (Thereafter Soviet cosmonauts didn’t fly in any spacecraft for more than eight days).
The maximum duration of the flight on the space station was achieved by the cosmonaut V. Polyakov. It was 23 times longer, 438 days (1995-1996). At the same time, V. Polyakov’s return to Earth and the subsequent period of his rehabilitation passed without any unusual excesses. Flights aboard space stations are much easier to endure, because there is sufficient room to move around, and there are various exercise devices. During the ASTP, the Soviet orbital space station Salyut 4 was in orbit, but the mission plan didn’t include a visit.
Therefore, everything below refers exclusively to missions on spacecraft (from beginning to end).
After a normal landing of Soyuz 19
A. Leonov and V. Kubasov were placed on stretchers
What did the Soyuz 19 cosmonauts look like right after their descent and landing? After all, they had spent six days in orbit on their Soyuz craft. We have two sources of information on this: the first is a photograph taken for the Cosmonaut Training Center (CTC) official report, and the second is three photographs from the official book of 1976.5
Figure 1 shows a confidential photograph taken on July 21, 1975 immediately after the Soyuz 19 landing. The author is I.V. Davydov, head of one of the CTC departments. This photo was published in the book4, 25 years after the event, when many curtains of secrecy had already been lifted.
Figure 1. Confidential photo.4 Original caption: “July 21, 1975 A.Leonov and V.Kubasov land. Photo report by I. Davydov”
Having just landed both A. Leonov and V. Kubasov are on stretchers. In the background are recovery team trucks. Officers observe and provide general guidance. Meanwhile, five medics do their job. One person is seen filming with a camera, but nobody is posing for him. Nobody gives any interviews. There is no time to give interviews.
Proprietary or confidential information always records what actually happens. An individual can be dismissed for distortion of this information. Therefore, there is no reason not to trust the authenticity of the photograph in Figure 1.
The photograph fundamentally contradicts the photos from the official book5. They show a very cheerful A. Leonov and V. Kubasov (Figure 2), who allegedly after barely having left the capsule give interviews to numerous journalists and chalk autographs on the space vehicle. This does not at all correspond to what takes place when cosmonauts return to Earth after prolonged space missions.
Figure 2. A. Leonov and V. Kubasov giving interviews and chalking autographs on the capsule
A detailed analysis of the official Soviet photographs would be very tedious, and would distract the reader from the main narrative. However, analysis reveals that the official photographs were not taken on the day of the Soyuz 19 re-entry, nor at its landing site. The analysis shows that they were taken at the local airfield, but much later, when A. Leonov and V. Kubasov had largely adapted to Earth gravity.
NASA: During re-entry the crew allegedly was nearly fatally poisoned by toxic fumes. Nevertheless, the astronauts quickly and unaided leave the capsule and go to the meeting in their honor.
During the parachute descent of the capsule, the crew of the Apollo-ASTP was allegedly exposed to very toxic fuel fumes that had penetrated the module, coming from the reaction control system.
This is what an active participant in the Soviet part of the Apollo-Soyuz project, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Professor V.S. Syromyatnikov stated in his book6, published in 2003:
On the day of the Apollo landing we did not know that dramatic events had been occurring in its capsule during re-entry and descent. The information reached us later, sparingly, bit by bit. At an altitude of 10 kilometers the crew had to deploy the [drogue] parachutes.
Stafford read the checklist out loud, and Brandt was turning on switches. Either Brandt didn’t hear, or Stafford missed something. The [main] parachutes deployed only at an altitude of 2.5 km (should have been at 4-4.2 km altitude).
Suddenly, toxic fumes from the steering jets (hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide) began to penetrate into the capsule. It is estimated that astronauts got three-quarters of the fatal dose. After splashing down, they opened the hatch. Then fresh air began to flow into the cabin.
After 50 minutes, they appeared on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS New Orleans. After two weeks in the hospital ... they were back in the ranks.
On October 5, 2011, a similar story was published in the Kiev Telegraph7, T-1 by G. Ponomarev. In this story there are some additional relevant details:
Poisonous fumes began to flow into the cabin. None of those watching the landing live broadcast noticed anything alarming. Information only appeared sparingly in the media because the Apollo crew was immediately placed in the Honolulu Army Hospital. US journalists were at a loss, all the deadlines for the astronauts' examinations had passed, they were not let out of the hospital and journalists were not allowed to communicate with them. Particularly confusing was the place of the astronauts’ examination, an ordinary army hospital. Only later the re-entry details became known to the US public.
Let us concentrate on the essence of both accounts:6, 7
1) At an altitude of 10 kilometers the crew had to deploy the parachutes. Stafford read the checklist out loud.
Beginners usually jump with a parachute in tandem with an instructor. Imagine that the tandem instructor (T. Stafford in this role) before the jump says to a student skydiver V. Brandt: I will read the checklist while you hit the toggle switches. We’ll have about a minute. If you do anything wrong, we’ll die hitting the water! Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? We analyse this part of the story, using a 7th grade textbook.
According to8, the drogue Apollo parachutes were released at an altitude of 7.6 km and they reduced the speed from 120 to 60 m/s. Since, according to the record, the parachutes only deployed at an altitude of 2.5 km, the capsule flew the distance of 5 km without reducing its 120 m/s speed in less than a minute.
And in this very same time, one astronaut dictates to another which switches to turn on or off. But surely during several years of training the astronauts learnt by heart how to perform the final standard operation? Let’s read further.
2) Poisonous fumes began to flow into the cabin. It is estimated that the astronauts got three-quarters of the fatal dose. Hydrazine is very toxic. Wikipedia9 states that Hydrazine exposure can cause… nausea/vomiting, shortness of breath, pulmonary edema, headache, dizziness, central nervous system depression, lethargy, temporary blindness, seizures and coma. The second component of the unburned fuel (nitrogen tetroxide) is also very toxic. But we have sufficient information about hydrazine alone.
According to the official program, the Americans remained in zero or micro-gravity for nine days, that is, 1.5 times longer than A. Leonov and V. Kubasov. And they were subjected to more hypodynamia because the Apollo craft was twice as confined per crew member as was the Soyuz.
Figure 3. Apollo fecal bag
In addition, the Soyuz has a toilet, but basic diapers and plastic bags had to be used in the Apollo module. So a real flight on Apollo would mean close contact with the astronauts’ own feces.
The Apollo urine and fecal collection systems were found to be objectionable12. Because urine spills were frequent, the objective of “sanitizing” the process was thwarted. The fecal collection system presented an even more distasteful set of problems. The collection process required a great deal of skill to preclude escape of feces from the collection bag and consequent soiling of the crew, their clothing, or cabin surfaces.12
Furthermore, during re-entry and descent by parachute, the Apollo crew were said to have been poisoned by toxic fumes. What kind of reception awaited these suffering astronauts on the main rescue ship? The provision of stretchers, oxygen masks, and washing their smelly bodies before being taken immediately to the sick bay?
No! Not at all. After 50 minutes they appeared on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS New Orleans. The astronauts’ appearance was surprisingly energetic. Look at the screenshots from the NASA documentary (Figure 4).10 Every three seconds on average (from 7:21 to 7:31), one astronaut after another pops out of the capsule briskly and quite independently prior to the cheerful threesome being welcomed by the greeting audience (7:38).
Figure 4. Fifty minutes after splashdown, the US astronauts energetically jump out of the capsule on board the rescue ship.10
But where are the stretchers and all the medics?
And where are the signs of psychomotor agitation/disturbances (disorders characterized by purposeless motions and restlessness that can be accompanied by emotional distress) – a condition inevitable for all cosmonauts who have returned from multi-day missions?11
And where are the signs of that almost fatal poisoning?
Having arrived on the ship, the crew doesn’t go to the sick bay, but to a meeting held in their honor. Here, each of the astronauts delivers a speech while his colleagues sit side-by-side in casual postures (Figure 5).
Figure 5. Astronauts speak at the welcome meeting held in their honor immediately after arriving on the recovery ship.10
Why two such very different re-entry experiences? (compare Figures 1 and 5) One crew, after spending six days in orbit, land and are placed on stretchers. The other crew, having spent nine days in orbit in unsanitary conditions on a cramped craft and, at the end, having inhaled an almost lethal dose of toxic fumes, go directly to a meeting as if nothing had happened!
The inevitable answer is that A. Leonov and V. Kubasov really had returned to Earth from an actual space mission. That’s why they immediately had to be placed on stretchers. But obviously the American astronauts must have arrived from elsewhere so that they could appear at this important welcome gathering!
Why was the fuel poisoning fable invented?
We can learn more by re-reading the account. After the meeting, the entire crew was "urgently" sent to the army hospital in Honolulu, ostensibly for treatment and post-flight examination. But, surely if the astronauts really needed urgent treatment, they would immediately have been sent to Honolulu, and not directly to a meeting. So then the poisoning story was fabricated, but for what purpose?
Information only appeared sparingly in the media because the Apollo crew was immediately placed in the Honolulu Army Hospital. US journalists were at a loss, all the deadlines for the astronauts' examinations had passed, they were not let out of the hospital, and journalists were not allowed to communicate with them. Particularly confusing was the place of the astronauts’ examination, an ordinary army hospital. Only later the re-entry details became known to the US public ... they were back in the ranks. (Read: they then became available for communication with the press!).
In the opinion of the author the astronauts were sent to the army hospital to isolate them from journalists. Recall that on the USS New Orleans, the astronauts themselves didn’t communicate with either the press or the ship’s crew. The meeting was a place for speeches, not for personal conversations. Then, immediately after the meeting, the astronauts were sent to Honolulu.
With its cast-iron discipline and strict access control the army hospital reliably protected astronauts from all unwanted contacts for a full two weeks. Meanwhile, NASA, through the very same journalists, would promote the ending of the official story of the "joint" mission. In two weeks there would be almost nothing to ask the astronauts. And there would be no pressing questions that might have caught out the astronauts at that welcome meeting.
Aulis Publishers, January, 2019
English translation from the Russian by BigPhil
Internet links verified January 10, 2018
- A.I.Popov, Lively and energetic astronauts returning from space
- N.V.Lebedev, Rocketeer’s memoirs
- TV Channel Russia-1 Documentary, Cosmos Homecoming
- I.V.Davydov, Triumph and tragedy of Soviet cosmonautics, In the eyes of a test pilot
The photo is in this chapter
- Kiev Telegraph October 5, 2011 (inactive link)
- E.I.Popov. Re-Entry Vehicles M, Znanie, 1985, 64p.
- Wikipedia, Hydrazine health effects
- V.I. Lebedev, A Person in Extreme Conditions, M, 1989, Chapter XIII. Returning to normal conditions. 1. Acute mental exit reactions. 2. Readaptation.
- Apollo Waste Management System
English translation references:
T-1. "Brand Takes Blame For Apollo Gas Leak", Florence, AL – Times Daily newspaper, Aug 10, 1975
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