Another This Week In Rocket History I wrote for CosmoquestX.
This week in rocket history is the launch of the first long-duration expedition to Mir, Soyuz TM-2, in 1987.
Soyuz TM-2 was the first crewed flight of the new Soyuz TM spacecraft, which incorporated a new rendezvous system, the Kurs, and a 250-kilogram payload increase due to lighter parachutes, along with a more powerful variant of the Soyuz launch vehicle which used higher impulse fuel.
The Mir space station was launched the previous year, 1986, but a crew had yet to spend any appreciable amount of time onboard. Mir was crewed for only two short stints: one of 55 days and the other twenty days during the Soyuz T-15 mission to Mir and Salyut 7. The crew of Soyuz TM-2 would end up spending almost a year continuously in space by the end of their EO-2 mission. However, there would be problems halfway through the mission, and only one crew member stayed onboard for that duration.
Soyuz TM-2 launched on February 5, 1987, taking the then-standard two days to rendezvous and dock with Mir. The crew of TM-2 was spaceflight veteran Yuri Romanenko on his third and final spaceflight and Aleksandr Laveykin on his first and only mission.
The first task for the crew was to unload Progress 27, an uncrewed resupply spacecraft that had docked with Mir two weeks earlier. Progress 27 was followed in March 1987 by Progress 28, which the crew also unloaded and packed with trash to be burnt up in the atmosphere.
These two resupply spacecraft completed the reactivation of the station and prepared it for the arrival of the second major module of the Mir station, Kvant, later renamed Kvant-1.
The docking of the Kvant module was dramatic. The first attempt on April 5 was called off after the rendezvous radar failed 200 meters out, and the module and its orbital tug barely missed hitting the station. Ground controllers regained control of the module, and it docked with Mir on April 9. However, the docking port didn’t achieve a hard dock, which was a problem.
The engineers decided to have Romanenko and Laveykin do an EVA to see if there was something stuck in the docking port. It turned out there was — a trash bag that the cosmonauts left behind when they were reloading Progress 28. It was stuck in the docking port. The cosmonauts removed the trash bag, and Kvant successfully latched.
The purpose of the Kvant module was to add astrophysics and materials science capabilities to Mir with several telescopes and forty cubic meters of pressurized space. To accurately point the astrophysics instruments at space, the Kvant module needed to control the entire station’s attitude and do it without thrusters. The cosmonauts tested this capability in late April 1987.
One of the telescopes studied supernova 1987A in June 1987. SN 1987A was the closest supernova to earth in almost 400 years and helped scientists determine the nature of the radiation in supernovas. Also in June, the two cosmonauts did a series of spacewalks to install two solar panels on the Mir core module.
In July 1987, Soyuz TM-3, the crew of which included the first, and so far only, Syrian astronaut to go to space, Muhammed Faris, relieved the crew of TM-2. They worked alongside each other for several weeks before returning to Earth with the visiting crew from TM-3 and Aleksandr Laveykin, who returned to Earth early because of a medical issue. They returned in the TM-2 spacecraft, leaving the TM-3 capsule in space. Laveykin was replaced for the remainder of the TM-2 expedition with Alexandr Aleksandrov from TM-3.
The two continued the important work of Mir Expedition 2, receiving Progresses 31 through 33 and discovering the first X-rays from SN 1987a in August 1987. In November 1987, a new relay satellite was launched to replace one that failed shortly before Soyuz TM-2 went to Mir. It allowed mission control to contact the station for more of each orbit.
Soyuz TM-4 arrived in December 1987, bringing Mir EO-2 to a close after 326 days, a new duration record.
And Aleksandr Laveykin, the cosmonaut who had to return to Earth early? He was just fine — only a small heart problem. He’s still alive, but he never flew in space again.
PDF: Mir Hardware Heritage (NASA via Internet Archive)
Soyuz TM-2 info page (Astronautix)
Soyuz TM-3 info page (Astronautix)