Salyut 1, the first orbiting space station in history is launched, unmanned, by the Soviet Union. With Salyut 1, the Soviet space program intends to vault ahead of the United States in a new space discipline (namely long stays in space and the study of human endurance in a zero-G environment), having lost the moon race. The first Salyut station will orbit Earth for less than a year.
The Soviet Union launches the Soyuz 10 mission, intended to become the first crew to occupy an Earth-orbiting space station. Flying a new modification of the Soyuz vehicle, fitted with a new system for docking to the Salyut 1 space station, are Vladimir Shatalov, Alexei Yeliseyev and Nikolai Rukavishnikov, but they won’t be the first space station crew in history: the Soyuz capsule fails to hard-dock to the station, making it impossible for them to enter. Soyuz 10 returns to Earth after two days, and even on the return journey the cosmonauts are sickened by toxic fumes in their environmental system. Salyut 1 remains in orbit, still unmanned.
After a tuberculosis scare forces Soviet space officials to ground the mission’s original crew, the backup crew of Soyuz 11 lifts off to become the first occupants of a manned space station. Experiencing none of the difficulties that plagued the earlier Soyuz 10 attempt to dock with Salyut 1, the Soyuz 11 crew stays aboard Salyut for 22 days, a new record for a manned space mission.
With its first crew having perished, prompting a far-reaching reorganization of the Soviet space program and its technology, the now-unmanned Salyut 1 space station is ordered to fire its thrusters, slowing it down to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean. With no immediate prospect of a new crew to inhabit it, the first space station intended for long-term occupation by a human crew barely lasts six months in orbit.
With planning already well underway for the Apollo-Soyuz mission which won’t take place until 1975, NASA commissions a study from McDonnell Douglas to explore the feasibility of a follow-up to the international space mission, possibly involving joining the backup of the Skylab space station (known as “Skylab B”) and a yet-to-be-launched Soviet Salyut space station at some point in the latter half of the 1970s, effectively creating a joint international space station. Although the study goes so far as to specify issues of concern regarding the structure of the two stations and their respective standard atmospheric pressures, the recommendations are shelved pending the outcome of the Apollo-Soyuz flight. Significant political developments in the late 1970s will prevent the idea of an international station from moving forward for at least a quarter century.
The Soviet Union launches a second space station, and the first station designed exclusively for military tasks in orbit. Salyut 2 is the first station to use the Almaz military space station design devised in the 1960s as a response to the US Air Force’s never-flown Manned Orbiting Laboratory. Within two weeks, however, technical difficulties take their toll: Salyut 2 begins to tumble out of control, and its crew compartment depressurizes. (The redesigned Soyuz vehicle is not ready to fly yet, so no crew ever visits Salyut 2.) The second Soviet space station burns up in the atmosphere less than two months after launch.
The Soviet Union launches its third space station, again based on the Almaz military space station architecture. Salyut 3 remains in orbit for over half a year, and is eventually visited by the crews of Soyuz 14 and Soyuz 15, though the latter mission fails to dock. Despite international agreements already in place to prevent the militarization of space, Salyut 3 is the first armed space station, packing a non-steerable anti-aircraft gun (for defending the station, though from what is never made clear). Fortunately, the space war never happens and Salyut 3 is never forced to defend itself.
The Soviet Union launches the Soyuz 14 mission, sending cosmonauts Yuri Artyukhin and Pavel Popovich to embark on a two-week stay aboard the Salyut 3 military space station. Though some medical science experiments are performed at Salyut 3, the majority of the crew’s time is taken up with observations of the Earth’s surface, essentially making Salyut 3 the first manned military surveillance satellite. Before leaving, the crew of two offloads supplies so that the new Salyut 3 crew can stay for several months.
The Soviet space program continues with the launch of Soyuz 15, carrying cosmonauts Lev Dyomin and Gennadi Sarafanov. This is intended to be the second crew to occupy the Salyut 3 military space station, but spacecraft systems intended to automate the rendezvous and docking process fail. After manual dockings are attempted, the Soyuz vehicle is running low on fuel and the crew is recalled to Earth after only two days. (Trying to dodge questions about the nature of Salyut 3’s mission objectives, Soviet space authorities later claim that Soyuz 15 was never going to dock with the station.) No further crews are sent to board Salyut 3.
The Soviet Union launches its fourth orbital space station, Salyut 4. Much like Skylab, Salyut 4 is fitted with a solar telescope and X-ray astronomy equipment, which is trained on the X-ray source (and potential black hole) Cygnus X-1 during its flight. Three crews will go on to occupy Salyut 4 before it is deorbited in 1977; it is the first Soviet space station to successfully be occupied by multiple crews.
Soyuz 17 is launched by the Soviet Union, carring cosmonauts Alexei Gubarev and Georgi Grechko to the Salyut 4 space station. The two men move into the station for a month-long stay, breaking the previous Soviet space record, and proceed to conduct several science experiments. Discovering that the mirror of Salyut 4’s on-board telescope is warped, the crew resurfaces it in orbit and repairs the telescope. When Soyuz 17 returns to Earth, the crew is in for one of the bumpiest landings of the Soviet space program to date, landing in a blizzard with 45mph winds at ground level. Despite this, the vehicle lands safely and the crew is not injured.
One day before deorbiting the vacant space station for reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, Soviet military space officials fire the anti-aircraft cannon mounted on the exterior of space station Salyut 3 – the first test of spacecraft-to-spacecraft weapons in history (though there is no target on which to test the ammunition rounds). Without a steerable mount, in practice, the entire Salyut 3 station would need to have been pointed at the gun’s target. The station is destroyed by friction upon atmospheric reentry a day later.
Soyuz 18 is launched toward space station Salyut 4 by the Soviet Union. Cosmonauts Pyotr Klimuk and Vitali Sevastyanov set a new Soviet record for long-duration stays in space, remaining about Salyut 4 for two months. They are also aboard Salyut 4 during the entirety of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, and are able to contact that international mission’s Soviet crew in another Soyuz vehicle. (Two mission control centers are used to prevent any confusion between the two Soyuz crews.) At the time the Soyuz 18 crew abandons Salyut 4 in July, the station’s environmental systems are failing, allowing the atmosphere inside the station to become humid enough for mold to begin growing on surfaces in the crew compartment; no further human crews will visit the station.
The Soviet Union launches the two-ton Salyut 5 space station into Earth orbit. Salyut 5 is the final Soviet space station to utilize the Almaz military station architecture originally specified in the 1960s (at which time Almaz was developed to counter the perceived threat from the never-launched American Manned Orbiting Laboratory). The station carries Earth surveillance equipment and a return capsule for later retrieval of experiments and film. Salyut 5 remains in orbit for a little over a year, visited by only two crews.
The Soviet Union launches cosmonauts Boris Volynov and Vitaly Zholobov aboard Soyuz 21, the first mission to the newly-orbited Salyut 5 military space station. Though a few scientific experiments are conducted, most of the crew’s activities involve military surveillance of Earth. The crew’s stay is intended to last as long as two months, though an emergency aboard the station will cut that stay short.
42 days into their stay aboard the military space station Salyut 5, Soviet cosmonauts Boris Volynov and Vitaly Zholobov report unusual odors in the station’s air. On the 49th day of their stay, the two men bundle into their Soyuz 21 capsule to return home on only 10 hours’ notice, an unprecedented event. Details of the causes of the emergency return remain closely guarded to this day, including the possibility of toxic gas escaping into the station’s atmosphere and causing one or both cosmonauts to suffer rapidly deteriorating health. Neither of them fly in space again after their return.
The Soviet Union launches the Soyuz 24 mission to the Salyut 5 military space station. Cosmonauts Viktor Gorbatko and Yuri Glazkov carry special breathing gear to protect them from toxic fumes reported to have been the cause of the hasty exit of the crew of Soyuz 21 in 1976. They vent the entire atmosphere of Salyut 5 into space and replenish it, taking up residence for 18 days, during which they perform their own science and Earth surveillance experiments. They leave the station habitable for a visit by another crew, but Salyut 5’s fuel will be exhausted before that mission can take place.
With the 1972 agreement having resulted in the successful Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, the United States and the Soviet Union formally renew the Space Cooperation Agreement. As an immediate goal to build on Apollo-Soyuz, both countries hold tentative discussions about docking the American Space Shuttle (which, it is still assumed, will be in space before the 1970s are out) and a Soviet Salyut space station. Though the shuttle’s first flight is still being delayed, the biggest hurdle will prove to be international relations, specifically a renewed chilling of the Cold War thanks to the Soviet Union’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan.
The Soviet-launched Salyut 5 military space station tumbles out of its orbit, having exhausted the fuel needed to keep it in a controlled orbit of the Earth. The two-ton space station burns up on re-entry, having been visited by only two crews; another mission to Salyut 5 had been planned, but its fuel depletion made that flight too risky to undertake.
The Soviet Union launches the redesigned Salyut 6 space station, which will remain in service for five years. With six years of experience in building and operating space stations, Soviet space engineers embark on a rethink of station construction, opting for a more modular approach with Salyut 6: the new station has docking ports fore and aft, with additional station modules and automated resupply vehicles already on the drawing board. The dual docking ports also allow for multiple Soyuz capsules to be berthed at Salyut 6, making larger crews possible.
The Soviet Union launches Soyuz 25 into Earth orbit, with cosmonauts Vladimir Kovalyonok and Valery Ryumin set to become the first occupants of the new Salyut 6 space station. However, the crew is unable to successfully dock Soyuz 25 to Salyut 6, and after a fifth attempt to dock, the mission is aborted and the cosmonauts are recalled to Earth due to concerns about the remaining fuel in their vehicle. As a result, Soyuz 25 is the last all-rookie Soviet space crew until the 1990s.
A two-man crew – cosmonauts Yuri Romanenko and Georgi Grechko – is launched aboard Soyuz 26 by the Soviet Union. The Soyuz capsule docks with the recently-launched Salyut 6 space station, and the crew takes up residence for over three months, setting a new space endurance record at 96 days. The Soyuz 27 crew visits in January and swaps vehicles with the station occupants, meaning that Romanenko and Grechko technically return to Earth aboard Soyuz 27 in March 1978. Ten days into the mission, the first Soviet spacewalk since 1969 is undertaken to examine the forward docking hatch of Salyut 6, with which the previous mission failed to connect. This spacewalk was the first outing of the Soviet-made Orlan spacesuit, a design still in use on the International Space Station in the 21st century.
The Soviet Union launches Soyuz 27 on a mission to the Salyut 6 space station – the first instance of three vehicles being docked together in space. Cosmonauts Vladimir Dzhanibekov and Oleg Makarov spend six days with the crew of Soyuz 26 board the station, although Dzhanibekov and Makarov swap capsules with the station crew, leaving the newer vehicle at the station for their eventual return. The crew of Soyuz 27 is in space for less than a week, but their spacecraft remains in orbit, connected to Salyut, for over two months.
The first Soviet-made uncrewed Progress resupply vehicle lifts off en route to the manned Salyut 6 space station. Looking more or less like a Soyuz vehicle, Progress is an automated freighter whose systems lock onto Salyut’s docking transponder, guiding the unmanned craft toward a smooth and completely automated docking (though ground controllers stand by to take manual control by remote). Since Progress is not required to return a crew to Earth, its engines and their fuel can help to boost Salyut 6 into a higher orbit when necessary. It carries over 5,000 pounds of food, clothes and other supplies, and can automatically refill the station’s air and fuel supplies. Progress vehicles become an integral part of the space program, remaining in service long enough to resupply the International Space Station in the 21st century.
The Soviet Union launches the Soyuz 28 mission, the first manned flight in its Interkosmos series of international space missions. Cosmonaut Vladimír Remek is the first Czech in space, as well as the first space traveler not born in the Soviet Union or the United States; along with Soyuz 28 mission commander Alexei Gubarev, Remek visits the Salyut 6 space station for several days, though is presence is purely political showmanship; Remek later reveals that he had few actual functions to perform during the flight. Soyuz 28 spends a total of nearly eight days in space before returning to Earth.
The Soviet Union launches Soyuz 29 on a mission to berth at space station Salyut 6 for a period of around four months. Cosmonauts Vladimir Kovalyonok and Aleksandr Ivanchenkov are aboard, and they eventually set a new space endurance record, remaining in orbit for 139 days. Numerous material science experiments are carried out, as well as a spacewalk to retrieve samples of various materials left exposed to space outside the station. The crew is also assigned to take on a more rigorous exercise program. They will return to Earth in November after swapping vehicles with the crew of Soyuz 31.
Soyuz 30 lifts off en route to a brief visit with the crew of space station Salyut 6. This is the second manned Interkosmos mission, with cosmonaut Pyotr Klimuk and the first Polish cosmonaut, Mirosław Hermaszewski, aboard. They dock at Salyut 6 after two days in orbit, and spend a total of eight days in space. Though some joint experiments are conducted among the four occupants of the station, the Soyuz 30 crew frequently has to perform experiments in its own Soyuz vehicle to avoid getting in the station crew’s way, and the mission is kept short to free up the second docking port for a Progress unmanned supply vehicle launched four days after Soyuz 30 returns to Earth.
The Soviet Union’s Soyuz 31 mission to the Salyut 6 space station lifts off, with cosmonauts Valery Bykovsky and Sigmund Jahn (the first East German space traveler) aboard. The crews are segregated less than on previous Interkosmos flights, and the Soyuz 31 crew is in space for over a week. They leave their vehicle at Salyut 6 and return in the Soyuz 29 vehicle on September 3rd.
The Soviet Union launches Soyuz 32 on a long-duration mission to space station Salyut 6, with cosmonauts Vladimir Lyakhov and Valery Ryumin aboard. Over a record-setting 175 days, the new station crew conducts necessary repairs and upgrades to the station’s hardware, as well as conducting various experiments. With the arrival of equipment sent in the unmanned Progress 5 freighter in March, this is the first space crew to have a means to see ground controllers via a video link, rather than talking to them via radio; the cosmonauts also look forward to seeing family members during planned teleconferences. This is also the first crew to vacation in space, permitted a five-day break over May Day. Due to a major technical problem in the next manned Soyuz flight, the crew of Salyut 7 sets its duration record without a single visit from another cosmonaut.
The Soviet Union launches Soyuz 35 en route to space station Salyut 6 for a long-duration stay. Cosmonauts Leonid Popov and Valery Ryumin set a new space endurance record with their 185-day stay, lasting until October 1980. Ryumin had been a member of the last Salyut 6 crew as well, having stayed on the station for six months in 1979, and was not originally scheduled for this mission, rotated into the prime crew due to the illness of the originally assigned crew member. Four other crews visit Salyut 6 during the Soyuz 35 crew’s stay. By the end of this mission, Ryumin holds a personal record for the most time accrued in space by a human being – 352 days, barely two weeks short of a full year of spaceflight experience.
Soyuz 36 is launched by the Soviet Union on a one-week mission to space station Salyut 6. The crew consists of Apollo-Soyuz veteran Valery Kubasov and the first Hungarian in space, Bertalan Farkas. During the crew’s week-long visit to Salyut 6, they undertake an exhaustingly jam-packed series of experiments before swapping Soyuz vehicles with the long-duration station crew – technically, the Soyuz 36 crew returns in the Soyuz 35 vehicle on June 6th.
An advanced version of a new Soviet Soyuz spacecraft is launched with a crew for the first time. Soyuz T-2 is launched on a three-day mission to visit the Salyut 6 space station, with its primary goal to test a new automated approach and docking system for use with the Salyut space stations. After spending almost four days in orbit, cosmonauts Yuri Malyshev and Vladimir Aksyonov return to Earth; due to their vehicle’s flight test status, the T-2 crew does not swap spacecraft with the Salyut 6/Soyuz 35 crew.
The Soviet Union launches Soyuz 37 on a week-long mission to visit space station Salyut 6. Part of the Interkosmos series, Soyuz 37 carries an international crew consisting of veteran cosmonaut Viktor Gorbatko and the first Vietnamese space traveler, Pham Tuan. Joint experiments are conducted with the long-duration crew of Salyut 6/Soyuz 35, and the Soyuz 37 crew departs in the Soyuz 36 capsule on July 31st, leaving the station crew with a fresh vehicle with which to make their own return home.
The Soviet Union launches Soyuz 38 on a mission to the Salyut 6 space station, carrying cosmonaut Yuri Romanenko and the first Cuban in space, Arnaldo Tamayo Mendez. The week-long flight includes docking maneuvers with Salyut 6 in pitch blackness, guided only by the lights on both the Soyuz vehicle and the station, and experiments aboard Salyut. Since the long-duration Salyut 6/Soyuz 35 crew is due to leave the station soon, the Soyuz 38 crew departs in the same vehicle in which it arrived.
Soyuz T-3 lifts off from the Soviet Union’s Baikonur Cosmodrome launch complex, carrying the first three-man Soviet space crew since the early days of the Soyuz in 1971. Cosmonauts Leonid Kizim, Oleg Makarov and Gennady Strekalov also become the first three-man space station crew since the ill-fated crew of the first Salyut. Over a period of nearly two weeks, the crew conducts extensive repairs and upgrades to Salyut 6, readying the station for its next long-duration crew before departing on December 10th.
The Soyuz T-4 mission lifts off from the Soviet Union, carrying a two-man crew to space station Salyut 6. Cosmonauts Vladimir Kovalyonok and Viktor Savinykh remain about the station for 75 days, and are the last long-duration crew to occupy Salyut 6. Since they are still in orbit in April, they become the first Soviet crew to orbit the Earth at the same time as an American manned space vehicle since 1975, though the two never interact with each other at any point. The Soyuz T-4 capsule remains at the station as the escape vehicle until this crew departs in May.
Soyuz 39 lifts off from the Soviet Union, carrying its two-man crew on a week-long spaceflight including a visit to space station Salyut 6. The crew consists of cosmonauts Vladimir Dzhanibekov and Jugderdemidiin Gurragchaa, the first Mongolian in space. In conjunction with the resident Salyut 6/Soyuz T-4 crew, they conduct scientific and engineering experiments, some of them studying the state of Salyut 6 after several years in orbit. The Soyuz 39 crew returns to Earth on March 30th.
The final first-generation Soyuz spacecraft, Soyuz 40, is launched on a week-long spaceflight by the Soviet Union. With Leonid Popov and Romanian cosmonaut Dumitru Prunariu aboard, Soyuz 40 visits space station Salyut 6 for several days, and is the last spacecraft to dock at the five-year-old space station. The Soyuz 40 crew returns to Earth on May 22nd. Future Soyuz launches will use the upgraded Soyuz-T vehicles.
Launched unmanned in April, the Kosmos 1267 space station module docks automatically with the recently vacated Salyut 6 space station – the first-ever on-orbit expansion of a previously launched space structure. The module, a hardware holdover from the abandoned Almaz military space station program, provides engineers on the ground with information needed to safely add modules to the upcoming Salyut 7 space station to expand its habitable space. The experience gained will also be instrumental in the construction of the Mir station and the International Space Station. Kosmos 1267 remains docked to Salyut 6 until the combined structure tumbles out of orbit in 1982.
The Soviet Union launches the last of the Salyut space stations, Salyut 7, into Earth orbit. Reflecting an ongoing significant rethink on space station construction, Salyut 7 is intended from the outset to be docked with additional modules to expand its habitable and working space. It also sets a new endurance record of its own, remaining in orbit for nearly a decade.