Prelude to Space Stations (1903-1964)
Soviet engineers began work on large rockets in the 1930s. In May 1955, work began on the Baikonur launch site in central Asia. In August-1957, the world's first intercontinental ballistic missile lifted off from Baikonur on a test flight, followed by the launch of Sputnik I, the world's first artificial satellite, on October 4, 1957. On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin lifted off from Baikonur in the Vostok I capsule, becoming the first human in space.
A year later, Soviet engineers described a space station comprised of modules launched separately and brought together in orbit. A quarter-century later, in 1987, this concept became reality when the Kvant module was added to the Mir core station.
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First-Generation Stations (1964-1977)
First-generation space stations had one docking port and could not be resupplied or refueled. The stations were launched unmanned and later occupied by crews. There were two types: Almaz military stations and Salyut civilian stations. To confuse Western observers the Soviets called both kinds Salyut.
The Almaz military station program was the first approved. When proposed in 1964, it had three parts: the Almaz military surveillance space station, Transport Logistics Spacecraft for delivering soldier-cosmonauts and cargo, and Proton rockets for launching both. All of these spacecraft were built, but none was used as originally planned.
Soviet engineers completed several Almaz station hulls by 1970. The Soviet leadership ordered Almaz hulls transferred to a crash program to launch a civilian space station. Work on the Transport Logistics Spacecraft was deferred, and the Soyuz spacecraft originally built for the Soviet manned Moon program was reapplied to ferry crews to space stations. Salyut 1, the first space station in history, reached orbit unmanned atop a Proton rocket on April 19, 1971.
The early first-generation stations were plagued by failures. The crew of Soyuz 10, the first spacecraft sent to Salyut 1, was unable to enter the station because of a docking mechanism problem. The Soyuz 11 crew lived aboard Salyut I for three weeks, but died during return to the Earth because the air escaped from their Soyuz spacecraft. Then, three first-generation stations failed to reach orbit or broke up in orbit before crews could reach them. The second failed station was Salyut 2, the first Almaz military station to fly.
The Soviets recovered rapidly from these failures. Salyut 3, Salyut 4, and Salyut 5 supported a total of five crews. In addition to military surveillance and scientific and industrial experiments, the cosmonauts performed engineering tests to help develop the second-generation space stations.
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Second Generation Stations (1977-1985)
With the second-generation stations, the Soviet space station program evolved from short-duration to long-duration stays. Like the first-generation stations, they were launched unmanned and their crews arrived later in Soyuz spacecraft. Second-generation stations had two docking ports. This permitted refueling and resupply by automated Progress freighters derived from Soyuz. Progress docked automatically at the aft port, and was then opened and unloaded by cosmonauts on the station. Transfer of fuel to the station took place automatically under supervision from the ground.
A second docking port also meant long-duration resident crews could receive visitors. Visiting crews often included cosmonaut-researchers from Soviet bloc countries or countries sympathetic to the Soviet Union. Vladimir Remck of Czechoslovakia, the first space traveler not from the U.S. or the Soviet Union, visted Salyut 6 in 1978.
Visiting crews relieved the monotony of a long stay in space. They often traded their Soyuz spacecraft for the one already docked at the station because Soyuz only had a limited lifteime in orbit. Lifetime was gradually extended from 60-90 days for the Soyuz Ferry to more than 180 days for the Soyuz-TM.
Third-Generation Station: Mir (1986-present)
Mir was the first permanent space station. The station has been in orbit for 13 years, and staffed continuously for the past 9 years. The complex weighs more than 100 tons and consists of the Mir core, Kvant, Kvant 2, Kristall, Spektr, Priroda and Docking modules. Mir measures more than 107 feet long with docked Progress-M and Soyuz-TM spacecraft, and is about 90 feet wide across its modules.
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