When the Space Race kicked off in earnest in the 1950s, in some ways it was hard to pin down where sci-fi began and reality ended. As the first artificial satellites began zipping around the Earth, this was soon followed by manned spaceflight, first in low Earth orbit, then to the Moon with manned spaceflights to Mars and Venus already in the planning. The first space stations were being launched following or alongside Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and countless other books and movies during the 1960s and 1970s such as Moonraker which portrayed people living (and fighting) out in space.
Perhaps ironically, considering the portrayal of space stations in Western media, virtually all of the space stations launched during the 20th century were Soviet, leaving Skylab as the sole US space station to this day. The Soviet Union established a near-permanent presence of cosmonauts in Earth orbit since the 1970s as part of the Salyut program. These Salyut space stations also served as cover for the military Almaz space stations that were intended to be used for reconnaissance as well as weapon platforms.
Although the US unquestionably won out on racing the USSR to the Moon, the latter nation’s achievements granted us invaluable knowledge on how to make space stations work, which benefits us all to this very day.
Continue reading “The Soviet Space Station Program: From Military Satellites To The ISS”
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.
Today’s failed Soyuz launch thankfully resulted in no casualties, but the fate of the International Space Station (ISS) is now in question.
Just two minutes after liftoff, the crew of the Soyuz MS-10 found themselves in a situation that every astronaut since the beginning of the manned space program has trained for, but very few have ever had to face: a failure during launch. Today the crew of two, Russian Aleksey Ovchinin and American Nick Hague, were forced to make a ballistic re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere; a wild ride that put them through higher G forces than expected and dropped the vehicle approximately 430 km from the launch site in Baikonur. Both men walked away from the event unharmed, but while the ordeal is over for them, it’s just beginning for the crew of the ISS.
Until a full investigation can be completed by Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, the Soyuz rocket is grounded. This is standard procedure, as they obviously don’t want to launch another rocket and risk encountering the same issue. But as the Soyuz is currently the only way we have to get humans into space, this means new crew can’t be sent to the ISS until Roscosmos is confident the issue has been identified and resolved.
Soyuz MS-11, which would have brought up three new crew members to relieve those already on the Station, was scheduled for liftoff on December 20th. While not yet officially confirmed, that mission is almost certainly not going to be launching as scheduled. Two months is simply not long enough to conduct an investigation into such a major event when human lives are on the line.
The failure of Soyuz MS-10 has started a domino effect which will deprive the ISS of the five crew members which were scheduled to be aboard by the end of 2018. To make matters worse, the three current crew members must return to Earth before the end of the year as well. NASA and Roscosmos will now need to make an unprecedented decision which could lead to abandoning the International Space Station; the first time it would be left unmanned since the Expedition 1 mission arrived in November 2000.
Continue reading “International Space Station Is Racing The Clock After Soyuz Failure”
When you think about space stations, which ones come to mind first? You might think Skylab, the International Space Station (ISS), or maybe Russia’s Mir. But before any of those took to the heavens, there was Salyut.
Russia’s Salyut 1 was humankind’s first space station. The ensuing Salyut program lasted fifteen years, from 1971 to 1986, and the lessons learned from this remarkable series of experiments are still in use today in the International Space Station (ISS). The program was so successful at a time when the US manned space program was dormant that one could say that the Russians lost the Moon but won the space race.
Continue reading “Salyut: How We Learned To Make Space Stations”