Launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome; landing
195 km southwest of Tselinograd / 140 km southeast of Arkalyk.
Soyuz 23 ferry spacecraft suffered a docking system failure. Sensors
indicated an incorrect lateral velocity, causing unnecessary firing of the
thrusters during rendezvous (approach was until 100 m). The automatic system
was turned off, but no fuel remained for a manual docking with the Salyut 5
space station. Crews were normally trained for a manual dock, but not for a
manual approach. So the only possible solution was an immediate return to
The spacecraft experienced a remarkable and near catastrophic
return to Earth. The crew landed at night on a frozen lake (Tengiz)
during a snow-storm (195 km southwest of Tselinograd / 140 km southeast of
Arkalyk). The ice broke, the parachute became wet and took the escape hatch
under water. The capsule was cooled and the heating systems had been turned
down to conserve the battery power.
Several attempts, to reach the capsule,
failed. But the capsule's beacons could not be seen in the heavy fog, and
rubber rafts used to try to reach them were blocked by ice and sludge.
Amphibious vehicles were air-lifted to the vicinity, but could not reach the
capsule owing to bogs surrounding the lake. Accordingly, the rescue was called
off until dawn. The cosmonauts were safe, but they were low on power, so they
were forced to shut down everything but a small interior light. The next
morning, frogmen were dropped in by helicopters, attached flotation devices to
the Soyuz craft and recovered the crew. The capsule was too heavy to be lifted
by the helicopter, so it was dragged to shore. The recovery operation had taken
nine hours. The rescue men were surprised to find the crew alive.