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Russian Space Program


During this period, the Soviet Union established it dominance in the areas of space stations and continuous manning of those stations. With the continuous manning of Salyut 6 launched in the 1970s, and the orbiting or Salyut 7 in 1982, and finally the establishment of the first segment of a long term space complex with the MIR system, Russia made the second building block to the stars - a space station. American had established the first building block with a reusable space shuttle. Russia attempted to fill the void of a reusable shuttle with its own Buran and Energia launch vehicle, but the collapsing Soviet Union could not provide the funds to complete that project. Russian continued with its own interplanetary program including sending more spacecraft to Venus and Mars, and also conducting a rather complex mission to Venus and Haley's Comet. Finally upgrades to various communications and weather systems continued.


Although Salyut 6 was launched in1977, the space station continued to be used through 1982 when it was deliberately deorbited. During that five years of operations, it was occupied by five long term crews, eleven visiting crews, and had been supplied by the Progress Transport spacecraft twelve times. It was also hooked to the Cosmos 1267 TKS module, the first time that two large structures had been remotely joined together in space. This was an envious record, but the best was yet to come. Russia wanted to establish a permanent presence in space, and this occurred with the Salyut 7 space station, and then establish a long term structure with the MIR complex. Salyut 7 was launched in early 1982 with the goal of permanent space presence and this was accomplished by changing crews. This crew replacement operation made continuous manned permanent orbiting space stations a reality. During Salyut 7's lifetime, it was occupied by six long term crews, and visited by four short-term crews. Also during this time period, it was hooked to Cosmos 1443 and 1686 TKS modules. The crowning jewel of Soviet space stations was the MIR complex. The base module was launched in 1986, and during the remaining part of the decade it was joined by two other modules, a Kvant and Kvant 2 segments. The complex was designed for up to three additional modules, and could be remotely supplied by Progress transport ships. Also during this decade, Russia upgraded its basic Soyuz spacecraft from a "T" model to a "TM" model. It also upgraded the Progress spacecraft from the basic model to an "M" model. To complete the overall manned program, Russia wanted to replace its Soyuz manned spacecraft which had been in operations since 1967 with a reusable craft similar to the American space shuttle. They came up with the Buran shuttle attached to the Energia booster. There are definite similarities between the American and Russian reusable spacecraft, but there are definite differences. Both have delta wing orbiters, but the American STS has its main engines attached to the manned vehicle, while the Russian Buran does not. Both have a central core tank containing liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, but where the main engines are attached to the base of the American orbiter, the Russian engines are attached to the base of the core launch vehicle. Finally the boosters of the American STS are solid rockets, while the Russian Buran boosters are liquid fueled. This Russian boosters are dual purpose and can be used also as launch vehicles in their own right. So the Russian Buran does have some definite advantages that the American STS does not, even though they do look very much alike. Unfortunately, the Energia / Buran combination attempted only two launches. The first launch in 1987 consisted of the Energia launch vehicle with a cargo compartment attached. The launch vehicle performed flawlessly but the cargo compartment separated badly. The second attempt in 1988 consisted of a Buran / Energia combination. The Buran was launched, circled the earth for one orbit, and returned and landed successfully by remote control. By this time, the Soviet Union economy was collapsing and could no longer support the development of Energia / Buran. The program was eventually canceled, and one of the Buran test vehicles can be seen in a Moscow park as a tourist attraction.



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

Collaborators: Code 935 NASA GSFC, GST, USAF Academy
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