Интервью с В.Д. БлаговымIn 2014 we are celebrating the anniversary of Alexei Stanislavovich Yeliseev, Doctor of Sciences (Engineering), Twice Hero of the Soviet Union, the USSR pilot-cosmonaut, the Head of the Lead Operational Control Team (LOCT) at Space Flights Control Service over the period from 1973 to 1985.

Viktor Dmitrievich Blagov who is currently the chief specialist of the Scientific-Technical Center for Spacecraft Flight Operation, tells us about A.S. Yeliseev's participation in setting up and operation of LOCT.

Interview is being held by Oleg Nikolaievich Volkov, the deputy Head of Project called the Great Start.

V.: Our Internet portal «Korolev's Planet» invited over Viktor Dmitrievich Blagov. From 1972 till 2005 Viktor Dmitrievich had been the deputy Flight Director. Last time we had a talk with him about the anniversary of the Salyut-6 station. This time the subject of our talk is an outstanding, distinguished cosmonaut Alexei Stanislavovich Yeliseev who turns 80 this year. We asked Viktor Dmitrievich to tell us about Yeliseev who worked many years as the Flight Director and Viktor Dmitrievich communicated with him in person during their team-work. My first question to Viktor Dmitrievich: How did it happen that Alexei Stanislavovich had been appointed the Head of Flight Control Service?
B.: In 1967 the enterprise established the division which incorporated several distinct services, namely: instrumentation complex commands service; onboard systems operation analysis service; planning service; ground tests service at Integration and Test Station (KIS) and Baikonur. Yakov Isaevich Tregub, the general, was put in charge of those services and headed them for a few years. He held the position of the head of the 7th Complex. That service ensured flight control of unmanned Soyuz 7K-L1, the objects designed for circumlunar flight called probes in open press.
After a while, Tregub decided to expand the complex and bring additional capable specialists in. By authorization of Vasiliy Pavlovich Mishin (Head of the enterprise) young guys were transferred to that service. Before the transfer, the co-workers who had been long in that service were interviewed and they recommended some specialists. Those specialists after a personal interview and being promised an interesting job and maybe a rise in salary were quick at making applications for a new job. Specialists took up an offered job with no approval of their head of department; without asking for permission from other higher-level managers. Only personal signature by Mishin was required to transfer to that service.
Gradually, that service had gained ground and became rather large, structured, with separate departments with separate departments engaged in particular lines of flight control activity. Each of them had its own «niche», its part of job. So the service succeeded in acquiring its experience, increasing the number of launches and had won authority as a fairly skilled team which could meet any challenge.
Unfortunately, manned circumlunar flight program L1 had not produced the planned result. It was due to the fact that during the last two launches we faced a couple of rather serious off-nominal situations. The managers hesitated to launch crew into space taking into account the comments made. Program L1 was closed down.
One day the following incident had taken place in the history of our enterprise, in the flight control service led by Tregub. After orbital insertion of a new Salyut-3 station (that name had to be given after the injection into orbit) it was found that attitude control mode had been selected by ionic sensors on the station. Those sensors were not to be checked on the ground, because they operated in atmospheric rarefied layer by incoming flow of ions. Some simulators were, of course, available. Ionic sensors installed on simulators had been checked, but in actual practice they exhibited a completely different behavior as compared to their behavior during ground testing. They caused DOS No 3 (Long-term Orbital Station) to move into a self-oscillating mode. Within the period from visibility zone starting with the time of separation from launch vehicle UR-500 and till termination of Ussuriysk station visibility zone (it is a timeframe of 15 minutes) the team was still busy looking into what had actually happened. Only by the end of the visibility zone they had sorted everything out. It became clear to our specialists that a critical situation developed onboard with an impending danger of a huge propellant consumption, because the station kept swinging all the time: picked up angular velocity – damped it; picked it up – damped, etc. According to our analysts, engines operated steadily, propellant flew «like water». Finally, they came to a decision to stop that process. Corresponding commands were sent to military specialists responsible for delivery of instructions to command-measuring stations and control of these commands uplinking. That procedure was performed. Teams headed for Ussuriysk. At Ussuriysk station they reported that their visibility zone ended a few seconds ago. The reply was as follows: «It does not matter. Come on. Generate the command to switch off attitude control system three times». Ussuriysk station generated the command, but regardless of expectations that there might be any wave interference (on the assumption that waves could bend around the Earth's surface, say, in the upper atmospheric layers and reach somehow the station), those expectations proved to the wrong and the station escaped the zone in that mode, self-oscillating mode, and entered the next visibility zone with empty tanks.
Thus, FDT (flight-design tests) of a new station which cost a lot of money, two years of efforts made by specialists from our organization, allied companies stopped with no practical results achieved.
Of course, an accident board was set up. The board looked thoroughly into the causes of what had happened: the way the station was getting ready for operation; why ionic sensors were used; the manner in which they were tested; what actions operational control team took, etc. Throughout each paragraph, as is often the case (if we obtain further insight into the problem), one could find certain claims, specific comments on work of the specialists of different levels and lines of activity. Some of them had a rough time: those who proposed ionic system; managers were reprimanded for having performed the analysis so long, taking decision late when visibility zone was no longer in sight. The military men were found innocent. Their service was the only one which was in the clear. Thereafter, practical conclusions were drawn. The main conclusion was to remove from office Yakov Isayevich Tregub and supersede him by another official. By that time cosmonaut Yeliseev as one of the newly-hired specialists had already been working at his division. As far as I remember Yeliseev held the position of deputy Head of the Complex.
As a result, Tregub was removed while Yeliseev was appointed to a post of the Head of the Complex. That Complex previously-headed by Tregub was split into separate parts. Ground tests were assigned to a separate service, while flight tests became a responsibility of a new distinct service. On October 11, 1973, Mishin as the Head of the enterprise issued an order to appoint Alexei Stanislavovich Yeliseev as the Head of Flight Tests Service called complex 07. We keep copy of that document. The document was classified, now it is unclassified. Getting together his close friends, experienced specialists, Yeliseev set the following task: review the structure of the lead operational control team responsible for launch of DOS (Long-term Orbital Station No 3); look into its shortcomings if any, improve it as far as possible; expedite the whole analysis and decision-making process. It should be noted that the scheme of the Lead Operational Team structure and activities was rather complicated. When looking at the drawings, it is not easy to understand who is responsible for what. Because each specialist was accountable to two superiors. The structure from top to bottom was dualistic. Whose directions are to be executed first of all? It was arranged that the specialists reported to Tregub as a civilian head (although he was the general, he worked in a civilian organization) or military head Agadzhanov who served in military unit 32103 as the deputy head and in the rank of a general too. At that time we did not care much about subordination and worked as a single collective body. It did not matter whether you were a military man or a civilian, What mattered was only a good understanding by specialists of the objects they were going to control. Fortunately, both the military men and civilians fully grasped the design of those objects.
Finally, Tregub was retired, Yeliseev was appointed. After careful consideration of that structure we put forward the following proposal: let us try to streamline it. The idea was to make the service subordinate to one head, i.e. introduce undivided authority. Instead of the dualistic scheme, we proposed an organization chart with the so-called vertical structure of power. In order to familiarize themselves with identical existing systems, we arranged a trip to several airports where there were positions of flight directors solely responsible for airplane flight safety in all phases within a given airport. We adopted the practice of appointing flight directors which was still common in cosmonautics.
After collection of this kind of information, group of enthusiasts proposed a new chart of the lead operational team organization with a single director. It was the first principle at the heart of a new management scheme, namely: undivided authority.
The second principle of building a new scheme was as follows: each person, each subdivision, each control team shall be responsible only for that part of a job which it understands best. For instance, I was busy planning a flight, managing a planning a department; I was tasked to manage a flight planning team. Other people were engaged in command-measuring complex activities. That team was put in charge of the command-measuring complex. Some of the specialists dealt with onboard system analysis. Accordingly, those specialists made up a team of onboard systems analysis. It was quite reasonable (as it seems now, bringing back that event in my memory) and very simple principle. It was not an easy task, the specialists used to follow the earlier scheme. All sorts of questions arose, not all of them agreed. But finally, all those involved were convinced and the proposed structure was established.
The third principle of building a new management scheme lied in duplicating flight control service at the enterprise. For instance, flight control department there was concerned with preflight planning. It was time to go to Yevpatoriya in the Ukraine. That team organized a planning group which acted on their own documents in Yevpatoriya. By this was meant that overall responsibility covered activities from «zero» to flight implementation. After that specialists had no more reason to blame anybody but themselves for their mistakes, because they worked guided by their own documents.
Building a new management scheme was under way in a challenging environment. The task was set to prepare for flight control under the Soviet-American Soyuz-Apollo Program.
It was the first international program. It was clear that it involved a greater responsibility than that under a national program. Naturally, our specialists got excited about the prospects for being in the forefront of competition with the most powerful country with a good track record in flight control. In particular, they implemented the Moon Program winning competition over the Soviet Union in this field. In that competitive environment, a new operational team, its structure was being built. Its duties and responsibilities were assigned; specialists prepared instructions; training programs, the list of documents were planned; the baseline document detailing structure of responsibilities with respect to all those involved was drawn up. That document was entitled «Provision of Flights Control» and signed as well as approved by top-level official, the Minister of Mechanical Engineering Afanasiev.
Finally, those documents were finalized. After a little while, we realized that powerful brains of the previous LOCT specialists led by Yeliseev made it possible literally to revolutionize flight control process. We changed over to a totally new operational scheme from the old imperfect operational scheme. Its efficiency was to be checked during test launches before starting activities under the Soyuz-Apollo Program. Those test launches involved two unmanned launches prior to implementing the Soyuz-Apollo Program and the launch of one manned Soyuz-16 completely identical to Soyuz-19. LOCT performed that work.
A question arose where flight control was to be performed from. Before that flight control had been performed from Yevpatoriya (in particular, L1 Program). The first MCC with all related services was built in Yevpatoriya. Our specialists pioneered the use of control panels where they could seat comfortably. Also they pioneered processing of parameters (though their number was limited). It was for the first time that global ground network with all ground measurement stations (GMS) and all related organizations appeared, as well as rooms for personnel, admission to which was allowed only for members of that group. The present-day MCC was based upon Yevpatoriya's MCC (MCC is Mission Control Center).
Anyway, MCC had a lot of drawbacks which had to the overcome before starting work under the international program. First of all, MCC did not look presentable. It was not quite suitable for inviting foreign guests and journalists, both foreign and Soviet. Construction of MCC was under authority of the military department: military unit constructed all the buildings and they did not make a good impression.
Secondly, personnel had to be brought there, leave their working places at the enterprise and be taken to flight control site.
Thirdly, that MCC had no international telecommunication center for communication with, say, American MCC and with intermediate centers located in Europe for control information transmission. On the basis of those considerations, pro-active group engaged in restructuring of LOCT conducted survey work on location of flight control site under the Soyuz-Apollo Program. Antimissile defense system was reviewed with the aim to study antimissile defense rockets management structure. Some other organizations were looked into too. Finally, the group visited one not very notable object which supplied information about flights to the Ministry. Specialists controlled flights in Yevpatoriya, while TsNIImash (then TsNIImash was called NII-88) received some kinds of information: basically, TV; some telemetry data summaries; crew voice; reports to LOCT management. That is why the minister with his assistants could be kept informed of all space events without traveling to Yevpatoriya.
As the above service provided all management with the required information, it was assigned a high priority with respect to its outfitting with equipment: the best computer technology, spacious hall with large displays; powerful cable network for connection with international telecommunication center with a capability to communicate with any organization out of the country. An additional advantage was location of that service not far from our organization. Specialists from our enterprise could be at any time involved to perform an analysis of any off-nominal situation. Clearly it was crucial for selecting MCC location, namely, at TsNIImash.
We played no doubt the key role there. Yeliseev was appointed Flight Director; our representatives headed all the teams, except for command-measuring complex control teams. Representative of TsNIImash was the head of the team responsible for MCC operation. Thus, our company was in charge of overall management; the key posts were held by our specialists. Members of the whole collective of our enterprise came to see what should be done with video images to make them at least perform the functions similar to those practiced in Yevpatoriya. It would be desirable to do it better. After performance of an analysis of that organization state, statement of work was drawn up, on the basis of which new MCC had been promptly upgraded. We had taken a giant step forward. In my opinion, taken together those actions were basically revolutionary for flight control: LOCT structure, concept of undivided authority, a new powerful flight control center, structured flight control team. As opposed to MCC in Yevpatoriya, we managed to arrange long-term, rather thorough trainings of personnel. Remoteness of Yevpatoriya placed certain limits on trainings being conducted. Trainings provided in Yevpatoriya took up two weeks as a maximum. For instance, trainings under the Soyuz-Apollo Program (in new MCC already) took up six months. As was written in one of the articles describing preparation for that international flight, the specialists were not totally certain about whether the flight was proceeding or the trainings were still underway. Simulation was so close to reality, the specialists were so involved in their work that changeover to a real time had passed almost unnoticed, rather smoothly.
That flight was used to verify the previously-taken decisions. The flight was a real success. By the way, the pioneer international flight took place at the height of the Cold War. And the two leading powers decided to «make friends» sharing common interests in cosmonautics. The cooperation turned out to be effective. We understood that we were able to perform a shared control. It was mutually beneficial. We shared our knowledge, capabilities, approaches to that process with them.
The same was true of them. It goes without saying that the Russian side and the American side had different approaches. They had to be combined: the approaches to crew work, activities of the lead operational teams. Both Yeliseev and his immediate assistants had been involved in the above activities over a few years prior to the flight itself and during the flight. Bringing back to memory that flight, many specialists think that it was a remarkable, exemplary flight performed very skillfully. A lot of the credit must go, of course, to Alexei Stanislavovich Yeliseev who had continued to work with us for some time until he quit his job for some reason (we did not understand, at least I did not know why he had left) and took up other job in the capacity of the rector at MVTU, his alma mater, which he had graduated in 1957. It was a great surprise to us. The strong leader had left us. But fortunately, next flight directors (Valeriy Viktorovich Rumin, Vladimir Alexeevich Soloviev) were cosmonauts too, as well as quite experienced and capable specialists who could just as efficiently manage the lead operational control team. Up till now, approaches used by Yeliseev provide the basis for activities of the lead operational teams controlling currently the flights under the ISS Program. The main principles are still observed. With time, the Structure of the service, of course, had swollen, shrunk, become deformed. But the structure never deviated from the formulated principles of building the management scheme. That meant that the principles were laid down correctly and irreproachably. For this contribution Alexei Stanislavich Yeliseev basically bears the palm. Clearly, the head should have his own philosophy, choose from a diversity of approaches. A manager should be skillful in doing such things. And Yeliseev mastered that managerial skill to the extent possible.
V.: Was it important that Alexei Stanislavovich was a cosmonaut?
B.: He was the cosmonaut first. Then we worked together in Complex 7, Complex 07 of our enterprise. He reached a good understanding of cosmonauts routine work and peculiarities of ground flight control service operation. Information coming from these two sources was digested by him to produce a positive result. Until the present time, cosmonauts got the position of Flight Directors who were first to fly any space vehicles, then to work for a certain time in flight control service, acquire firsthand experience and cleverly combine knowledge gained to further control flights successfully.
V.: Is it important for a Flight Director to have as good a health as cosmonauts enjoy? What about hard work of a manager in the Department office and how it exhausts a person with a space-qualified health?
B.: When Yeliseev was the Flight Director, examination of LOCT personnel by medical men from the first Medical Institute of Leningrad was conducted. Medical specialists in stressful situations, psychology were involved. The examination was focused on cardiology, eyesight, etc. They examined specialists working in LOCT directly on the job. Physicians sat next to the specialists being examined, measured blood pressure, pulse rate, talked with them. LOCT personnel went through a careful examination after the shift and prior to shift; after that they were taken to a hospital in Leningrad with a subsequent medical examination during a couple of weeks. The medical comment was a shock to us. Flight control activities were found to be very unhealthy because of a continuous sense of responsibility, maybe even fear of wrong decisions: what one dread most is to respond incorrectly to off-nominal situation, lose space vehicle as happened with the Salyut-3. Many specialists were terrified, under stress following the Committee investigations. Stressful situation leads to ejection of adrenalin in blood, human organism becomes excited and this excitement is not compensated. This means that man has to sit continually like a field engineer on a mine and make every effort not to be blown up by it. It is a serious problem: how to make and teach man to work under stress. There are some antistress techniques, the LOCT team was able to develop and introduce them. When a specialist watches a large number of parameters on the display (about 600 parameters per man), he (she) tires easily. And if during each next session these parameters are normal, i.e. within tolerance, he (roughly speaking) falls asleep, - his attention becomes dull. If a deviation of parameter from a set value appears, operator just does not notice it. He can even pass it unnoticed. It is necessary to «wake him up» somehow. There are some techniques to do so. Therefore, a good health is required, especially steady psyche. As one great man put it: «when fire starts, people die rather from panic than from fire itself». The same is true of our LOCT. Steady psyche is essential for MCC specialists. The first thing he needs to do during any off-nominal situation is to organize personnel activities. First of all, he must stop off-nominal process, i.e. cut off specific emergency system, determine amount of time available for him to organize work on counteracting off-nominal situation. So, it is required to organize the process, propose immediately some actions to be taken to recover from this off-nominal situation and put them into effect. It is necessary to act without panic, calmly. Only man with good mental health and steady psyche is able to do it. Flight Director must possess these qualities.
As for physical health, it also matters. The head cannot be on a sick-list for a long time. Say, half a month on a sick-list. The work is not getting on at all. Therefore, robust health is as important for flight director as for any LOCT specialist, LOCT team head and a simple specialist. Often, there is no one to replace him. Flight Directors are unique people who hold their posts, their «niche». If flight director falls ill, there is a certain risk of taking his place by other experienced specialist.
V.: It is known that Alexei Stanislavovich was good at playing sports. He even was given the title of the Master of Sport in fencing. Did it help him in his work?
B.: Well, owing to playing sports, he was self-disciplined to a great extent and it was certainly partly due to his being keen on fencing. Fencing is characterized by attacks and retreats which change places all the time. Continuous tension, strained attention: you need to attack, try to win. It is essential for a fighter. Flight director is a fighter too. Apart from flight control work, he also has a «pile of work» to do with respect to acting in concert with his superiors. In addition, flight director is concerned with raising money, salary and wages increase, building simulators, construction of buildings; provision of housing. There are a lot of things that need to be done. This means that management should be carried out in a go-ahead mood and in an efficient way. Flight director must be able to do this. All those heads for whom I acted as the deputy possessed these managerial skills: Yeliseev, Rumin, Soloviev.
V.: Another question. I personally watched Vladimir Alexeevich Soloviev manage resolving off-nominal situation: Spektr module had been damaged and an emergency situation arose on the Mir station. He personally led the situation and gave directions what to do. I wonder if there were similar situations when Alexei Stanislavovich was at the head. Was he personally by responsible for taking decisions? Or was he just a high executive who assigned his subordinates properly?
B.: Flight Director should not have a one-track mind. The important trait that you have just mentioned cannot be the only one. It is far from enough for Flight Directors. Then he would have been a «shallow» person. Flight Director Personality is «multidimensional». He must be able to «engage in battle», i.e. he must do it cleverly. Soyuz-Apollo had to conduct redocking with an active docking unit made in the USSR on the Soyuz. And the Apollo performed the second docking by itself (the Apollo retreated and approached on its own and we made active only mechanical docking unit). It came closer to the Soyuz at the velocity twice as much as the approved velocity. And the Apollo as a huge multi-ton bulky and cumbersome object hit the Space vehicle hard. Sad to say, we thought that habitable module where the crew was getting ready for the docking might have depressurized. The impact was so strong that exceeded all possible load tolerances. But designers from our enterprise and developers of the docking unit got used to looking ahead: they prefer to have large margins. It is not without purpose that the works headed by Grabin and engaged in production of guns had stopped its operation. The specialists from the works experienced in artillery joined the ranks of space industry enterprises. Specialists in artillery got used to high margins of safety, because guns had to be very strong. But space structures should be light-weight where possible. Of course, sophisticated structures tend to get heavier; specialists continuously try to lighten them. Designers of guns and space vehicles joined their efforts on the territory II of our enterprise to produce positive production results.
V.: How did Yeliseev respond to that case?
B.: When we detected that impact by telemetry, an official request was made to shift Flight Director from NASA. On our part, Kravets was shift Flight Director. He did not receive any clear reply from NASA. Roughly speaking, the American side's answer was vague. Then Yeliseev had to step in and go on the air with NASA'S Flight Director Pete Frank, his counterpart under that program. And again he did not get an intelligible explanation. Only after coming into contact with Bushuyev, the Program Director on the part of the Soviet Union, were they able to go on the air with the US Program Director Glenn Lanny. He had to admit that it was the blame of US pilot Dick Slaton who had been tasked to perform the second docking. Tom Stafford was responsible for conducting the first docking. He had completed it precisely, «without a hitch». While Dick Slaton... I wonder whether it happened because it was his first flight; or he was rather old (51 years); or had not get enough training; or he was charged with the task to perform the docking at the last moment. There was something that had affected him at that moment which caused him to perform that operation not quite correctly.
If we has not pressed the partners for information, it was possible that would not have found out up till now why it so happened. We made no claims at that time against our partners and were grateful for their frank admission of error and its cause. So we were able to perform an analysis of our onboard systems successfully. It was found that the strength was sufficient but, margins of safety proved to be «unexpectedly» high. Luckily. It was one of the examples when Flight Director had to personally intervene. In case of any off-nominal situation (serious as it may be), it is desirable that Flight Director should be present at this time in Mission Control Center and personally take part in localization of that off-nominal situation; initial analysis and at least get involved in management of this off-nominal situation analysis, its counteracting, etc. Instructions for the Flight Director cover the above actions.
V.: What are your memories of the period when you worked in MCC led by Alexei Stanislavovich? What did remain in your memory?
B.: It was the state of euphoria. It was an exciting experience. Before that, when we started flight control activities it was also very interesting: because we used to be developers, it was fortunate for us to take up flight control of the space vehicles we developed themselves, while the designers were responsible for their manufacturing and specialists in circuiting equipped space vehicles with different instruments, developed diverse commands. We had the honour to control flights. It was quite new to us. It was really the state of euphoria. Then we became more equable. We acquired a broad experience, became «pundits» and then got stuck on LOS №3 (Long-term Orbital Station No 3) maybe because of being a bit conceited. Afterwards, when we began to «revolutionize» flight control activities, the above changes inspired a renewed interest in our day-to-day work. We were happy to use our brains again; it was a challenging rather than a routine job. We were in quest of something new. At last we achieved positive results. The results are produced in a few years and you can see them for yourself. The results were striking. It is a worthy tribute for each specialist's efforts made. When flight process proceeds smoothly, work to be performed by the specialists is more demanding than during off-nominal situations. During off-nominal situation all actions are taken quickly. You should instantly devote your energies and apply your knowledge so as to stop the process. In my opinion, it is far more difficult to work each day for years, routinely; for instance, for control of the Mir station, ISS operation. Monotony has negative effects. You should be able to overcome this day-to-day routine, flight it your whole life. A prisoner acts in the same way who has a life-long sentence and can see no end to his solitary confinement.
V.: What would you wish Alexei Stanislavovich who has marked the 80th anniversary of his glorious, remarkable life?
B. : First of all, I would wish him good health, of course. At this age, this is, perhaps, the chief thing. We are always happy to have him with us: at all our celebrations such as the anniversary of our lead operational control team (each 6 years we celebrate solemnly this event); some dates of space achievements; anniversaries; the date of his appointment as Flight Director. He never refused, always came to see us and we together celebrated those dates. In order to take part in these festivities, your health should be good enough. That is why I wish him a good health, for instance for coming here from Moscow and associating with today's personnel and, it must be confessed, drinking a little according to the Russian custom. It is not easy to go through all this for an elderly man, good health is desirable. That's what wish him. In addition, I wish him good luck in life. The 80th anniversary is not the end of his creative activity. There is ample room for further activities. He has brains, broad experience. So, his knowledge and experience can still be useful for Russian cosmonautics.
V.: Thank You very much, Viktor Dmitrievich! And, of course, our congratulations to the hero of the day! The editors of portal «Korolev's Planet» wish Alexei Stanislavovich the best of luck and visiting our portal, for instance, with his lectures or memoirs.

Интервью с В.Д. Благовым
Интервью с В.Д. Благовым
 

 

2014.12.25

 

 

 

 

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