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Russian Space Program


During the late 1950s and 1960s, the dominant space power was the Soviet Union. Except for manned circumlunar, manned lunar landing, and exploration of the outer planets, all of the major space firsts were accomplished by Russia. These firsts included the first satellite (Sputnik 1, 1957), the first probes to hit and take pictures of the moon (Luna 2 and 3, 1959), first interplanetary probe (Venera 1, 1961), first man in space (Vostok 1, 1961), first woman in space (Vostok 6, 1963), first multi-manned spacecraft (Voskhod 1, 1964), first walk in space (Voskhod 2, 1965), first softlanding on the moon (Luna 9, 1966), first probe to orbit the moon (Luna 10, 1966), first unmanned lunar soil sample return mission (Luna 16, 1970), first unmanned planetary rover (Luna 17/Lunokhod 1, 1970), first object on Mars (Mars 2, 1971), first Venus lander (Venera 7, 1970), and first Venus orbiter with lander and surface pictures (Venera 9, 1975). But this all came crashing down in January 1966 when the "Chief Designer", the soul of their space accomplishments, Sergei Korolev, died during an operation. Their space program never fully recovered, and they lost the race to put a man on the moon. The problem of the Soviet space program was two-fold. First, whereas in the United States, NASA was the one central organization who was responsible for leading the race to the moon, the Soviet Union had competing design bureaus which very rarely cooperated on such important ventures. Secondly, the Soviet Union did not have the financial resources to compete. The United States spent approximately $24 billion to get a man on the moon. It has been speculated that Russia spent less than half that. When the race was lost, the Soviet Union denied that they had ever been in one. The truth came out during the era of perastroyka. But where there are endings, there are new beginnings. The Soviet program was re-oriented to further unmanned exploration of the moon with their Luna series of planetary spacecraft, and the launching and maintaining of space stations in orbit. The 1970s would be a time of trial and error, but by the end of decade, two very successful space stations, Salyut 6 and 7, would be manned for long time periods. Russia would also continue its very successful exploration of Venus including the first soft landing on that planet.



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

Collaborators: Code 935 NASA GSFC, GST, USAF Academy
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