Horizon (1964) s34e15 Episode Script

Mir Mortals

BBC Four Collections - specially chosen programmes from the BBC archive.
'These men are about to embark on a journey.
'They will face the greatest dangers known to humans in space, 'and almost die.
'Three of the men will never go into space again.
' I would not go back again.
I've done it.
I'm done.
I got out of it alive.
'This film is an extraordinary tale of what happened to four men 'on the ill-fated space station Mir.
' 'This year, the first stage of a monster is going into orbit.
'It will be the biggest, most complex 'and the most expensive object ever built.
'The new International Space Station, or "ISS".
' 'To pave the way for the ISS, 'astronauts were sent to Mir for a dress rehearsal.
'They were to learn about long-duration space travel.
'But in 1997, a series of disasters threw into question 'the future collaboration between America and Russia.
' 'The story began with high hopes.
'Two Russian cosmonauts were departing for a tour of duty on Mir.
'Vasily Tsibliyev was a veteran, 'having spent seven months on her during a previous mission.
'But he had had a promotion.
'This time, he was returning as the ship's commander.
' 'Sasha Lazutkin, his engineer, was visiting Mir for the first time.
' 'To be a cosmonaut in Russia was the noblest of ambitions, 'and Vasily and Sasha were following in a long line of heroes.
'But things are very different today.
'There are no automatic accolades.
They could not afford to fail.
' They have come up with the idea of a contract for the cosmonaut to be paid a certain large sum, basically a salary, at the end of a flight should everything have gone well.
The way they determine what's gone well is the controllers, who are also the judges of this process, come up with a list of what they hope will be achieved during the flight, and they assign a value to each item.
And then, as the flight progresses, if something is NOT achieved, a black mark is assigned.
At the end of the flight, the control team has the right to say, "You did not carry out this plan as we desired.
"We are going to lop so much money off.
" 'So there was a lot riding on this mission.
'If judged a failure, 'they would lose not only their reputations, but money as well.
' 'For luck, 'Vasily had taken his daughter's pink plastic rabbit with him.
' 'Vasily and Sasha were leaving the fears and warnings far behind.
'They were travelling at 16,000 mph around the Earth.
' 'After being in orbit two days, 'they caught sight of the station that was to be their home 'for the next six months.
' 'Sasha and Vasily were joining American astronaut Jerry Linenger, 'who had already spent an uneventful month on Mir.
' It was just a good feeling to know other people are coming on board.
The same two faces, you start looking forward to some visitors.
We opened the hatch.
It was very joyous.
We were very glad to see each other.
And Vasily says hello to everybody.
LINENGER: 'I guess I had a sense that I was doing something good 'for the country.
'I was a US Navy officer and always felt a sense of duty and patriotism.
'I think I was about 14 when I saw the moon landings, and I said, '"Man, I'd like to do that someday.
"' You get lucky sometimes.
NARRATOR: 'Vasily's previous tour on Mir meant he quickly adapted 'to living in space.
'Sasha, however, found it more problematic.
' 'Mir has been lived in almost continuously 'since she was launched in 1986.
' She's a spider, the way I see her.
She's got all these little tubes sticking out all over the place and different connections, and you kind of move things around in different ways.
'Sadly, pride doesn't pay the bills.
'The Soviet space shuttle was intended as a taxi to Mir.
'It's now a funfair ride in Moscow's Gorky Park.
'It's a potent symbol of the decline of the Russian space programme.
' Their big dreams were all being put on hold.
The Mir station was being maintained, but barely.
And they were not able to launch the new modules to us.
I think it was an economic reality to them that they needed a partner, someone to work with, and with our space heritage and theirs combined, it made perfect sense.
'In 1993, the Russians invited paying guests on board.
' This is an historic moment and I'm just very excited.
Mr Kopchev, I want to give you a hug.
'That hug cost Dan Goldin, NASA's administrator, 473 million - 'the price of putting his astronauts onto Mir.
' I'm Jerry Linenger, of course, and I'm in the base block where you see most of the pictures that come out of Mir.
This is the table where we all gather to eat, uh, when the time's available.
'Jerry Linenger was the fourth American astronaut 'to join the Russians on Mir.
' This just happens to be the commander's sleep station.
And he's got a little mirror, he's got some personal pictures 'The crews are really there as guinea pigs 'to study long-term endurance in space.
'12 days after Sasha and Vasily had arrived, 'the departing crew decided to hold a party.
' They had brought some lemons and it's just The aroma is just wonderful, and it kind of gets you in the heart when you smell the things of the Earth.
'As they partied, the air was getting thinner and thinner.
'They needed more oxygen, 'so Sasha left the party and flew to another part of the station.
'He was to turn on a stand-by oxygen canister.
'This simple task was to put the entire crew's lives at risk.
' ALARM BEEPS Looked down the passageway and I could see a very large flame bursting out of the canister, smoke billowing out, and I knew we had a big problem.
'Fire is one of the most dangerous things to happen in space.
'A leak had caused a chemical reaction in the oxygen canister 'and turned it into a giant blowtorch.
' Molten metal was flying across, splattering on the other bulkhead, which meant it was hot.
Um, the flame was at least this big - two, three feet - directional.
It had oxygen, it had fuel - had everything it needed.
'It was also billowing dense black smoke, 'which was rapidly filling the module.
' 'The fire was blocking the exit to one of the two escape ships.
'Each ship could carry only three men.
'This meant that if they couldn't put out the fire, 'three men would be left behindto die.
' 'The water from the fire extinguisher 'added steam to the dense smoke.
' 'Next morning, Jerry's backup team, which was based in Moscow, 'arrived for work at Russian Mission Control 'having no idea there had been a fire on Mir.
'The fire had happened at 10.
30 the night before, 'and despite an American astronaut's life being in danger, 'the Russians hadn't bothered to contact NASA.
' I noticed there was a lot of people down there, a lot of the life-support people that I work with, and that really told me, "Well, something is wrong.
" And the big shift flight directors were there.
And a flight director was there, Slovia, and he comes up to me and says, "We have a problem.
" So I said, "OK.
" So I sit down there and I listen.
And I knew some Russian, and I pick up the word fire - "pazhar" - and I did a double take! So I called up to my interpreter and asked him, "Did they really say they had a fire on board?" Said, "Yes, Tony, they had a fire on board, but everybody's OK.
" Well, actually, Tony Sang phoned me, if I remember right, and it was about two, 2.
30 in the morning, something like that, and it had happened about 12 hours before.
And I remember mentally calculating, "Why didn't they call me "in the afternoon when it happened, when I was awake?" 'Russian Mission Control had not informed 'the families of the crew either.
'The first Sasha Lazutkin's wife heard was on the radio.
' 'On March 2nd, the old crew departed.
'Smuggled in their luggage was a letter from Jerry to his wife.
' That's the first thing I really had heard from Jerry.
I mean, truehis real thoughts down on paper, you know, that no-one could open up, so I knew he was being completely honest with me about, you know, what was happening.
And I didn't realise how serious it was until I got that letter.
But my wife did send me In the middle of a letter, she snuck in a line I'm surprised they even sent it up to me, because everything had to get approved by the Russian side.
But it had a one-line quote that said there was a small fire on Mir, non life-threatening, the crew put on respirators as a precaution, everything's normal.
And when I read that, I just said, "That's a different space station and that's a different fire "than the one I just barely survived.
" 'There was a complete difference of opinion between NASA 'and the Russian Space Agency about the fire.
'For the Russians, the important thing was that the fire was out 'and the crew had survived unhurt.
'To this day, they believe the event was ultimately insignificant.
' They didn't HAVE to explain these things to the outside world for a long time.
And as long as they kept the Mir flying and everybody alive and the operation going, the details of it really were not that important.
'While the disagreements continued on Earth, 'life returned to normal on Mir.
'Jerry, Sasha and Vasily 'were now having to maintain her ageing technology on their own.
'Mir was only designed to last five years, and now, after 11, 'the wear and tear was starting to tell.
' We had many system failures and they were in need of your constant attention.
And, you know, many days, I'd start an experiment in the morning to get it running, then I'd run over, help hacksaw through a pipe and plug the ends, and then run back to my experiment.
I'd have three or four watches on with alarms set to different things that I had to run back to, so I was multi-tasking in order to try to get everything accomplished.
'Sasha had his own problems.
'Despite his best efforts, the oxygen generators kept breaking down.
'He began to feel they had a life of their own.
' At the same time, our toilet broke.
And, of course, the ground says, "Fix the oxygen generator.
" Well, after that comm pass, we all snuck away and started working on the toilet, because, you know, when you gotta go, you gotta go.
'And then the Progress arrived.
' The Progress is normally a great sight.
The Progress launches from Earth, comes up, brings all the resupplies that you need - critical parts, food - totally automatic, docks under the Mir space station.
You then take maybe two or three weeks to unload it.
At that point, you now have an empty vehicle, and you use that space to put your garbage in.
When it's full, the Progress undocks, re-enters the atmosphere in sort of an uncontrolled fashion, and burns up during re-entry, never to be seen again.
'But this time, Mission Control decided 'that instead of jettisoning the 7.
5-tonne cargo ship, 'they would turn it around and bring it back 'to test a new docking system.
' What we didn't pay attention to enough was that the Russians were doing something new.
We didn't know that that was going to cause them to not work this thing out properly and take risks that we don't think they would normally have entered into.
'The Russians have been docking Progress cargo ships successfully 'for years using an automatic system.
'Now they wanted to replace it 'with a much cheaper manual system called TORU.
'TORU works rather like a video arcade game, 'and Vasily had only ever practised his docking skills 'on this simulator.
'Vasily saw the image of Mir's docking port transmitted from 'a camera mounted on the front of the incoming Progress.
'This picture of Mir was to be his only guide for the docking.
' 'Despite having no image, 'Vasily went ahead.
'The Progress was on its way.
'Sasha and Jerry desperately raced from porthole to porthole, 'trying to see the approaching cargo ship.
' All of a sudden, I get a very frantic call saying, "Jerry, get back in here.
Get ready to jump in the Soyuz.
"Get ready to evacuate.
" Vasily was basically standing like this, firing the thruster with a look of, "Am I doing the right thing?" - not really sure if he was firing the correct sequence, because he did not have a view in the television screen.
The only feedback he had was to yell to Sasha, "What did it do to it? Did it turn it to the left?" "Did it Is it doing what I think it's doing?" He'd fly back, take a look again, fly back, fire a thruster.
It was totally in the blind.
Vasily, at the next comm pass, he told the ground what he thought about it.
He said, "You're setting me up for failure.
"This is a terrible operation.
That was not a good situation.
" Among the crew, we had a little conference.
I said, "Do you mind if I tell our side that I am not comfortable "doing that Progress docking?" And they said, "Absolutely not, Jerry, go ahead and tell 'em.
" At this time, the ice team is at the pad, conducting their final inspections of the vehicle, looking for any indications of potential ice build-ups.
'Michael Foale was waiting to take Jerry's place.
'He WAS told of the monitor failure, 'but was totally unaware of how close Mir had come to disaster.
' .
with Pilot Eileen Collins, Jean-Francois Clervoy, Carlos Noriega, Edward Lu, Elena Kondakova and Michael Foale.
We've got boost to ignition, and lift-off of the space shuttle Atlantis, maintaining America's constant presence in space.
MICHAEL FOALE: When I got launched, I was in a very relaxed mood.
I was in a holiday mood.
Nothing really bothered me about it at that point.
GROUND CONTROL: This is a special mission for Michael Foale.
He has flown three times before, but on this particular flight, of course, he will be staying on board the Mir space station.
MICHAEL FOALE: I really had very high hopes that things were going to be very easy.
You know, watching the shuttle coming up underneath us at 18,000mph was the most beautiful sight in the world.
I was ready to go home.
I had done my duty.
My time was up.
In my mind, I knew I had this much time.
I had maintained my efficiency throughout that time, and for me, it was a moment of triumph.
"The shuttle's there.
I made it.
" And when the shuttle came and docked, it was glorious.
Jerry and I talked for a long time, maybe a total of six hours or so over three or four days, just privately between the two of us, and he told me a lot of things.
'He described the fire, for example, they'd experienced.
' The fire was basically in this region here, with the flames shooting across this way.
'So, my eyes were wide open and I understood what I was getting into.
' .
And we had one other body in front of me, I was passing the fire extinguisher, but we can only get one person in here 'Jerry was being very careful to tell me,' "Don't be fooled by the illusion that this is all OK "while the shuttle's here.
It will change.
" I think Jerry might want to say something to you guys there in the control centre.
Brought it right in, steady as can be.
It was great to see 'em and it's going to be a great celebration here.
GROUND CONTROL: Jerry, it's great to see you, and we're looking forward to having you back at Ellington.
'And then we had to say goodbye, and that's what I did.
'I said, "Goodbye.
Good luck.
' "We've had a great stay together and I'll see you back on the planet.
" I'm kind of sorry to see them close the hatch on us here, but 'My time was up, I was leaving, 'and I did not have any terrible overwhelming emotion 'other than pure joy to be heading home.
What do you think? One degree, tail down.
- Correct.
- 29 feet.
RUSSIAN COSMONAUTS SING They think Americans and Westerners generally are soft.
They believe that Russians have a natural ability to suffer, to take hardship and surmount it.
They think, "Oh, we have got to make this easy for that person.
"This person's going to be unhappy - miserable - "if it's not easier for them than it is for us.
" And it's It's a feeling of condescension and patronage.
And Sasha I mean, I love him, but he I had to always laugh.
He would always try and shelter me from anything that was going on on Mir.
And the institution is trying to shelter the foreigner from anything that is going on.
'Life on Mir followed what was becoming an established pattern.
' 'Vasily talked to his astrologer, Russia's most famous psychic.
' 'On June 25th, 'the crew had been instructed to test the manual docking system again.
'Sasha filmed Vasily during the events that followed.
' MICHAEL FOALE: He wasn't happy with the first attempt they'd made.
He said this was a terrible event.
It was a nightmarish event that haunted him in a way.
He wasn't any longer sure in his ability to pull this off.
'The crew had spent the previous weeks 'packing another Progress cargo ship with Mir's rubbish.
'They were told to send the heavily-laden Progress 'out into space and, as before, turn it around and redock it manually.
' I was totally ignorant of what they were doing.
I had no idea what they were doing.
No-one at NASA knew what the Russians were doing.
'Once again, Vasily only had the monitor as his guide.
'This time, Mission Control was worried that the radar 'on the automatic docking system 'had caused the monitor to fail during the previous manual attempt.
'So they made a crucial decision.
'They switched the radar off.
' I'm sort of thinking everything's normal, because no-one has told me anything about what systems were turned off or on.
'Without the radar, 'Vasily wasn't given the cargo ship's speed or position.
'His only aid was the TV picture of Mir taken from Progress, 'but Mir was almost impossible to see.
Sasha and I, meanwhile, tried to look out a window and find this thing.
'They planned to pinpoint the cargo ship with laser rangefinders 'pointed out of the portholes 'to give Vasily backup distance and speed information.
Vasily now was showing a little impatience for us to find it and see it and give him a range mark.
'Sasha had left his camera pointed at the TORU monitor.
'This recording from his camera has just been released to Horizon.
' MICHAEL FOALE: Things had gone wrong, very badly wrong.
The range and the speed had been horribly misjudged.
Sasha looked extremely agitated, stood up and came erect and said, "Michael! V karabl!" - "To the spacecraft!" That order that Sasha gave me - "V karabl!" Don't stay and try and help us.
Don't let us use your expertise.
Don't let us do anything with you.
Just get out of our way to the spacecraft.
THUD, FOLLOWED BY RUMBLING I felt through my fingers a shudder - a thump on the station - and I heard, what seemed to be far off, a "kathump".
At that point, I knew we had been hit by the Progress.
'The Progress had smashed into the solar panels.
'Mir was now slowly spinning out of control, 'and decompression had begun.
' 'Sasha thought he'd seen the Progress punch a hole 'in one of Mir's modules, called Spektr.
'He knew he had to seal off the Spektr module 'or the loss of air would kill them.
' Vasily was basically monitoring the pressure fall on a very sensitive instrument, a barometer, in the base block, and then stayed at his central post there.
While he was doing that, we came into the range of the ground station, the Russian ground station.
He told them that we had been hit.
They asked him, "Is there a problem?" He said, "Yes, we are leaking air.
" But the interpreter gets a funny look on his face and just looks at me and says, "They hit something.
" Just a very plain as day, ordinary tone.
So I'm thinking, you know, maybe the crew hit their hand with a hammer or, you know, something plain like that.
But then, of course, I ask him, "What do you mean, 'They hit something'? "Explain a little bit.
" And he says, "Oh, well, the Progress hit the space station.
" I was asleep again, and another one of those middle-of-the-night phone calls, which had seemed to be coming too regularly, and this time they said that the Progress hit the Mir.
And they said, "There's a leak.
They think it's in Spektr.
"They're closing the hatch.
" And, of course, my next question is, "How in the world could this possibly have happened?" When I was back on the ground and heard of that accident - it was about a month after I got back - um, you know, it was terrible news.
'On Mir, Michael and Sasha had to close the hatch 'between the main module and Spektr to stop the decompression.
'To do this, they were forced to disconnect the power cables 'running through the hatchway.
' MICHAEL FOALE: For the first time, I experienced a totally silent, still space station, where there are no fans moving, there is no light on.
Nothing is alive.
Just our breathing is causing any sound.
'With Mir out of control, 'they couldn't keep the solar panels facing the sun.
'Everything had shut down - even radio contact with Earth.
' MICHAEL FOALE: I said to Vasily, "In spite of how bad a day this has been, this is a beautiful moment.
"Don't you think so?" And Vasily just said, "It's been a terrible day.
" Vasily said, "Oh, they're just going to They're going to kill me.
"My career's over.
It's all over.
" And I said, "Vasily, I don't think that's necessarily the case.
"Americans are involved.
The fact that Americans are involved "in this programme means that they can't just push you aside.
" And he said, "No, Michael.
You don't know our system.
" So to later blame him for making him do a procedure that he had told the ground he didn't think was a safe procedure, you know, I have a hard time saying "blame Vasily" on that one.
SILENCE BROKEN BY SLOW BREATHING 'Vasily attempted to start the tiny Soyuz escape capsule, 'but there was no power.
' 'Then, as they drifted out of the Earth's shadow, 'one panel caught the sun.
'It was able to generate just enough electricity to switch on 'the Soyuz's control panel.
'Using the Soyuz's rocket thrusters, 'it took them 14 hours before Mir was aligned to the sun 'and they could get power back to the main cabin.
'Meanwhile, back on Earth, the inquests had begun.
' There certainly were mistakes made on board, there were some mistakes made on the ground, there were mistakes made on OUR side - I still blame myself for not being more inquisitive about the details of what they were doing and what the safeguards were.
'In Moscow, the finger-pointing started in earnest.
'Vasily's instruction manual said he was to stop the Progress '50m away from the docking port, 'wait for Mission Control's go-ahead and THEN proceed to dock.
' 'Behind these gates lies Star City, the cosmonaut training centre.
'Here, experts hypothesised that Vasily had been unable to brake 'because the rubbish in the Progress had been loaded off-centre.
'They tested this idea using a simulator, 'flown by eight of Russia's top cosmonauts.
' 'So Vasily couldn't brake because of unevenly loaded garbage.
'The question THEN was, 'why hadn't he simply aborted the docking? All right.
You asked the question, I'll give you the answer.
The reason why I think Vasily didn't abort is because he's a military officer who has always carried out orders.
He wasn't conservative, he wasn't extra cautious in weighing that bad information, because earlier on he had already not succeeded in doing this.
The relationship of Vasily to the control centre is what I consider to be the sort of master-slave culture that has existed in Russia and the Soviet Union for a very long time.
It's still there and it's present in the Soviet system that is still now controlling the space programme.
'In the next phase of space exploration, 'the human errors, mechanical failures and political squabbles 'that marred 1997 must be resolved.
' You cannot have two bosses when you've got a critical operation going on, and if something's going wrong, you have to have one person calling the shots and making the decisions.
Right now on ISS, the leader is the US.
MICHAEL FOALE: The ISS is going to be dominated by America.
America is putting in many, many billions more than Russia is into that programme.
The Russians feel that what they have done is not valued.
Pride is their issue.
All I can is it IS greatly valued, but we must do things that are different.
FRANK CULBERTSON: It has got to work exactly right or somebody is going to get hurt.
'For the crew, the following weeks were exhausting.
'Three days after the collision, 'a computer problem disabled the steering.
'Four days later, the oxygen generators failed again.
'The stress started to get to Vasily 'and he was put on sedatives and heart pills.
' 'To make matters worse, 'Sasha accidentally pulled out a vital power plug.
'He had disconnected the main computer.
'Once again, Mir was adrift with no power.
'Mir was drifting for 18 hours 'before they were able to get power back.
'During July and into August, 'the crew continued to struggle with endless repairs.
'The press had picked up rumours that Vasily was to have six months' 'salary deducted and lose his thousand-dollar docking bonus, 'although in the end, he didn't.
' 'Critics in America were calling for the cancellation of NASA's 'involvement with Mir, 'and every minor breakdown was being catalogued.
' Mir is one fantastic accomplishment, but when you get that frequency of failure at the rate that we're getting on Mir, I think you can safely say that it's time to retire Mir with dignity.
'NASA was faced with a huge decision.
'When Michael returned, should they send up another astronaut, 'David Wolf, to replace him?' There were lots of questions about whether we should send Dave to the Mir or not.
And then the question came down to, "Should we send anybody at all?" It was a dilemma.
If NASA pulled out, they would risk losing Russia's knowledge and co-operation in the ISS, because without America's cash, Mir might have to be scrapped.
TONY SANG: It's a phenomenal piece of hardware that's been up there past its lifetime.
Blazed a trail for space stations, essentially.
- It's wonderful - Yeah.
because it's simple, it works, it's logical.
It does the job.
And it might not be real beautiful right now, but it's up there.
And It's the only station in town right now.
And the consensus was that, yes, we should continue.
LAUGHTER AND GREETINGS 'Finally, on August 12th 1997, 'a Soyuz was dispatched to bring Vasily and Sasha home.
' 'With Vasily and Sasha finally home, 'the terrifying year on board Mir ended without human tragedy, 'but not without loss to the men involved.
'Jerry Linenger resigned from NASA in January 1998.
'He will never go into space again.
'Vasily Tsibliyev and Sasha Lazutkin 'are unlikely to be given any further missions.
'Michael Foale spent the next month on Mir, 'and is now in training for another space flight.