Voskhod instrument panel

I love the fact that the spacecraft’s position was indicated by a clockwork globe.

I really want to know more about the “ingenious Vzor periscope”. What a great name.

The Vostok and Voskhod spacecraft, like the U.S. Mercury, could not perform orbital maneuvers – they could only be translated around their axes. The main engine was used only at the end of the mission for the reentry braking maneuver. Instrumentation on the Vostoks was rudimentary in the extreme. There were no gyros and no eight-ball for maneuvring as on the Gemini. The reentry maneuver was normally handled automatically by radio command. Spacecraft attitude in relation to the local motion along the orbit was determined by sun sensors, infrared horizon sensors and ion gauges, which could detect the spacecraft’s direction of motion by the greater velocity of ions impacting the spacecraft in the direction of motion.

The cosmonaut could, however, take control of the spacecraft and manually reenter. This was done by using the ingenious Vzor periscope device mounted on the floor of the cabin. This had a central view and eight ports arranged in a circle around the center. When the spacecraft was perfectly centered in respect to the horizon, all eight of the ports would be lit up. Alignment along the orbit was judged by getting lines on the main scope to be aligned with the landscape flowing by below. In this way, the spacecraft could be oriented correctly for the reentry maneuver. To decide when to reenter, the cosmonaut had a little clockwork globe that showed current position over the earth. By pushing a button to the right of the globe, it would be advanced to the landing position assuming a standard reentry at that moment. This manual system would obviously only be used during daylight portions of the orbit. At night the dark mass of the earth could not have been lined up with the optical Vzor device. The automatic system would work day or night.

Voskhod navigation instrument

Voskhod navigation instrument

Vostok instrument panel

Lovely model/render of Vostok instrument panel from gagarin3d.com

Vostok instrument panel

Pilot or passenger?

The Partnership: A History of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project

The role of man in space flight has been one of the basic and continuing philosophical differences between the Soviet and American space programs. Americans have sought to make the astronaut a central figure in the operation of the spacecraft, especially in his ability to veto automatic systems. The Soviets have preferred to rely upon automated systems on the ground and in the air, with the cosmonaut playing a secondary and more limited role.

Nicely illustrated by this comparison of the Vostok and Mercury instrument panels.

The Vostok has 4 switches and 35 indicators, while the Mercury has 56 switches and 76 indicators.

Spheres vs Blunt Bodies


It is always interesting to see how independent teams come up with different solutions to the same problem. Particularly when they make different design decisions, and those alternative decisions can both be strongly justified.

The early years of the space race demonstrate a fine example in the design of the reentry vehicles.

Soviet Vostok designers settled on a perfect sphere with inherent dynamic stability. No attitude control. It needed an all-round heatshield to protect it on reentry. A low centre of gravity and the laws of physics ensured that the sphere was in the correct orientation when the door was blown off and the cosmonaut ejected at 7,000m.

The American Mercury designers went for a blunt body design, which allowed them to place the bulk of the heatshield at one end of the craft, saving weight over the all-round heatshield approach of the Vostok. This required attitude control to ensure that the heatshield was facing the right way when plummeting through the atmosphere.

For both designs, simplicity was a key factor.

NASA has a great article with more detail…
The Partnership: A History of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. Reentry Vehicles: Spheres vs. Blunt Bodies