The Forgotten Rescue Of The Salyut 7 Space Station

With only two space stations in orbit around Earth today in the form of the International Space Station and the Chinese Tiangong (‘Sky Palace’) station, it’s easy to forget how many space stations were launched in the previous century. And the Soviet Union launched by far the most, as part of the Salyut (Russian for ‘salute’ or ‘fireworks’) program. Although the program entailed both military (Orbital Piloted Station, or OPS) and civilian (Durable Orbital Station, or DOS) stations, it was the civilian stations that saw the most success, as well as the most daring rescue attempt with the recovering of the Salyut 7 space station.

Salyut 7 (DOS-6) was set to repeat Salyut 6’s success after its launch on April 19th 1982, until disaster struck in February 1985. Due to a series of electrical and other faults ground communication with the space station was cut off, and the at the time unmanned space station began to gradually tumble towards the Earth’s atmosphere. This left those in charge with two options: leave the station to burn up in the atmosphere, or stage a rescue mission.

Ultimately, on June 6th, 1985, Soyuz T-13 launched to rendezvous with Salyut 7. On board were cosmonauts Vladimir Dzhanibekov – who had previously manually docked with Salyut 7 – and Viktor Savinykh. Both men had done all they could to perform a manual docking and attempt to revive the stricken space station. Ultimately they managed to revive the station using what little charge was left in its batteries and the Soyuz’s thrusters, all the while braving freezing temperatures in the dead station’s interior.

Salyut 7 would continue to perform its duties until February 1991, with Mir (DOS-7, launched 1986) as the first modular space station taking over. The final DOS module (DOS-8) that directly traces its lineage to this era is still in orbit today as the ISS’ Zvezda module, keeping the Salyut legacy and the bravery of Dzhanibekov and Savinykh alive.

17 thoughts on “The Forgotten Rescue Of The Salyut 7 Space Station

  1. I recall reading about the rescue decades ago.
    A couple of actions, IIRC, were bypassing a voltage regulator connecting the solar panels directly to the batteries, and burning “oxygen producing candles”.

    1. I second that. After watching the film a couple of times, it doesn’t look too bad. Could have been way worse for a Russian film. Even though it could be better at some points, it becomes obvious that the film makers put their hearts into it. It’s not full of heroism or patriotism, for example. When I watched it first time, I had my doubts, but then I drew the final conclusion that the film indeed has its moments.

    1. Well, technically, that’s right. The earth’s atmosphere is however still there were the space stations do cruise around. The rests of it do extend up to the moon, in fact.

      And if we’re picky, we could say that “space” starts past the moon orbit.
      And depending on how we look at it, Luna isn’t really a moon/satellite, either.
      Earth and moon rather form a dual-planet system.

      1. The dual planet system concept is not widely accepted as the definition of what constitutes a dual planet system hasn’t been fully fleshed out. It might one day be widely accepted, but for the moment it isn’t. Always nice to have another perspective, though. It’ll be interesting to see how we classify the Earth/Moon relationship over time.

    2. ” vacuum of space has no temperature” is a non-sensical, meaningless statement.

      For something to have a temperature there first must be something to have a temperature.

      But if you put a thermometer anywhere in space, including a vacuum, it will read a temperature. An object (like a thermometer) will equilibrate to its surroundings, where heat lost by radiation is balanced by heat received (or generated internally). In our neighbourhood, 150 M km from the big heat source we call “the sun”, that equilibrium is around the freezing point of water.

    3. An ideal vacuum can’t have a temperature because there’s nothing there by definition.

      However, there is still the cosmic microwave background which is something like 2-3 Kelvins.

      1. “An ideal vacuum can’t have a temperature because there’s nothing there by definition.”

        An ideal vacuum is non-existent. Might as well say Winnie The Pooh has no temperature.

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