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When In July 1969, the Soviet Union lost the race to get a man on the moon first, they did not completely dismantle their lunar program. Their basic manned spacecraft had been successfully tested in earth orbit. The manned lunar system was called the L-3 complex, and consisted of two distinct spacecraft. The first was the LOK lunar orbiter (or L-1) and was similar to the American Apollo Command and Service Module complex. The second was the LK lunar lander (or L-2) and was similar to the American Lunar Module. The LOK lunar orbiter was based on the successful Russian Soyuz spacecraft design and had overcome early failures like the Soyuz 1 disaster which had killed the cosmonaut, Vladimir Komarov. The LK lunar lander had been tested in earth orbit under the Russian Cosmos series, similar to what the Americans did with the Apollo 9 flight. But the Russian could never get their large lunar booster, the N-1, to work. In size, the N-1was comparable to the American Saturn V. However, in four launch attempts between 1969 and 1972, the N-1 failed to even get into earth orbit. The N-1 program was officially canceled in 1976. After the bitter national loss, the Communist Party redirected the space program toward space stations and the continued development of its Soyuz spacecraft.

Both the Soviet and the American space program had their roots in the same dream, that began with Jules Verne to Constantine Tsiolkovsky to Hermann Oberth. From these early visionaries, the plan was to go into earth orbit first, then a space station, and finally exploration of the Moon and then Mars. The race into space jumped one of steps by going to the Moon after going into earth orbit. In the 1960s, both American and Russian programs seriously looked at space stations. The American program began with the Apollo Applications Workshop that eventually led to the Skylab space station. In the Soviet Union, the need for a space station was first looked at by the Korolev Design Bureau in 1962, which would have been launched by the then fledgling N-1 booster. But since the Korolev Bureau was assigned the task of getting a Russian man to the Moon, the Chelomei Design Bureau was given the space station task which later became known as Almaz. The requirement for Almaz originally came from the military, in response to the American Manned Orbiting Laboratory or MOL program. Where the Korolev Bureau designed the R-7/A-2/Soyuz rocket launcher that is still used today, the Chelomei is best known for the UR-500K rocket booster commonly called the Proton rocket. It also is still used today, and is Russia's heavy lift booster. Chelomei designed an integral station unit that included the booster (Proton), the space station (Almaz), a return capsule called Merkur, and a logistics unit called TKS. By 1968 the basic design was complete but subsystem production was behind schedule. In 1970, all the work was transferred to the Korolev Bureau where subsystem design and production was completed. The push for final manufacture was to beat the American Skylab station into orbit. The Korolev Bureau took the basic Almaz shell and then added various subsystems from their Soyuz spacecraft to complete the total system. This combination of an Almaz shell with Soyuz parts was called by the Soviets their Long Duration Station or DOS, but has been commonly referred to as Salyut. Salyut 1 (DOS 1/Civlilian) beat Skylab into orbit (1971 versus 1973) by almost two years, but trying to man the space station first proved to be trying and then unfortunately ended in tragedy. Soyuz 10 was the first crew to try and activate Salyut 1, but the spacecraft could never properly dock with the space station. Soyuz 11 was launched and docked with Salyut 1 and completed a successful 24 day mission. But it was with the undocking from Salyut 1 to return to earth that an air pressure valve, normally activated after reentry, accidentally opened in orbit depressurizing Soyuz 11 and killing the whole crew. This was due in part to the crew not wearing any pressure suits. Russia had its second set of space casualties with burial in the Kremlin Wall.

It would be two years before the Soviet Union attempted any new manned flights. By then, the Soyuz spacecraft had been redesigned to carry only two cosmonauts but with complete pressure suits to avoid any more Soyuz 11 incidents. Also, the space station had evolved into two distinct and separate programs, one civilian (Salyut/DOS) and the other military (Almaz), even though all subsequent launches would be called Salyut. A second Salyut/DOS/Civilian station was launched but never reached orbit. The next attempted launch occurred in 1973 but the Salyut 2 (Almaz 1), the first military station, would not stabilize in orbit, began to tumble, and soon reentered the earth's atmosphere. A third DOS-type station was launched in May 1973 but suffered attitude control system failures. Salyut 3 (Almaz 2) was launched in June 1974 and was the first successful Almaz military station. It was manned several times but few details have emerged about this flight. Salyut 4 (DOS-4) was the second DOS station to be manned and the first completely successful civilian space station. A total of three crews were orbited with Salyut 4 between 1974 and 1977. The next space station was Salyut 5 (Almaz 3) and was the last totally military space station to be launched. It conducted operations from 1976 through 1977 and manned by three crews. Salyut 6 (DOS-5) was the third civilian station to be manned. It also had two docking ports on the station, both front and aft, and was the first station to be resupplied by the new Progress unmanned logistics spacecraft. All previous Salyut space stations, both Almaz and DOS, had only one docking port, at the very front. But the redesign permitted resupply and therefore extended stays in space. Salyut 6 was to last into the early 1980s. With Salyut proving itself in orbit, in 1978 the Soviet space program initiated the Intercosmos program where cosmonauts from Eastern Block and other communist countries would be allowed to spend a short time in orbit. By the end of the 1970s, cosmonauts from Czechoslovakia, Poland, and East Germany had visited the space station.

The Soviet space design philosophy has always been evolutionary versus the American style of revolutionary. The American manned program went from a reliable Apollo system to the quite untried and revolutionary lifting body Shuttle system. The Soviet system can be seen in the design evolution of both the Soyuz and Salyut space stations. In the Salyut/DOS/Civilian series of space stations, Salyut 1 was build up from an Almaz shell and one docking port with numerous subsystems from the Soyuz spacecraft, including attitude control, propulsion, main control panel, and 2 sets of solar panel wings on the front and back of the station. The next DOS station, Salyut 4, had the basic systems of Salyut 1, but now three large solar panels were mounted on the central body of the space station. Salyut 6, the third DOS/civilian station, took the Salyut 4 design and now included a second docking port on the rear of the station, and redesigned the propulsion unit. The Soyuz design evolution went from the basic Soyuz design, to the Salyut 1/Soyuz design, Soyuz ferry, Soyuz T, and finally Soyuz TM which is the present manned system being utilized. The Soyuz system consists of a service, descent and orbital modules. In many ways, the Soyuz and Apollo manned systems were quite similar, except that the Soyuz had separate descent and orbital modules. The Soyuz orbital module was used as a laboratory and storage area, where the Apollo system combined both these functions into the command module. In the basic Soyuz design, which carried three cosmonauts, there was a docking mechanism but not tunnel for cosmonauts to move from spacecraft to spacecraft. In the Salyut 1/Soyuz design, a tunnel was now in place, but now only two cosmonauts were launched. In the Soyuz ferry, the solar panels were removed, and batteries were the main electrical power. Soyuz T put back the solar panels, and for the first time in over 10 years, three cosmonauts could now be launched in the system. With these two very reliable systems, the manned Soyuz spacecraft and the Salyut space station, the Soviet space program had found a new focus and would be again the pioneering nation in the area of extended stays in space. The second part of the visionaries space dreams - earth orbit, space stations, and planetary exploration - was now a reality, and the Soviet Union was the leader.



Primary Author: Nicholas M. Short, Sr. email:

Collaborators: Code 935 NASA GSFC, GST, USAF Academy
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