Russia has a lot of significant contributions to the space exploration. It definitely has a lot of firsts (the first satellite, the first dog in space, the first human in orbit, the first space station). Not to mention that it has been in a bitter competition with the USA for the space supremacy. Here are some of the more interesting facts about the Russian space program.
Some of Russia’s major contributions to the International Space Station (ISS) is the Zvezda service module, a docking hatch, Rassvet research module, and the visiting spacecrafts Soyuz and Progress, both of which transport crew and cargo to the ISS.
The first space station was Russia’s Salyut 1, launched on April 19, 1971. It was followed by eight other Russian space stations: DOS-2 (1972), Salyut 2 (1973), Kosmos 557 (1973), Salyut 3 (1974), Salyut 4 (1974), Salyut 5 (1976), and Salyut 6 (1977). The only non-Russian space station is USA’s Skylab (1973), the fifth one to be launched.
Russia has eyed Mars missions since the 1960s. But the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s led to the problems of government funding to these missions. The only alternative is to seek help from the US to keep its hopes of Mars exploration alive. For a time, Russia bared to the US about its Mars exploration projects, which generated interest from the latter. However, the two countries have alienated each other since then.
Instead of being discouraged by politics and the financial straits in the Russian space industry, both US and Russia have maintained low-profile communication between them.
The Sputnik I may have launched in 1957 but a decade earlier had already started exploring space. They launched several sub-orbital rockets into upper atmosphere, and these rockets performed a variety of experiments.
In attempt to beat the United States’ Apollo program, Russia (then Soviet Union) launched a series of programs in an attempt to land on the Moon, which became unsuccessful. After the success of the Apollo 8 and the Apollo 11, the Russians’ missions either ended in catastrophe (like the N1 rocket) or were aborted.
During the mid to late 1950s, the Russians launched the world’s first satellite, Sputnik I. Russians also made many firsts, such as the first man and woman in space and the first lunar space probe, among others.
When the Americans succeeded in their lunar missions during the late 1960s, the Russians try to outdo them. However, the N1 rocket, which they could have used for their lunar explorations, experienced several disasters. Eventually, they focused more on space stations.
The Voskhod program was the world’s first spaceflight project with more than one person on board (three-person crew to be exact), in 1964.
The Soviet Union unveiled the Buran spacecraft, the first spaceplane in the world. It launched the Energia, which is considered the heaviest fuelled rocket. However, the program was junked in 1993 following the fall of the the USSR.
The Russians wanted to claim the title as having the most powerful rocket of all time after the launch of the US’ Saturn V. They came out with the N1, which was about 50% more powerful than Saturn V. In N1‘s four launches, all of them ended up in explosion.
Again, with the goal of outracing the US towards the Moon, the Russians launched the Luna 15 which was launched three days after the Apollo 11 mission. This unmanned space probe attempted to return to the earth with a sample from the Moon before the Apollo could do so. The UK’s Jodrell Bank monitored the Luna‘s progress. However, it crashed into the moon’s surface, just hours before the Apollo 11 would make its scheduled lift-off.