Soviet Union Begins Space Exploration
Laika, meaning “barker,” was the first
living creature to orbit Earth. The
female, mongrel dog, part
terrier, weighing approximately 13 lbs
and about 3 years old was launched
into orbit on November 3, 1957.
weighing 1,118 lbs, was a conical
spacecraft containing instruments and
a pressurized cabin.
Sputnik was the first artificial satellite to orbit
Earth on October 4, 1957. Sputnik, a
combination of words meaning "fellow
traveler of Earth,” was a silvery sphere with a
diameter of 23 inches and weighed 184 lbs.
2 Spacecraft with R
7 Launch Vehicle
2 spacecraft carrying Laika atop
7 launch vehicle is shown to the left. The
7 was the biggest leap in rocketry since the
2. It launched Sputnik and then Yuri
Gagarin into Earth orbit. Developed as the first
Soviet intercontinental ballistic missile, the R
became obsolete as a weapon prior to ever
being used. However, it continued serving the
Russian space program for almost half a
century after it was originally conceived.
At the turn of the 21st century, the R
space boosters remained the only vehicles
capable of delivering Russian manned
spacecrafts into orbit. The construction of the
International Space Station also depends on the
7 based boosters. It launches the supply
ships and lifeboats as well as transports the
The original 1960 group of cosmonauts in May 1961 at the seaside port of Sochi.
The names of many of
these men were considered state secrets for more than twenty
Sitting in front from left to right:
Pavel Popovich, Viktor Gorbatko, Yevgeny Khrunov, Yuri Gagarin, Chief Designer Sergei Korolev, his wife
Nina Korolev with Popovich's daughter Natasha, Cosmonaut Training Center Director Evgeny Karpov,
parachute trainer Nikolay Nikitin, and physician Evgeny Fyodorov. Standing in the second row from left to
right: Alexei Leonov, Andriyan Nikolayev, Mars Rafikov, Dmitry Zaykin, Boris Volynov, Gherman Titov,
Grigory Nelyubov, Valery Bykovsky, and Gyorgy Shonin. In the back from left to right: Valentin Filatyev,
Ivan Anikeyev, and Pavel Belyayev.
Soviet and Russian Human Spaceflight
Riding on the Vostok
spacecraft, Yuri Gagarin
became the first human to
orbit Earth on April 12, 1961.
In case spaceflight caused
Gagarin’s behavior to
become abnormal, the craft's
controls were locked. There
was a key onboard in a
sealed envelope in the event
of an emergency. Vostok
shook wildly during reentry,
but Gagarin did not use the
key. Once he reached a low
enough altitude, he ejected
and used a parachute.
Yuri Gagarin and backup
Gherman Titov, in their
spacesuits, are shown in the
bus taking them to the
launching pad at Baikonour
Cosmodrome for the historic
First Human in Space
The Vostok (East) spacecraft was originally
designed for use as a camera platform for the
Soviet’s first spy satellite program, Zenit, and
as a manned spacecraft. The dual
was crucial to gaining support for the program.
The basic Vostok design has remained in use
gradually being adapted for a range of
The craft consisted of a spherical descent
module that included the cosmonaut,
instruments and escape system, and a conical
instrument module that contained propellant
and the engine system. On reentry, the
cosmonaut would eject from the craft at about
23,000 ft and descend by parachute while the
capsule landed separately.
First Dual Spaceflight
4 Cosmonaut Pavel Popovich shown in orbit during his mission from August 12 to
15, 1962. Vostok
4 launched 1 day after Vostok
3 piloted by Andriyan Nikolayev. The goal of
3/4 was to have the two spacecrafts pass close to each other while in orbit to
prepare for a rendezvous in space mission. The cosmonauts in the two spacecrafts never
saw each other.
First Woman in Space
Valentina Tereshkova went
into space on June 16,
1963 as the pilot of the
spacecraft came within
three miles of Valeri
Bykovsky in Vostok
is the first time two
spacecraft pass this close
together while in orbit.
The images are from
motion picture footage.
The duration of her flight
was approximately 3 days.
Courtesy of Emmet, Toni, and Tessa Stephenson
Alexei Leonov completed the first spacewalk, lasting twelve
minutes, on March 18, 1965. Ten
minutes into the spacewalk, Leonov
noticed trouble. "Despite a tight fit, my feet got out of [the suit's]
boots and [my] hands out of [the] gloves. The work became
impossible, I tried to grab the handles [on the airlock] and my
fingers wouldn't work…the gloves' fingers would just bend on me.”
Leonov corrected the problem using a special valve to drop the
pressure inside the suit.
The Voskhod was designed as a three crewman spacecraft.
2 flew only two cosmonauts due to the extra volume
required to perform the spacewalk. The spacecraft commander,
Pavel Belyayev, photographed the historic spacewalk (left).
The Voskhod spacecraft consisted of
the Equipment Module and Descent
Module that returned the cosmonauts
to Earth. The Voskhod
2 spacecraft is
shown with the attached Extra
Vehicular Activity (EVA) Airlock
The cylindrical, fabric
covered airlock was made rigid by 36
inflatable booms, clustered as three,
independent groups. Two groups
sufficed for deployment. The booms
needed seven minutes to fully inflate.
1967 to present
The longest serving manned spacecraft in history,
the Soyuz (Union), was originally conceived in
Sergei Korolev's design bureau for the Soviet effort
to explore the Moon at the beginning of the 1960s.
Two Soyuz spacecrafts rendezvoused and docked
in 1969 forming the first experimental space
station. Long after the Moon race was over, the
Soyuz ferried crews to the Almaz, Salyut and MIR
space stations. Soyuz continues to ferry crews to
the International Space Station. It has also
performed many solo flights including the historic
docking with the American Apollo spacecraft in
Soyuz Launch Vehicle
1966 to present
The Soyuz launch vehicle is an
expendable launch system designed by
the Korolev design bureau and used as the
launcher for the manned Soyuz spacecraft.
It is a general purpose launch vehicle with
other uses including launches of the
supply spacecraft and
commercial launches. Soyuz vehicles are
launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome
in Kazakhstan and the Plesetsk
Cosmodrome in northwest Russia. They
are manufactured in Samara, Russia.
The launcher was introduced in 1966,
derived from the Vostok launcher, and was
based on the R
7 intercontinental ballistic
missile. It was initially a three
with an upper stage. It has become the
world's most used space launcher, flying
over 850 times, far more than any other
rocket. It is a very old basic design, but is
notable for low cost and very high
reliability, both of which appeal to
Apollo Soyuz Test Program (ASTP)
ASTP was the first human spaceflight mission conducted jointly by two nations. Soyuz was
launched prior to the American Apollo launch on the same day. The two spacecrafts docked
on July 17, 1975 and joint operations were conducted for two full days. The docking module
served as an airlock and transfer corridor between the two spacecrafts.
and Service Module
N1 Lunar Landing Launch Vehicle
1963 to 1976
Two N1 Moon rockets appear on the
pads at Tyura
Tam in early July 1969.
The N1 was designed for the Soviet
human lunar missions. The Soviets
never attempted a human lunar mission.
In the foreground is booster number 5L
with a functional payload for a lunar
orbiting mission. In the background is
the IMI ground test mock
up of the N1
for rehearsing parallel launch
operations. After take
off the rocket
collapsed back onto the pad, destroying
the entire pad area in a massive
Artists’ Impression Courtesy of © Mark Wade
The LOK spacecraft was
roughly equivalent to
the Apollo Command
/Service Module (CSM).
Similar to Soyuz, it
would serve as a
transport vehicle and
living quarters for the
two man lunar crew to
and from the moon.
The middle section
would be used during
launch and reentry and
for most of the vehicle
control functions. The
rear instrument section
would have been
elongated from the basic
Soyuz design to allow
for extra propellants. No
solar panels were used;
electrical power was
supplied by fuel cells
1965 to 1974
Soviet Lunar Lander
1965 to 1974
The lunar orbital spacecraft (LOK) and lunar lander (LK) would have been carried aloft by
the N1 launch vehicle. The LK was designed to deliver a single cosmonaut onto the lunar
surface. After separation from the LOK in lunar orbit, the cosmonaut would have
performed a spacewalk from the LOK to the docked LK. After the LK would have landed
on the Moon and the cosmonaut performed a moonwalk, the LK would have returned to
the LOK for the trip back to Earth.
The TKS spacecraft consisted of the
"Vozvraschaemyi Apparat" (or Return
Vehicle commonly referred to as the
VA) attached to the "Transportniy
Korabl Snabzheniya“ (Functional/
Cargo Block module or FGB).
To the right, the broad black line
outlines the vehicle’s pressurized
compartments. A tunnel connects the
FGB Module and VA Return Vehicle.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the Soviet
design bureau, led by Vladimir Chelomei,
developed a series of human transport
vehicles designated as TKS. The TKS
spacecraft was intended to supply the military
Almaz space station. The spacecraft was
designed for manned or autonomous cargo
resupply. The design was used on four test
missions but was never flown manned due to
the abandonment of the Almaz program.
In the 1980s, the design of the craft became a
base for the add
on modules of the Salyut
and Mir space stations. In 1998, a derived
spacecraft named the FGB module or “Zarya”
(Sunrise) was the first International Space
Station module in orbit.
1974 to present
Salyut 6 Space Station
1977 to 1977
Salyut 6 (Salute/Greetings) was launched into orbit September 26, 1977. It was aloft for four
years and ten months, completing 27,785 Earth orbits. Salyut 6 was similar to Salyut 1, the
first space station launched into orbit on April 19, 1971 and de
orbited on October 16, 1971.
Mir Space Station
1986 to 2001
Mir (Peace) was the first human permanent
base in space and the longest lasting, most
elaborate space station to date. It returned to
Earth in March 2001 after remaining in space
for 15 years, more than three times its planned
Mir Space Station Core Module
The core module included six docking ports used as permanent attachment points for the
other station modules and for temporary docking of manned and unmanned re
The core module was the first Mir component launched on January 20, 1986. It was the
backbone of the space station. Derived from the Salyut 6 and 7 space stations, it was the
principal control element containing the main computers, communications equipment,
kitchen and hygiene facilities, and primary living quarters.
The Soviet Union developed the SPK
maneuvering unit and flew it from Mir. The
SPK weighed 481 lbs. In case of a
malfunction, it remained connected by a
tether attached to a winch on an EVA mast
installed near the Kvant
2 module exit
The SPK was used on only two EVAs in
February 1990 flying up to 148 ft from the
station. Unlike the NASA space shuttle
Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU), it was
only flown tethered to Mir.
The picture shows a Mir cosmonaut testing
the SPK in the Orlan spacesuit. Mir is
shown reflected in the helmet visor.
The Orlan space suit has been in service
since the early Salyut space station and is
still in use today on the International Space
Station. It consists of flexible limbs
attached to a one
piece rigid body/helmet
unit. The suit is entered through a hatch in
the rear of the torso.
SPK Maneuvering Unit
Atmospheric Buran testbed, MACS,
Buran Reusable Spacecraft
1974 to 1993
The Soviet reusable spacecraft program Buran
(snowstorm or blizzard) began in 1976 as a
response to the NASA Space Shuttle. The
objectives were similar to those of the U.S.
program except Buran would resupply the Mir
space station. Buran did not fly a manned
Since Buran followed the NASA Space Shuttle
and the spacecrafts were visually similar,
many speculated espionage played a role in
the development of the Soviet shuttle.
However, even if it was an aerodynamic copy,
internally it was completely engineered and
developed by the Soviets.
The Energia rocket was designed as a heavy
expendable launch system as well as a booster
for the Buran Space Shuttle. It had the capacity
to place up to 110 tons in low Earth orbit. It
could be configured for heavier payloads
comparable to or even greater than the NASA
Saturn V. It was first test
launched in 1987. In
1988, an Energia launched an unmanned Buran
reusable shuttle. After two orbits, Buran landed
at an airfield.
International Space Station (ISS)
1998 to present
Key Soviet/Russian ISS components are shown February 2010. The ISS is viewed by a
crewmember onboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour following separation during the
TM docked to Poisk
Mini Research Module 2
Prospective Piloted Transport System (PPTS) is
a project being undertaken by the Russian
Federal Space Agency to develop a new
generation manned spacecraft to replace the
aging Soyuz. The PPTS project was started
following the failed plans to co
Crew Space Transportation System (CSTS) with
the European Space Agency. The CSTS is
shown on the left. The Russian Federal Space
Agency then ordered the Russian space
industry to finalize proposals for the new
The PPTS will have multiple mission capability that includes
orbiting crew and cargo transport, and lunar
will be able to conduct fully automated and manual docking;
and have propulsion capabilities during transport missions to
dock and re
dock with orbital stations, low
unmanned spacecraft, and modules; and provide for the safe
return of the re
entry vehicle to Earth.
The Russian Space Agency has reserved the option for a
reusable crew module believing that a cone
could fly up to 10 missions during its 15
year lifespan. The
vehicle may only use rocket thrusters to slow its speed during
landing unlike the Soyuz vehicle that uses a parachute.
Living in Space: from Science Fiction to the International Space Station
, Giovanni Caprara,
Firefly Books, 1998
provides a history of the development of space stations.
Russians in Space
, Evgeny Riabchikov, Doubleday and Company, Inc, 1971
a brief history of
Soviet rocketry, satellites and human spaceflight through the 1970s.
Two Sides of the Moon
, David Scott & Alexei Leonov, St. Martins Press, 2004
Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov’s insight into the Soviet human spaceflight program.
Text and Images:
Original 1960 Group of Cosmonauts
For centuries humans dreamed of conquering space and for centuries it was just a dream. The
20th century arrived and with it the phenomenal ascent of science and technology allowing
humanity to progress faster and farther than all previous recorded history. The Soviet Union
began the quest for human spaceflight.
Sergei Pavlovich Korolev
was the head Soviet rocket engineer and designer. Known only as
"the chief designer" during his lifetime, he is regarded as the Soviet's counterpart to Wernher von
Braun. Under his leadership, the Soviets developed: the first intercontinental ballistic missile, the
first artificial satellite (Sputnik) to orbit Earth, the first spacecraft (Vostok) to allow a human to
orbit Earth and the first space station (Salyut).
was the first human to orbit Earth.
was the first human to orbit Earth for a full day.
was one of the four cosmonauts to have a “group” flight of two vehicles coming
within five miles of each other.
was the first human to “walk” in space.
Four cosmonauts were missing from the photograph, Anatoliy Kartashov and Valentin Varlamov.
Both had been dropped from training because of injuries. Valentin Bondarenko died in a training
accident a few months before the photograph was taken. Vladimir Komarov was indisposed.
Mir Space Station Components
module carried the first set of complex mechanical wheels, gyrodines, allowing Mir to
maintain its altitude in space for the first time without firing its thrusters and consuming propellant.
1 also brought a deployable solar panel that was installed on the station's exterior.
module was subdivided into three sections isolated from each other by hatches. One
section was a large airlock featuring a hatch. A special backpack unit, an equivalent of the NASA
manned maneuvering unit was located inside the Kvant
2 airlock. Kvant
2 was the first of four Mir
modules based on the TKS transport spacecraft. The TKS was developed in the 1970s for the
Almaz military orbital station.
module was conceived as a multipurpose technology, material processing, astrophysics
and geophysics laboratory. The module was also equipped with a transfer compartment with an
adrogynous docking port for the NASA space shuttle.
module was originally designed for military experiments. The module's military payload was
replaced with a conical
shaped section housing a second pair of solar panels to improve Mir's
electrical power capabilities.
provided clearance between the NASA space shuttle and the Mir solar
panels during docking. Without the module, Kristall would have been relocated to the core module
front docking port whenever the shuttle docked.
ISS Key Soviet/Russian ISS Components
as of February 2010
(Sunrise) control module, also known by the technical term Functional Cargo Block and
the Russian acronym FGB, was the first component launched for the ISS to provide the station's
initial propulsion and power.
The pressurized module was launched into orbit by the Proton
rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on November 20, 1998.
(Star) service module served as the cornerstone for early human habitation of the
station. The module is similar in layout to the core module of the Mir space station. It provides
the early station living quarters; life support system; electrical power distribution; data
processing system; flight control system; and propulsion system. It also provides a
communications system that includes remote command capabilities from ground flight
mini research module 2
serves as an additional docking port for the
Soyuz and Progress spacecrafts as well as an airlock for spacewalks that facilitates EVA using
the Russian Orlan spacesuits. Poisk also provides extra space for scientific experiments, and
supply outlets and data
transmission interfaces for two external scientific
payloads being developed by the Russian Academy of Sciences.
spacecraft transports as many as three cosmonauts and astronauts to the station
and back to Earth. A Soyuz is also used as the "lifeboat" for the ISS. The Columbia space
shuttle accident in February 2003 and resulting grounding of the Shuttle fleet left the Soyuz as
the only vehicle capable of rotating crews onboard the ISS.
supply vehicle is an unmanned, autonomous spacecraft that provides the station with
dry cargo including food, clothes, equipment; and propellant.
Spacecraft Mission Capabilities
PPTS Launch Vehicle
Since the future spacecraft replacing Soyuz would need to carry six instead of three crew
members, it required a larger launch vehicle than the existing Soyuz rocket. The Russian
Federal Space Agency realized that a new launch vehicle was required. A formal industry
tender for the development of the manned launch vehicle to launch PPTS was apparently
initiated at the beginning of 2009. It is believed that the new rocket will feature a three
stage; each booster equipped with the powerful RD
180 engines using liquid oxygen and
kerosene. The engine was originally developed by Moscow
based NPO Energomash for the
American produced Atlas 5 rocket. The second stage of the new manned rocket would be
propelled by a pair of RD
0124 engines, currently in use on the Soyuz
Prospective Piloted Transport System
Cargo Delivery and
4,409 lbs Up &
1,102 lbs Down
Flight Duration (When
Docked to Station)