20 Important Historical Firsts Achieved by the Soviet Space Program
20 Important Historical Firsts Achieved by the Soviet Space Program

20 Important Historical Firsts Achieved by the Soviet Space Program

Steve - March 3, 2019

Space, the final frontier, played a central role in the post-World War Two era which came to be defined by the Cold War competition between the United States and the Soviet Union. Although the grandest of all victories – a manned mission to the Moon – ultimately went to the Americans, one should not overlook or diminish the many impressive achievements of the so-called “evil empire”. Despite a narrative in recent decades regarding American inevitable victory in the Space Race, or indeed in the Cold War at large, the Soviets accomplished many surprising firsts; some of these impressive milestone years, even, ahead of their counterparts in the United States.

20 Important Historical Firsts Achieved by the Soviet Space Program
Even if the greatest triumph of all – the Moon landing – was accomplished by the United States, the Soviet Union’s achievements should not be overlooked (Photo showing Buzz Aldrin on the Moon, July 21, 1969). Wikimedia Commons.

Here are 20 important firsts achieved by the Soviet Space Program that you should know about:


20 Important Historical Firsts Achieved by the Soviet Space Program
A two-view drawing of the R-7 Semyorka. Wikimedia Commons.

20. The R-7 Semyorka became the world’s first intercontinental ballistic missile when it was successfully launched on August 21, 1957

The R-7, nicknamed the “Semyorka”, was developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War as the world’s first intercontinental ballistic missile. Originally designed in 1953 after a request for a two-stage missile with a range of 8,000 kilometers, a maximum speed of 20 mach, and a carrying capacity of 3,000 kilograms, the project took until May 1, 1957, to produce a viable test-ready prototype fulfilling these requirements. Launched two weeks later on May 15, this prototype caught fire soon after launch and crashed 400 kilometers away. A second test, conducted on June 11, equally ended in failure due to an electrical short.

Finally, on August 21, the Soviets accomplished a successful test flight of 6,000 kilometers from the Baikonur Cosmodrome into the Pacific Ocean. Announcing their success five days later, the rocket continued to face experimental issues precluding operational deployment until February 9, 1959. Thereafter, the missile system, limited to no more than ten nuclear-armed missiles at any one time, remained actively deployed until being phased out in 1968. It would take the United States until November 28, 1958, to replicate the success of their greatest rivals with their own “Atlas” intercontinental ballistic missile.

20 Important Historical Firsts Achieved by the Soviet Space Program
A replica of Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite to be put into outer space. The National Air and Space Museum/Wikimedia Commons.

19. Widely regarded as firing the starting pistol of the Space Race between the Soviet Union and the United States, Sputnik 1 became the first artificial satellite on October 4, 1957

Sputnik 1, launched in fact by an R-7 missile, became the first artificial satellite of our planet after its successful launch into an elliptical low Earth orbit on October 4, 1957. Launched during the International Geophysical Year, an international scientific project designed to encourage mutual progress, both the Soviet Union and United States proclaimed, within one week of each other, that they would successfully demonstrate an artificial satellite during the event. They designed a light-weight version of their original prototype, registering 100 kilograms rather than in excess of 1,000, the Soviets beat their American counterparts by 89 days.

Orbiting for a full three weeks, during which time Sputnik sent the first radio signals from outer space, the landmark satellite became nonoperational after its limited batteries depleted. Remaining in orbit for a further two months, Sputnik subsequently fell back into Earth’s atmosphere on January 4, 1958, after having completed a total of 1,440 orbits. Providing valuable information on the density of the upper atmosphere, as well as of the Earth’s ionosphere, the success of Sputnik is generally accepted as fundamentally altering global public perception of the Soviet Union’s technological capabilities and triggered the so-called “Sputnik Crisis” among Western nations.

20 Important Historical Firsts Achieved by the Soviet Space Program
A replica model of Sputnik 2, at the Polytechnic Museum in Moscow. Wikimedia Commons.

18. The first spacecraft to carry a living animal into out space, Sputnik 2 launched on November 3, 1957, carrying Laika, a Russian dog from Moscow

Following on from the successes of Sputnik 1, on November 3, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 2. Although similar to its famed predecessor, the younger spacecraft possessed important modifications to improve flight telemetry, preserve and prolong battery life, and, most importantly, carry a living creature as part of its payload. Selected from among ten prospective canine candidates, a stray mongrel living on the streets of Moscow, believed to have been part-husky and part-terrier, Laika, was chosen to serve as the flight animal. Launching successfully, Laika’s heart rate appeared elevated during her ascent but otherwise entered space unharmed.

Despite claims by the Soviets that Laika had survived a week in orbit before eventually dying of oxygen depletion, information released in the post-Soviet era reveals a different story. After three normal orbits of the Earth, during the fourth her cabin temperature suddenly spiked. Laika died after just a few hours in outer space as a result of this critical overheating. Spending a total of 162 days in space, completing 2,500 orbits, Sputnik 2 plunged back to Earth and crashed in South America. This second immense feat, if controversial due to animal rights concerns, intensified pressure within the United States to produce their own historic space milestone.

20 Important Historical Firsts Achieved by the Soviet Space Program
A replica of Luna 1, hosted at the Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy of the USSR. Wikimedia Commons.

17. The first spacecraft to escape Earth’s gravity, Luna 1 missed its original lunar trajectory in January 1959 and instead remains in orbit around the Sun to this day

Achieving a host of technical landmarks, Luna 1, also known as “Mechta”, was the first spacecraft to enter into a heliocentric orbit, even if not originally intended to do so, the first to detect solar winds, and, perhaps most famously, the first to reach the vicinity of the Moon. Launched on January 2, 1959, Luna 1 became the first man-made object to reach the escape velocity of Earth, thereby traveling beyond the gravitational pull of our planet and the first to exit geocentric orbit. During its travels, Luna 1 passed through the Van Allen radiation belt, permitting valuable data to be collected on the Earth’s atmosphere.

Originally intended to impact the Moon, a programming error caused the spacecraft to instead miss the celestial body by approximately 6,000 kilometers. Consequently, Luna 1 alternatively entered into a heliocentric orbit around the Sun and between the orbits of the Earth and the Moon, becoming a “new planet” where it continues to reside today. The verification of the existence of solar winds – streams of charged particles released from the upper atmosphere of the Sun – combined with the revelation the Moon possessed no magnetic field, remains among the most important astrophysical discoveries regarding planetary formations and conditions.

20 Important Historical Firsts Achieved by the Soviet Space Program
The Luna 2 Soviet Moon probe. Wikimedia Commons.

16. Fulfilling the original mission objective of Luna 1, its successor spacecraft – Luna 2 – became the first man-made object on another celestial body in September 1959

The second spacecraft in the Soviet’s eponymous program, Luna 2 was the first man-made object to reach the surface of the Moon. Following a comparable design to its predecessor, Luna 2 was projected to complete the mission its older sibling failed to accomplish. Launched on September 12, 1959, after a travel time of 38 hours Luna 2 impacted the Moon’s surface on September 13, near the craters Aristides, Archimedes, and Autolycus. Conducting experiments en route to the Moon, in particular the measuring of levels of ionizing radiation, upon its crash-landing onto the celestial object Luna 2 released a 650-kilometer wide vapor cloud capable of being seen by observatories on Earth.

The success of Luna 2 presented a momentous blow to American confidence in the Space Race. Believing they had made significant progress, achieving better guidance systems in contrast to the Soviet’s larger rockets, by September 1959 the closest the United States had come to the Moon was 37,000 miles away with Pioneer 4. This sobering reality drastically affected American domestic confidence, whilst the USSR enthusiastically embraced the event for propaganda purposes, with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev even presenting President Eisenhower with a replica of a patriotic steel pennant attached to the famed spacecraft.

20 Important Historical Firsts Achieved by the Soviet Space Program
A commemorative stamp issued by the Soviet Union, depicting Luna 3 photographing the far side of Moon. Wikimedia Commons.

15. In an attempt to outshine the successful transmission of orbital photographs by the United States, the Soviet Union launched Luna 3 in October 1959 to obtain images of the dark side of the Moon.

Beaten by the United States on August 7, 1959, with Explorer 6 transmitting the first photographs taken from the Earth’s orbit, the Soviet Union sought to respond to this accomplishment with an even grander feat. As a result, Luna 3 was charged with photographing not merely the Earth from orbit but the far side of the Moon. Designed with several solar cells to provide power to the batteries, reflecting the confidence of Soviet rocket engineers in their telemetry Luna 3 possessed no rocket motors to allow for course correction. Launched on October 4, 1959, the spacecraft successfully reached the dark side of the Moon.

Taking 29 pictures over the course of 40 minutes on October 7, from distances of between 63,500 and 66,700 kilometers above the surface of the Moon, attempts to transmit these images were unsuccessful until the spacecraft began its return to Earth. On October 18, 17 photographs of low-quality resolution were received, before the craft was destroyed upon re-entry. Despite their poor quality, the images offered humanity their first ever glimpses of the far side of the Moon. Published around the world, and offering significant scientific insights, the United States would not replicate the achievement until the mid-1960s.

20 Important Historical Firsts Achieved by the Soviet Space Program
The Korabl-Sputnik 2, housed at the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics, Russia. Wikimedia Commons.

14. Succeeding where Sputnik 2 had failed, Korabl-Sputnik 2 successfully launched living animals into outer space in August 1960 before returning them safely to Earth

Launched on August 19, 1960, Korabl-Sputnik 2, referred to in the West as Sputnik 5, was the first spaceflight to send living animals into orbit and successfully return them safely to Earth. Attempted initially on July 28, one of the rocket boosters suffered a critical failure 19 seconds after launch. Resulting in the disintegration of the launch vehicle, both dogs on board, Bars and Lisichka, were killed upon impact. Carrying two replacement dogs, Belka and Strelka, forty mice, two rats, and a range of plant-life, after spending almost a day in outer space the Korabl-Sputnik 2 returned to Earth on August 20.

Although one of the dogs had suffered seizures during the fourth orbit, all the space-faring animals were recovered in good health from the Korabl-Sputnik 2, paving the way towards manned orbital flights. Strelka, in fact, would give birth to a litter of puppies in 1961, one of which was presented as a gift to the First Lady of the United States, Jacqueline Kennedy, by the Soviet Union. Almost triggering a diplomatic crisis, it was seriously debated within the Kennedy Administration whether or not to accept, with advisors fearing that the dog might have microphones surgically implanted in its body before common sense prevailed.

20 Important Historical Firsts Achieved by the Soviet Space Program
Yuri Gagarin in Vostok 1, as transmitted to Earth during his historic flight. Wikimedia Commons.

13. Among the most legendary scientific accomplishments of the twentieth century, the launch of Vostok 1 in April 1961 saw Yuri Gagarin become the first human to enter outer space

Competing with Project Mercury, the top-secret American manned space program, the Soviet Union desperately pursued its own rival project to achieve the landmark accomplishment of placing a human in outer space. Designing a capsule capable of carrying a single individual, its eventual pilot, the 27-year-old Yuri Gagarin, was only formally selected four days before the launch date to ensure absolute secrecy surrounding the project. Aware that the mission carried significant chances of fatal failure, Gagarin, registering a calm sixty-four beats per minute heart-rate, bravely boarded the Vostok 1 in the early hours of April 12, 1961.

Consisting of a single orbit around the Earth, during which time the spacecraft skimmed the upper atmosphere at an altitude of 169 kilometers, the total time between launch and landing was just 108 minutes. Parachuting to the ground after ejecting from his capsule at 23,000 feet, Gagarin safely returned to Earth a hero as the first man in space. Prompting immediate concern regarding the potential militarization of space, the reaction of the United States was that of quiet terror. President Kennedy acknowledged it would be “some time” before they could replicate the achievement, with the event serving as a major propaganda coup in the ongoing battle for hearts and minds.

20 Important Historical Firsts Achieved by the Soviet Space Program
A replica of the Venera 1 at the Museum of Astronautics, Moscow. Wikimedia Commons.

12. The first probe to perform a planetary flyby on May 19, 1961, Venera 1, unfortunately, failed to provide any scientific data from this event due to a systems failure

Launched on February 12, 1961, the flight of Venera 1, known in the West as Sputnik 8, was responsible for several historic firsts. Consisting of an almost 1,500 lbs probe, the mission objective was to reach the planet Venus for the first time. Fired into a low Earth orbit, Venera 1 utilized the world’s first staged-combustion rocket engine, as well as the first use of liquid-fuel in outer space. The upper stage subsequently propelled the spacecraft beyond the orbit of the Earth and into a heliocentric orbit heading in the direction of Venus.

En route during its journey, Venera 1 became the first spacecraft to perform mid-course corrections, in addition to spin-stabilization, both of which would become staples of spaceflight in future decades. Successfully flying past Venus on May 19, becoming the first man-made object to perform a planetary flyby, the probe had unfortunately lost radio contact with mission control on Earth. Consequently, no information was relayed and no data acquired from this milestone. It is believed that the solar sensors might have suffered critical overheating as the probe approached the Sun.

20 Important Historical Firsts Achieved by the Soviet Space Program
Gherman Titov, Nikita Khrushchev and Yuri Gagarin at Red Square in Moscow (c. November 20, 1961). Wikimedia Commons.

11. Following on from the success of Vostok 1, Vostok 2 carried a human into outer space for more than a day in August 1961

After the success of Vostok 1, Soviet engineers began planning for a lengthier voyage into space. Despite concerns about the effects of prolonged weightlessness and exposure after the flight of Korabl-Sputnik 2, the decision was taken to attempt to surpass a full day in orbit with a human passenger. Launched on August 6, 1961, carrying cosmonaut Gherman Titov, the twenty-five-year-old Russian remains the youngest individual to ever reach space. Thereafter, Titov would enjoy seventeen and a half orbits of the Earth, becoming the first person to take control of a spacecraft in-person in space, before re-entering the following day.

The mission was not without complications, however. Once in orbit, Titov attempted to eat one of his planned meals but suffered nausea as a result of the disturbance of his vestibular system, becoming the first person to suffer from space sickness. Conversing with Soviet Premier Khrushchev via radio, Titov remarkably subsequently went to sleep for more than eight hours between the seventh orbit and twelfth orbits. The United States would not surpass the flight time of Vostok 2 until May 1963, when Gordon Cooper endured a thirty-four-hour long mission aboard the Mercury-Atlas 9.

20 Important Historical Firsts Achieved by the Soviet Space Program
The recovered Vostok 6 capsule, on display at the Science Museum, London. Wikimedia Commons.

10. Replicating the success of her male counterparts, more than twenty years before the United States would send a female cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to enter space on June 16, 1963

Improving upon the hamstrung launch of Vostok 5, the final launch of the Vostok-series spacecraft – Vostok 6 – departed Earth without complications on June 16, 1963. Hoping to better understand the effects of space travel on the female body, on board, for the first time, was a female cosmonaut: Valentina Tereshkova, a civilian inducted into the Soviet Air Force as an honorary member for the mission. Keeping a detailed flight log, taking photographs, and broadcasting live from her capsule, Tereshkova’s mission lasted for almost three days and encompassed a total of 48 completed orbits.

Landing safely in Russia, Tereshkova suffered in the aftermath of her return to Earth from a variety of bodily pains likely associated with the shift in gravity. In a rather patronizing summary of her mission, Soviet officials recorded her exemplary performance as good for her gender and leaving room for improvement by men. The female Soviet cosmonaut program was dissolved in 1969, with Tereshkova, remaining still the only woman to embark on a solo space mission, entering politics. The United States would not reproduce this landmark effort of equality until the flight of Sally Ride in 1983.

20 Important Historical Firsts Achieved by the Soviet Space Program
A model of a Vostok capsule with its upper stage, on display at the “Russia in Space” exhibition in the Airport of Frankfurt, Germany. Wikimedia Commons.

9. The longest solo spaceflight in human history, lasting for a full five days, Vostok 5 orbited the Earth between June 14 and June 19, 1963

Operating concurrently with Vostok 6, due to delays in launch preparations caused by concerns over solar flare activity and the potential effect on the spacecraft and its passenger, Vostok 5 was eventually launched on June 14, 1963. Although inadequate repairs and modifications placed the vessel into a lower orbit than originally intended, Vostok 5 successfully reached space along with its occupant: Valery Bykovsky. Originally intended to endure an eight-day stay aboard the orbiting spacecraft, continued concerns over elevated levels of solar flares resulted in Bykovsky being ordered to return to Earth after only five.

During this residency, the longest in history at the time and remaining the longest solo stay in orbit, Bykovsky conducted a series of important physical scientific experiments to test the durability of humans in space. Returning safely to Earth on June 19, Bykovsky was greeted by bemused local farmers due to delays impeding the rescue team. His findings greatly improved conditions for future cosmonauts, including the improper placement of emergency equipment, the discomfort of certain pieces of gear, and, perhaps most helpfully, that the waste collection system rendered conditions “unpleasant” for the passengers during prolonged stays.

20 Important Historical Firsts Achieved by the Soviet Space Program
The Voskhod 1 capsule, as flown in 1964. On display at the Science Museum, London. Wikimedia Commons.

8. Setting a manned spacecraft altitude record, as well as carrying for the first time more than one individual, Voskhod 1 saw space travel enter into a new stage on October 12, 1964

Launching on the morning of October 12, 1964, and carrying for the first time a crew of more than one – three – Voskhod 1 marked an important milestone in the history of space travel. Lasting only a little over twenty-four hours, coinciding with the flight of Voskhod 1 was the removal of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev; his replacement, Leonid Brezhnev, made his first public appearance as the new head of state with the returning cosmonauts. The mission also set new records for altitude, reaching a height of 336 kilometers above the Earth, and its use of non-military pilots represented a minute shift away from military control over the space program.

Voskhod 1‘s mission was not without controversy. Lacking sufficient space, being originally designed for just two passengers, the crew of the spacecraft were required to forego spacesuits for the first time. Equally, the spacecraft had its ejection seats and emergency parachutes removed to make additional space. Furthermore, due to extreme politicking surrounding the launch, the original crew of Voskhod 1 were rejected just three days prior to their scheduled departure and replaced with comparatively untrained, but well-connected, individuals. Consequently, although the United States responded fearfully, being far behind with Project Gemini, the Soviet Union privately viewed the entire saga as an undisciplined “circus”.

20 Important Historical Firsts Achieved by the Soviet Space Program
Alexey Leonov performs the first-ever spacewalk during Voskhod 2. Wikimedia Commons.

7. Conducting the first-ever “space walk” on March 18, 1965, the crew of the Voskhod 2 braved the vacuum of space in a historic landmark

Launched on the morning of March 18, 1965, Voskhod 2, carrying two crew members, made history when Alexey Leonov became the first person to leave a spacecraft in orbit and perform an extra-vehicular activity. Lasting for approximately 12 minutes, carrying a suicide capsule in the event of failure Leonov bade farewell to his colleague, Pavel Belyayev, and stepped into the empty vacuum of space to conduct the first-ever “space walk”. Suffering from heatstroke, with his core body temperature increasing almost two degrees, Leonov was dangerously forced to depressurize his suit below safe limits to fit back inside the airlock.

Unable to return to their seats whilst wearing their custom spacesuits, the orbital module, without the calculated center of mass, was delayed disconnecting from the landing module by forty-six seconds. This delay caused the returning spacecraft to land almost four hundred kilometers from the intended landing site, instead arriving in the remote forests of Upper Kama Upland. Surrounded by wolves and bears, as well as facing freezing temperatures, the duo were forced to spend the night huddled together waiting for rescue. Arriving the following day, the pair were, eventually, safely retrieved from the site and hailed as heroes.

20 Important Historical Firsts Achieved by the Soviet Space Program
A replica of the Luna 9, on display at the Museum of Air and Space, Paris. Wikimedia Commons.

6. Achieving the first soft landing on the Moon on February 3, 1966, Luna 9 offered the world the first photographs of the celestial object from its surface

Launched on January 31, 1966, Luna 9 departed Earth on a mission to photograph the Moon from its surface. Using a four-stage rocket system to allow the lander to escape Earth’s orbit and reach the celestial orb, once Luna 9 reached 8,300 kilometers from the Moon landing protocols were initiated. Gradually slowing the fall of the lunar lander, the spacecraft hit the surface at a speed of approximately 22 kilometers per hour. Bouncing several times, the 99-kilogram Luna 9 eventually settled, becoming the first man-made object to perform a soft landing on another celestial body on February 3.

Beginning just minutes after landing, Luna 9 began surveying its new surroundings. Taking seven hours for data to be received by mission control, the probe successfully transmitted the first of nine images of the Moon’s surface. Although the Soviets did not plan for their immediate release, British observers at Jodrell Bank successfully identified the radio signals and intercepted the pictures which were then published worldwide. Proving that the surface of the Moon could support the weight of lander without sinking, a vital piece of information for future missions, final contact with Luna 9 was made on February 6.

20 Important Historical Firsts Achieved by the Soviet Space Program
The Luna 10 satellite. Wikimedia Commons.

5. The first artificial satellite to orbit another celestial body, Luna 10 began its orbit of the Moon on April 3, 1966

Launched towards the Moon on March 31, 1966, from an Earth-orbiting platform, Luna 10, after two emergency course corrections by Soviet mission control, successfully entered into lunar orbit on April 3. Completing its first orbit three hours later, Luna 10 began conducting important scientific studies on the environment of our celestial companion. Examining levels of gravity, radiation conditions, as well as performing geological surveys of the Moon’s composition, the satellite transmitted a total of 219 signals throughout the course of its mission. Eventually, after 460 orbits, the battery depleted and radio contact was lost on May 30.

Continuing to remain as the first artificial satellite of the Moon, Luna 10 serves as an exemplar of the propaganda purpose of early space programs during the Cold War. Fitted with a set of specially designed oscillators, after having entered into lunar orbit the spacecraft was programmed to reproduce the tune of “The Internationale”: the anthem of the socialist movement. Planned to be broadcast live before the 23rd Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in a display of the technological brilliance of communism, a rehearsal tape from the night before was actually secretly transmitted due to a malfunction on the night of April 3.

20 Important Historical Firsts Achieved by the Soviet Space Program
Model of Soyuz 4 and Soyuz 5 after performing the first docking of two manned spacecraft on 16 January 1969. Wikimedia Commons.

4. Performing the first successful crew exchange in space on January 14, 1969, the crews of the Soyuz 4 and 5 beat their American counterparts by two months and did so externally via a “space walk”

Launching Soyuz 4 on January 14, 1969, carrying a single cosmonaut, Vladimir Shatalov, Soyuz 5 departed Earth the following day with a three-person crew. Their collective mission, attempted previously and unsuccessfully, was to transfer two members of the crew of Soyuz 5 into Soyuz 4 before safely returning all parties back to Earth. Soyuz 4 served as the active vehicle in the docking, attaching itself to its sister ship. Using a pulley-and-cable system to ensure a safe “space-walk”, the two exchanging crew, Khrunov and Yeliseyev, carried with them newspapers printed after the departure of Soyuz 4 the previous day to prove the veracity of their accomplishment.

Separating after just four hours and thirty-five minutes attached, the spacecraft began preparations for re-entry after the successful and historic operation. This process was not without incident, with the service module of Soyuz 5 failing to separate and causing the spacecraft to enter the atmosphere nose-first. Leaving the only remaining crew member, Boris Volynov, hanging by his straps, the atmosphere almost burned through the escape hatch into his compartment. Adding insult to injury, the parachute lines and landing rockets malfunctioned, precipitating a hard landing in which Volynov shattered several of his teeth.

20 Important Historical Firsts Achieved by the Soviet Space Program
A replica model of the Soviet Lunokhod rover. Wikimedia Commons.

3. A response to the successes of Apollo 11, the landing of Lunokhod 1 on November 17, 1970, saw the first lunar rover embark upon a historic journey across the surface of the Moon

Following the failure of Lunokhod 0 (No.201) in February 1969, which had failed to reach orbit, Lunokhod 1 was launched on November 10, 1970, to become the first remote-controlled robotic rover to move across the surface of a foreign celestial object. Entering lunar orbit on November 15, the lander performed a soft-landing two days later in the Sea of Rains on the Moon. Although designed for a highly limited lifespan of just three lunar days, the approximate equivalent of three Earth months, Lunokhod 1 in fact operated for eleven lunar days, almost an entire Earth year, during which time it traveled a distance of 10.54 kilometers.

Operating during the daytime and hibernating at night to preserve battery power, the rover, measuring 2.3 meters in length, was equipped with four television cameras, a range of x-ray technologies, and an antenna for data transfer. Across a combined 322 days of operation, Lunokhod 1 returned in excess of 20,000 images, including 206 high-resolution panoramas, as well as twenty-five soil analyses and constant readings of the lunar surface. Whilst originally thought lost after deactivating, in 2010 the historic rover was identified in modern pictures of the Moon and determined to reside near the limb of the celestial body.

20 Important Historical Firsts Achieved by the Soviet Space Program
The view of the world’s first space station, the Soviet Salyut 1, as seen from the departing Soyuz 11 (c. June 30, 1971). Wikimedia Commons.

2. Serving as the first crewed space station in 1971, Salyut 1 laid the foundations for long-term human habitation outside of our native Earth but at a heavy price

Developing out of the top-secret Soviet military space station program “Almaz”, following the landmark Apollo 11 mission the Soviets shifted focus towards the construction of a space station in order to regain prestige after suffering defeat in the race to the Moon. Beginning construction in early 1970, the space station was launched on April 19, 1971, to become the first space station in Earth’s orbit. On April 24, the first crew for Salyut 1 arrived on board the Soyuz 10 and attempted to dock with the space station. However, due to technical malfunctions, this was unsuccessful and the crew were forced to return to Earth.

On June 6, a replacement crew aboard the Soyuz 11 departed for the station. Arriving the following day, after almost three and a half hours of careful docking the crew were able to enter and man Salyut 1. However, suffering another misfortune, on June 29, after just 23 days and 362 orbits, sustained problems including an electrical fire demanded the mission be aborted. Disembarking aboard Soyuz 11, during re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere a pressure valve malfunctioned causing a loss of cabin pressure. Not wearing pressure suits, all three members of the crew were found dead upon landing on June 30.

20 Important Historical Firsts Achieved by the Soviet Space Program
The historic handshake between Stafford and Leonov (c. July 17, 1975). Wikimedia Commons.

1. Serving as the final act in the protracted space race, in July 1975 the United States and the Soviet Union put aside their rivalries to share the honor of staging the first multinational crewed mission in space

A symbol of the ongoing détente – a relaxation of the hostilities between the competing superpowers – the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project demonstrated the potential of humanity in outer space without rivalry and marked the end of the Space Race which had begun almost twenty years prior. Involving the docking of an Apollo Command Module, surplus and repurposed from the Apollo program, and a Soviet spacecraft, the Soyuz 19, both two-man crews launched on July 15, 1975, to prepare for docking two days later. Among the Soviets, was Alexey Leonov, the first man to walk in space a decade earlier.

Spending a total of 44 hours together, during which time President Gerald Ford phoned the crew and gifts were exchanged, the American crew maneuvered their spacecraft to create an artificial solar eclipse to allow the Soviets to photograph the solar corona before returning to Earth. Sadly, despite hopes at the time of the mission that it might result in space, and even politics in general, becoming less competitive between the two nations, the legacy of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project was limited. Both nations renewed national enterprises as the Cold War heated upon once more, with international cooperation not restarting until the 1990s with the International Space Station.

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

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“Sputnik and the Soviet Space Challenge”, Asif A. Siddiqi, The University of Florida Press (2003)

“The Complete Book of Spaceflight: From Apollo 1 to Zero Gravity”, David Darling, John Wiley & Sons (2003)

“Soviet and Russian Lunar Exploration”, Brian Harvey, Springer Publishing (2006)

“Russian Space Probes: Scientific Discoveries and Future Missions”, Brian Harvey, Springer Publishing (2011)

“The Soviet Space Race with Apollo”, Asif A, Siddiqi, The University of Florida Press (2003)

“Korolev: How One Man Masterminded the Soviet Drive to Beat America to the Moon”, James J. Harford, John Wiley & Sons (1997)

“The First Soviet Cosmonaut Team: Their Lives, Legacy, and Historical Impact”, Colin Burgess and Rex Hall, Praxis (2008)

“The Rocket Men: Vostok & Voskhod, The First Soviet Manned Spaceflights”, Rex Hall and David Shayler, Springer Publishing (May 18, 2001)

“Russia in Space: The Failed Frontier?”, Brian Harvey, Springer-Praxis Books (2001)

“Into That Silent Sea: Trailblazers of the Space Era, 1961-1965”, Francis French and Colin Burgess, University of Nebraska Press (2007)

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“Manned Spacecraft”, Kenneth Gatland, Macmillan Publishing (1976)

“The Right Stuff”, Tom Wolfe, Bantam Books (1979)

“Challenge to Apollo: The Soviet Union and the Space Race, 1945-1974”, Asif A. Siddiqi, NASA (2011)

“The Rocket Men: Vostok and Voskhod, the First Soviet Manned Spaceflights”, Rex Hall and David J. Shayler, Springer Books (2001)

“The Nightmare of Voskhod 2”, Alexei Leonov, Air and Space Magazine (January 1, 2005)

“1966: Soviets Land Probe on Moon”, BBC (February 3, 1966)

“Is My Hair Grey”: The Story of Soyuz 4 and 5 (Part 2)”, Ben Evans, AmericaSpace (January 5, 2014)

“Lunokhod 1: 1st Successful Lunar Rover”, Elizabeth Howell, Space.com (December 19, 2016)

“Lost and Found: Soviet Lunar Rover”, Irene Klotz, Seeker (April 27, 2010)

“The Story of Manned Space Stations: An Introduction”, Philip Baker, Springer-Praxis Books (2007)

“Salyut – The First Space Station: Triumph and Tragedy”, Grujica S. Ivanovich, Springer-Praxis Books (2008)

“Deke! U.S. Manned Space: From Mercury to the Shuttle”, Donald Slayton and Michael Cassutt, Forge Publishing (1994)

“The Partnership: A History of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project”, Edward Clinton Ezell and Linda Neuman Ezell, NASA History Series (1978)