A Soviet cosmonaut said he made a mistake when he restarted the braking rocket of his stranded space capsule after a computer had shut it down, but he said he was impatient to bring the craft back to Earth.
"Errors were made by the commander. I want to say there is fault," Vladimir Lyakhov told Soviet and Afghan journalists Thursday at the Baikonur Space Center.The cosmonaut, who has made three trips into space, commanded the mission that ended Wednesday, a day behind schedule. His remarks were broadcast on the evening television news.
Lyakhov and crewmate Abdul Ahad Mohmand, the first Afghan in space, managed to land their Soyuz TM-5 capsule safely in Soviet Central Asia after 26 tense hours stranded in orbit while their oxygen and food ran low.
Problems began Tuesday when the cosmonauts began trying to reenter the atmosphere and a computer malfunctioned.
Lyakhov said an infrared sensor in the Soyuz guidance system malfunctioned during the first attempt to fire an engine that brakes the capsule, so that it can safely reenter the atmosphere.
"The computer was unable to judge whether the spacecraft was correctly oriented, and the engine was shut off," the cosmonaut said.
A second attempt was made. The braking engine fired under automatic control but then shut off.
"When the engine switched off for the second time," Lyakhov said, "I very much wanted to start the landing and I turned it on for a second time. Of course, in the back of my mind, I realized that turning on the engine would cause complications. I am not excusing myself. There was fault there."
Deputy flight chief Viktor Blagov told the government newspaper Izvestia that backup landing sites could have been used, so there was no rush to fire the reentry engine.
Then, appearing to defend Lyakhov, Blagov said it "could be understood in a purely human way" why the commander was anxious to land at that time and place.
Lyakhov said he and Mohmand had wanted to make a third attempt at reentry Tuesday but that the craft might have landed outside Soviet territory.
He said the crew preferred to wait until landing could be assured in its designated spot, in the Soviet republic of Kazakhstan.
The government newspaper Izvestia suggested Lyakhov should have immediately assumed manual control over the computer that was malfunctioning and said that might have prevented the delay in landing.
Lyakhov, a 47-year-old military pilot, flew in space for 175 days in 1979 and 150 days in 1983.
At the news conference, the cosmonauts also described what it was like to be stranded in space for 26 hours with diminishing air, food and water supplies. They said they had to remain in their seats in the cramped capsule in the same position as for a launch.
"Immobility was the biggest problem," Tass news agency reported.