Soyuz 7K-T No.39
, (also named Soyuz 18a
or Soyuz 18-1
) was an unsuccessful launch of a manned Soyuz spacecraft by the Soviet Union
on April 5, 1975. The mission was expected to dock with the orbiting Salyut 4
space station, but due to a failure of the Soyuz launch vehicle the crew failed to achieve orbit.
The accident was the result of a failure of a rocket staging event; the core booster of the Soyuz rocket did not separate from its upper stage. Since the accident took place after the escape tower had jettisoned, the Soyuz 7K-T spacecraft needed to use its own propulsion module engines to escape the failing rocket.
The escape exerted excessive g forces on the crew, consisting of commander Vasili Lazarev, an Air Force major, and flight engineer Oleg Makarov, a civilian. Both cosmonauts were injured, with Lazarev suffering injuries serious enough to end his career. The descent module landed near Aleysk, in the Altai Mountains; the crew initially feared they landed in the People's Republic of China, leading them to burn their paperwork in case they were captured by the Chinese, whom the Soviet Union were at odds with at the time.
The accident was disclosed by the normally secretive Soviets, as it occurred during preparations for their joint Apollo–Soyuz Test Project with the United States three months later. This would prove to be the last manned Soyuz mission launched with the original Soyuz rocket; future missions would be launched by the updated Soyuz-U rocket.
Wernher von Braun (1912–1977) was a German rocket scientist and one of the most important rocket developers and champions of space exploration during the period between the 1930s and the 1970s. Von Braun is well known as the leader of what has been called the “rocket team” which developed the V-2 ballistic missile for the Nazis during World War II. As part of a military operation called Project Paperclip, he and his rocket team were scooped up from defeated Germany and sent to America where they were installed at Fort Bliss, Texas. For fifteen years after World War II, von Braun worked with the U.S. Army in the development of ballistic missiles. At Fort Bliss, they worked on rockets for the U.S. Army, launching them at White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico. In 1950 von Braun’s team moved to the Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Alabama, where they built the Army’s Jupiter ballistic missile. In 1960, his rocket development center transferred from the Army to the newly established NASA and received a mandate to build the giant Saturn rockets. Accordingly, von Braun became director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the chief architect of the Saturn V launch vehicle, the superbooster that would propel Americans to the Moon.