Morbid Fact Du Jour For November 8, 2017

Today’s Faulty Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The Soyuz 11 mission launched on June 6, 1971 and docked with the Soviet Union’s space station, the Salyut 1. The three-man crew of Georgi Dobrovolskiy, Vladislav Volkov, and Viktor Patsayev, became the first in history to successfully dock with a space station and inhabit it.  For the next 23 days, each crewmember performed his scheduled experiments, which emphasized the study of human performance under, and reaction to, prolonged weightlessness. On June 29th, after completing their flight plan, the space dwellers transferred their scientific records, film, and log books to Soyuz in preparation for their return home.


Georgi Dobrovolski (left), Vladislav Volkov (right) and Viktor Patsayev (background).

On 30 June 1971, after an apparently normal reentry of the capsule of the Soyuz 11 mission, the recovery team opened the capsule to find the crew dead. Kerim Kerimov, chair of the State Commission, recalled: “Outwardly, there was no damage whatsoever. They knocked on the side, but there was no response from within. On opening the hatch, they found all three men in their couches, motionless, with dark-blue patches on their faces and trails of blood from their noses and ears. They removed them from the descent module. Dobrovolsky was still warm. The doctors gave artificial respiration. Based on their reports, the cause of death was suffocation.”

It quickly became apparent that they had asphyxiated. The fault was traced to a breathing ventilation valve, located between the orbital module and the descent module, that had been jolted open as the descent module separated from the service module, 12m 3s after retrofire. The two were held together by explosive bolts designed to fire sequentially; in fact, they had fired simultaneously. The explosive force of the simultaneous bolt firing caused the internal mechanism of the pressure equalization valve to loosen a seal that was usually discarded later and which normally allowed for automatic adjustment of the cabin pressure. The valve opened at an altitude of 168 kilometres (104 mi), and the resultant loss of pressure was fatal within seconds. The valve was located beneath the seats and was impossible to find and block before the air was lost. Flight recorder data from the single cosmonaut outfitted with biomedical sensors showed cardiac arrest occurred within 40 seconds of pressure loss. By 15m 35s after the retrofire, the cabin pressure was zero, and remained there until the capsule entered the Earth’s atmosphere. Patsayev’s body was found positioned near the valve, and he may have been attempting to close or block the valve at the time he lost consciousness.


I’ve no idea where this image originally comes from, but isn’t it awesome?

An extensive investigation was conducted to study all components and systems of Soyuz 11 that could have caused the accident, although doctors quickly concluded that the cosmonauts had died of asphyxiation. Examination of the descent module showed that it was in excellent condition and there was no damage to it in the forms of cracks or ruptures of the hull.

The autopsies took place at Burdenko Military Hospital and found that the cause of death proper for the cosmonauts was hemorrhaging of the blood vessels in the brain, with lesser amounts of bleeding under their skin, in the inner ear, and in the nasal cavity, all of which occurred as exposure to a vacuum environment caused the oxygen and nitrogen in their bloodstreams to bubble and rupture vessels. Their blood was also found to contain heavy concentrations of lactic acid, a sign of extreme physiologic stress. Although they could have remained conscious for almost a minute after decompression began, less than 20 seconds would have passed before the effects of oxygen starvation made it impossible for them to function.

Alexei Leonov, who would have originally commanded Soyuz 11, had advised the cosmonauts before the flight that they should manually close the valves between the orbital and descent modules as he did not trust them to shut automatically, a procedure he thought up during extensive time in the Soyuz simulator. However, Dobrovolsky, Volkov, and Patsayev either chose to disregard his warnings or else forgot about them during the lengthy mission. After the flight, Leonov went back and tried closing one of the valves himself and found that it took nearly a minute to do, too long in an emergency situation with the spacecraft’s atmosphere escaping fast.

The Soviet state media attempted to downplay the tragic end of the mission and instead emphasized its accomplishments during the crew’s stay aboard Salyut 1. Since they did not publicly announce the exact cause of the cosmonauts’ deaths for almost two years afterwards, US space planners were extremely worried about the upcoming Skylab program as they could not be certain whether prolonged time in zero gravity had turned out to be fatal. However, NASA doctor Charles Berry maintained a firm conviction that the cosmonauts could not have died from spending too many weeks in space and that they must have inhaled toxic substances.

A film that was later declassified showed support crews attempting CPR on the cosmonauts. It was not known until an autopsy that they had died because of a capsule depressurisation. The ground crew had lost audio contact with the crew before reentry began and had already begun preparations for contingencies in case the crew had been lost.

The cosmonauts were given a large state funeral and buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis at Red Square, Moscow near the remains of Yuri Gagarin. US astronaut Tom Stafford was one of the pallbearers. They were also each posthumously awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union medal.  They are the only known humans to have died in space.


R.I.P. Comrades.

Culled from: Wikipedia

CPR Footage

Futile CPR in the aftermath of Soyuz 11.  

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