Computing in the Soviet Space Program











Human Being and Computer: A Comparison

by Vladimir Shatalov

from Vladimir Shatalov, Sergei Seletkov, and Boris Skrebushevskii, Primenenie EVM v sisteme upravleniia kosmicheskim apparatom [Use of Computers for Spacecraft Control] (Moscow: Mashinostroenie, 1986), pp. 119-122.

Vladimir Shatalov

Cosmonaut Vladimir Shatalov directs a training session in a simulator room at the Cosmonaut Training Center, 1968 (RGANTD, photo no. 0-4922) 

Argon-16 onboard computer

 The Argon-16 computer, which was installed on board the Soyuz T-2 spacecraft, the first Soviet piloted ship guided by an onboard computer, June 1980








Capable of reacting to unexpected events Limited channel capacity; that is, the amount of information processed per time unit is low High channel capacity High complexity of programs
Capable of using temporal and spatial concepts and to organize pieces of information into an integrated whole Work efficiency diminishes relatively quickly because of fatigue and distraction of attention   Long-lasting work efficiency Zero or low capability of comprehensive evaluation of the situation 
Familiar with different methods of performing operations. Capable of using other means, if regular means fail Computing operations are relatively slow and imprecise Computing operations are fast and precise Almost incapable of finding an alternative solution. In case of failure cannot always resume work by itself

Manned space flights have demonstrated that a human being alongside automatic systems can carry out a sufficiently wide range of tasks related to spacecraft guidance, equipment control, and other operations. The cosmonaut can be delegated those spacecraft control functions that he can perform as successfully as an automatic system that includes an onboard computer. If the cosmonaut and the computer perform operations with equal success, then one needs additional data about the characteristics of the system as a whole, and one may consider various degrees of the cosmonaut's participation in its functioning.

Some experiments during actual space flights and theoretical considerations suggest that cosmonauts can perform the following functions on board a spacecraft:

  • control of onboard devices and instruments;
  • restoration of malfunctioning onboard systems by replacing failed parts and doing simple repairs;
  • visual monitoring and performing navigation tasks;
  • control of spacecraft movement around its center of mass (orientation and stabilization) and the movement of the center of mass (maneuvers on the orbit, orbit corrections, landing, rendezvous and docking);
  • assembly and disassembly of various spacecraft components; work that requires extravehicular activity;
  • experiments and analysis of results

Studies of these functions suggest that most of them can be carried out by an onboard computer. However, the use of manual control not only increases the reliability of the spacecraft, but also raises cosmonauts' confidence in the success of these operations.

site last updated 24 December 2002 by Slava Gerovitch