Salyut 1 (Soyuz docking).
losing the race to the Moon, Soviet leaders feared that the Americans
would take yet another “first” in the space race by launching Skylab into
orbit and claiming the world's first space station. They put their hopes
of beating the Americans on a military space platform named Almaz, which
was formally approved in 1967. With the goal of evaluating the
effectiveness of human spying from space, it was supported by the Soviet
military. But the Almaz program had fallen behind schedule. The design
bureau of Sergei Korolev offered a solution. It promised that if it were
given the hull of an Almaz station-which was built by another
organization-it could equip the hull with systems and electronics from the
Soyuz ferry spacecraft and have a small station ready for launch long
before Skylab. The Soviet government concurred and approved this “new”
project in February 1970, which was named the Long-Duration Orbital
Station (“DOS” in its Russian language abbreviation). DOS would serve as
the source for almost all Soviet space station designs in the following
1971, the Soviets launched the first DOS, named Salyut (or Salyut 1), in
“salute” to the first Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. The Salyut station
was 16 meters long with two major sections, each with different diameters.
It weighed about 19 tons and had a single docking port on the front end to
receive Soyuz crew delivery spacecraft. Crews would be able to stay in
space for about a month in early DOS vehicles and conduct scientific
first crew to Salyut was unable to enter the station, but the second crew
of Soyuz 11, launched in June 1971, became the first ever to enter a space
station and live in it. For 24 days, cosmonauts Dobrovolsky, Volkov, and
Patsayev conducted experiments and proved that humans could stay in orbit
for relatively long periods. During their return to Earth on June 30,
1971, a valve on the Soyuz ferry failed, letting all the air escape in a
matter of seconds. All three cosmonauts were killed, and the Soviet space
program was stopped in its tracks.
two years brought more bad luck. DOS numbers 2 and 3 failed in 1972 and
1973 respectively and never hosted any crews in space. The tide of
misfortunes receded by 1975 when NPO Energia, Korolev's old design bureau,
operated DOS number 4. Known publicly as Salyut 4, the station
successfully hosted two crews, the second one for more than two months.
Salyut 4 successfully hosted two
crews, the second one for more than two months.
Soviets also flew three Almaz stations in 1973-1977. Known as Salyuts 2, 3
and 5, they focused primarily on military experiments. The program was
cancelled in 1978 because the Soviet military believed the non-crewed
satellites were more efficient and cheaper to use for space-based
turning point for Soviet space station development was the launch of DOS
number 5 in September 1977. Known publicly as Salyut 6, the station was an
improved version of DOS with two docking ports instead of one and new life
support systems that could maintain life for as long as six continuous
months. In 1977-1978, cosmonauts Romanenko and Grechko, the first crew to
board Salyut 6, spent 96 days in space, breaking the world endurance
record set by the American Skylab 4 crew four years earlier. During their
mission, they received two “visiting” missions, one of them carrying a
“guest cosmonaut” from Czechoslovakia. Additionally, the Soviets
introduced an expendable cargo spacecraft known as Progress that was
derived from the Soyuz.
Beginning with the 96-day flight of Romanenko and Grechko, subsequent
Soviet cosmonauts spent 140, 175, 185, and 75 days on board Salyut 6
between 1978 and 1981. A total of 18 Soyuz and 12 Progress vehicles
successfully docked to the station. There were no major failures and no
fatalities, and the Soviets gained valuable experience with a variety of
complex operations in space such as in-orbit refuelling and docking. The
Soviets also gathered important data on the state of the human body in
space. Cosmonauts from Communist countries such as Poland, East Germany,
Hungary, Vietnam, Cuba, Mongolia, and Rumania also visited Salyut 6 as
guest-cosmonauts during weeklong missions.
7, which followed in 1982, was equally successful. Between 1982 and 1986,
it hosted five long-duration crews that were visited for short periods by
Soyuz ships carrying cosmonauts from France and India as well as the
second Soviet woman cosmonaut, Svetlyana Savitskaya. During these
missions, the Soviet cosmonauts carried out extensive spacewalks,
conducted a variety of successful repairs in space, and performed the
dramatic rescue mission of Soyuz T-13, which brought the dying Salyut 7
back to full operating condition after a series of catastrophic failures.
The longest host crew set a record of 237 days in space.
successful missions of Salyut 6 and 7 led to the launch of Mir (Russian
for “peace” or “community”) in February 1986. Mir, otherwise known as DOS
number 7, was a vastly improved DOS that had six docking ports. The goal
was to slowly add at least six modules, each about the size of Mir itself,
until the whole complex would be a full-scale space station weighing about
100 tons. Each of the add-on modules was derived from Transport-Supply
Ship (or “TKS”) vehicles that were originally developed for the abandoned
Mir-18 commander Vladimir N.
Dezhurov performing in-flight maintenance in the Core module of the Mir
a three-person crew set a new endurance record by spending an entire year
in space on Mir. The Mir core was briefly uninhabited for a few months in
1989, but beginning in September 1989, the Soviets began what would turn
out to be 10 years of continuous crewed presence in space. During this
period, in 1991, the Soviet Union fell apart and the Russian Federation
took over operations of Mir.
Mir space station. Cosmonauts
assembled Mir piece-by-piece during a busy ten-year period beginning in
The station's modules include the voluminous Core, Mir's original 20-ton
segment that harbours the crew's living quarters;
plus Spektr, a 19-ton science laboratory famous for its 1997 collision
with a Progress spacecraft;
and the 19-ton Priroda Earth observatory.
were added to Mir over a period of a decade. The first was Kvant, an
astrophysics research module launched in 1987. Kvant 2, a huge spacewalk
airlock, was added in 1989. Kristall, a multipurpose module, linked up in
1990 followed by Spektr, a power module in 1995 and Priroda, a remote
sensing platform in 1996. A specialized piece of equipment known as the
Docking Module was added later to allow Mir to be visited by NASA's Space
Shuttle. In total, with two visiting Soyuz or Progress ships, the station
weighed as much as 120 tons in orbit.
its 15-years in space, the Mir complex was the site of some notable
achievements. In 1994-1995, a Russian doctor, Viktor Polyakov, spent a
year-and-a-half in space, a duration record that still stands. Another
cosmonaut, Anataoly Solovyov, set the world record for the most time spent
“spacewalking.” The world's first journalist, a Japanese television
reporter, visited Mir in 1990. Guest cosmonauts from Bulgaria,
Afghanistan, France, Japan, Kazakhstan, Austria, Great Britain, Germany,
and Slovakia also visited the station.
United States and Russia initiated the Shuttle-Mir program in 1995 to
acquire experience in international cooperation before the launch,
assembly, and operation of the much larger International Space Station.
Over three years, seven American astronauts lived aboard the Mir complex
with their Russian counterparts, each for an average of four to six
months. During this phase two of the most dramatic events in the history
of space exploration occurred. One was a flash fire inside the station in
which the crew had to don emergency masks and extinguish the fire as
quickly as possible. The second was a near-catastrophic impact between a
Progress cargo ship and the Mir complex. In the crash, the Spektr module
completely depressurized, and the crew had to rapidly seal the hatch
before all the air leaked out. In both cases, the crews could have been
killed. As a result, NASA was severely criticized for neglecting safety
concerns although later events vindicated NASA's position.
Shuttle-Mir ended, in 1998, the Russians tried in vain to keep Mir
occupied, but lack of money forced the last host crew, the 28th main
expedition, to return to Earth in August 1999, thus ending nearly 10 years
of continuous piloted operations.
private company named MirCorp managed to raise enough money for a single
2-1/2- month mission in 2000, but the Russians finally said goodbye to Mir
on February 20, 2001, almost exactly 15 years after launch, when the
entire complex was deliberately deorbited over the Pacific Ocean, ending a
memorable saga in the history of space exploration.
time, DOS number 8 was already in orbit, having been launched in July
2000. Publicly known as Zvezda, it became the core of the International
Space Station. Zvezda continues the remarkable legacy of the Salyut space
stations that began in 1971, more than 30 years ago.