With their successful visit to Salyut 1,
the Soviet Union’s Soyuz 11 team became the first crew to man a space station, remedying
the previous mission’s embarrassing inability to enter that
The historic mission ended tragically, however, with the deaths of all three cosmonauts – Viktor Patsayev, Georgi Dobrovolsky and Vladislav Volkov – during their return
Soyuz 11 launched June 6, 1971, on a modified SS-6 rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome.
With the cancellation of their failed
manned Moon landing program in 1976, the Soviets redirected the focus of their manned space program to developing
an Earth-orbiting space station
The Soviet manned Moon mission hinged on the development of the Saturn 5 counterpart, the N-1 rocket, said Marcia Smith, director of the Space Studies Board here. The N-1 never had a successful test in four launch attempts from 1969 to 1972, and was canceled in 1976, the NASA History Web site said.
The Soviets launched the Salyut 1, the world’s first space station, in April 1970. “They had beat the U.S. in that regard,” Smith said in a May 27 phone interview.
But until Soyuz 11, the station remained empty. During the first mission to Salyut 1, the Soyuz 10 crew was able to dock but unable to enter the space station, Soviet space historian Phillip Clark wrote in “The Soviet Manned Space Program.”
The Soyuz 11 mission went markedly better. Initially, the crew was assigned as a backup, but when a member of the original crew was diagnosed – possibly incorrectly – with tuberculosis, the entire crew was replaced, Smith said.
“Everything was quite positive during the course of the mission,” Smith said.
During the mission, t
he crew successfully activated the Salyut’s facilities and performed a series of medical, biological, astronomy, Earth science and materials physics experiments. They also held the record for the longest amount of time spent in space
that time – 24 days. That record was broken three years later during
NASA’s first manned Skylab mission
in May 1974
. The crew began transferring mission data to the Soyuz craft four days before their June 29 flight home
, according to Clark’s book.
Tragedy struck the crew on their trip home. While the orbital capsule
landed safely using automatic controls,
a valve disconnected during the
separation of the orbital and descent modules,
releasing the atmosphere of the descent module – where the cosmonauts were located
The Soyuz’s cabin was too small to hold the three men in their pressure suits. As a result,
the cosmonauts succumbed to depressurization and were found dead inside the spacecraft
by the recovery team soon after touchdown, Clark
Honored as national heroes, the cosmonauts were buried July 1 in the Kremlin Wall at a state funeral attended by Soviet dignitaries President Nikolai Podgorny, Premier Alexey
Kosygin and Party General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev,
the book said.
The Soviet Union did not release the cause of the cosmonauts death until July 12, 1971,
according to the NASA History Web site. Some in the U.S. space community speculated that living in a microgravity environment for an extended period alone was enough to cause death. There was some corroborative evidence, albeit circumstantial, to support this. The heart muscles of Project Gemini astronauts were shown to weaken during long-term space missions, and in July 1969 a pig-tailed monkey named Bonnie died of heart failure after a nine-day flight on NASA’s Biosatellite 3, the
Web site said.
Two years later, t
he Soviet Union
launched another manned spacecraft. The redesigned
a two-person crew
wearing pressure suits, Smith said. The Soviet Union did not return to three-person crews until a decade
later with the introduction of the Soyuz T, she said.
1983: The Soviet Union launches Venera 15 to Venus on a Proton rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome. Along with its twin Venera 16, launched June 6, the orbiter conducted mapping and imaging missions of the planet.
1998: NASA’s STS-91 mission launches aboard Space Shuttle Discovery
from Kennedy Space Center, Fla., on the final space shuttle docking operation with the Russian Mir space station
2003: The European Space Agency’s Mars Express – composed of an orbiter and the Beagle 2 lander – launches on a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. While the orbiter successfully relayed imaging data, Beagle 2 was lost during its descent
to the planet’s surface.
1965: Gemini 4 pilot Edward White becomes the first U.S. astronaut to perform a spacewalk.
Earlier that day, White and
mission commander James McDivitt launched on a Titan 2 rocket from Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
The astronauts returned to Earth four days later, completing NASA’s
first mission that lasted longer than 48 hours.
1966: A Titan 2 rocket
lofts mission commander Thomas Stafford and pilot Eugene Cernan in the
Gemini 9 capsule
from Kennedy Space Center, Fla., for a three-day mission.
1991: The Soviet Union launches its Okean 3 satellite
on a Tsiklon rocket from Plesetsk Cosmodrome.
The Okean 3 monitored sea-ice in the Arctic seas.
1999: The Student-Tracked Atmospheric Satellite for Heuristic International Networking Equipment, or Starshine, is released from NASA’s Space Shuttle Discovery during the STS-96
. Starshine, a small, reflective-surfaced spacecraft, was tracked by more than 25,000 school children from 18 countries before it re-entered the atmosphere Feb. 18, 2000.
1950: The U.S. government accuses U.S. rocket scientist Tsien Hsue-Shen of being a Communist. Tsien, a
former California Institute of Technology student, later was convicted of the charge. Tsien returned to his native China in 1955 where he led Chinese development of ballistic missile and space-launch capability.
1960: NASA awards a development contract to Hughes Aircraft to develop ion propulsion engine technology.
1992: NASA’s Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer launches from Kennedy Space Center, Fla., on a Delta 2 rocket to scan space for sources of extreme ultraviolet radiation.