The April 5th Anomaly
The Soviet Union was not good at acknowledging failures. If a space mission did not make it to orbit then it did not get given an official designation of name and number.
An R-7 rocket blasted off from Baikonur on 5th April 1975. In a capsule perched on top were two cosmonauts, Vasili Lazarev and Oleg Makarov. They were expecting to spend 60 days on board Salyut 4, Russia’s latest space station.
The first four and a half minutes of the flight went perfectly. The next phase of the flight should have been the second stage shutting down and falling away before the third stage of the rocket took the cosmonauts into orbit. But instead, a siren sounded inside the spacecraft, a ‘Booster Failure’ light came on and the cosmonauts felt the rocket pitch and roll dramatically.
Three of the explosive latches that connected the second stage to the third stage had failed. The two parts of the rocket were still connected. The third stage had ignited but it was dragging several tons of half-detached booster behind it. After a few seconds of mayhem the automatic systems detected something was seriously wrong and activated the abort program.
Because they were well into the flight, the Soyuz capsule had to separate from the rocket, re-enter the atmosphere and land by parachute. They came down on the steep side of a snow clad mountain, and promptly started to slide down the slope. Unknown to Lazarev and Makarov the slope ended in a 500 foot vertical drop. Luckily the parachute lines got caught on shrubs and brought them to a halt. The two men then emerged into deep snow before donning survival gear to try and keep warm.
They were unsure exactly where they were and Lazarev was worried they might have landed in China. So he burned some documents relating to a top secret experiment they were due to carry out. In reality they were still in Russia, but they had to spend a night on the mountainside before being rescued. To add insult to injury the two cosmonauts were told they would not get the spaceflight bonus usually paid after a mission. They had to appeal to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev before finally being paid.
Unfortunately for the Soviets, the flight was only a few months before the joint Apollo-Soyuz mission. This meant they had to reveal the details of this embarrassing failed mission to NASA. On the official records though it was not a flight, simply the ‘5th April Anomaly’.