Source- State Space Corporation ROSCOSMOS 


The theory of space exploration had a solid basis in the Russian Empire before the First World War with the writings of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857-1935), who published pioneering papers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and in 1929 introduced the concept of the multistaged rocket. Practical aspects built on early experiments carried out by members of the reactive propulsion study group, GIRD (founded in 1931) in the 1920s and 1930s, with such pioneers as Sergey Korolyov, who dreamed of traveling to Mars, and the German-Russian engineer Friedrich Zander. On August 18, 1933, GIRD launched the first Soviet liquid-fueled rocket Gird-09 and on November 25, 1933, the first hybrid-fueled rocket GIRD-X.

K.E. Tsiolkovsky

Over its sixty-year history, this primarily classified military program was responsible for a number of pioneering accomplishments in space flight. These included the first intercontinental ballistic missile (1957), the first satellite (Sputnik-1), the first animal in space (the dog Laika on Sputnik 2), the first human in space and Earth orbit (cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on Vostok 1), the first woman in space and Earth orbit (cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova on Vostok 6), the first spacewalk (cosmonaut Alexey Leonov on Voskhod 2), the first Moon impact (Luna 2), the first image of the other side of the Moon (Luna 3) and unmanned lunar soft landing (Luna 9), the first space rover, the first space station, and the first interplanetary probe.

The USSR rocket and space program was performed by the Soviet engineers and scientists after 1955, and was based on some unique Soviet and Russian theoretical developments, many derived by Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky, sometimes known as the father of theoretical astronautics. Sergey Korolyov (also transliterated as Korolyov) was the head of the principal design group; his official title was “chief designer” (a standard title for similar positions in the USSR). Unlike its American competitor in the “space race”, which had NASA as a single coordinating agency, the USSR program was split among several competing design groups led by Korolyov, Mikhail Yangel, Valentin Glushko, and Vladimir Chelomei.

Sergei Korolyov

Because of the classified status of the program announcements of the outcomes of missions were delayed until success was certain, and failures were sometimes kept secret. Ultimately, as a result of Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of “glasnost” in the 1980s, many facts about the space program were declassified. Notable setbacks included the deaths of Korolyov, Vladimir Komarov (in the Soyuz 1 crash), and Yuri Gagarin (on a routine fighter jet mission) between 1966 and 1968, and disastrous experiences with the huge N-1 rocket intended to power a manned lunar landing, which exploded shortly after the launch on each of four unmanned tests.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) was established.

Sputnik and Vostok

The first Soviet rocket with animals aboard launched in July 1951; the two dogs were recovered alive after reaching 101 km in altitude. This and subsequent flights gave the Soviets valuable experience with space medicine.

Because of its global range and large payload of approximately five tons, the reliable R-7 was effective as an excellent basis for a space vehicle. The Soviet plan to launch a satellite was approved by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in January 1956. The approved plans included Earth-orbiting satellites (Sputnik) to gain knowledge of space, and four unmanned Zenit satellites. Further planned developments called for a manned Earth orbit flight by 1964 and an unmanned lunar mission at an earlier date.

After the first Sputnik lifted off, Korolyov was charged to accelerate the manned program, which design was combined with the Zenit program to produce the Vostok spacecraft. Still influenced by Tsiolkovsky – who had chosen Mars as the most important goal for space travel – in the early 1960s the Russian program under Korolyov created substantial plans for manned trips to Mars as early as 1968 to 1970 using the closed-loop life support systems and electrical rocket engines and launched from large orbiting space stations.

Vostok program (the first man in space)

The Vostok program was a Soviet human spaceflight project to put the first Soviet citizen into low Earth orbit and make a safe return. It succeeded in placing the first human, Yuri Gagarin, into space, in a single orbit in Vostok 1 on April 12, 1961. The Vostok capsule was developed from the Zenit satellite project and adapted the Vostok launch rocket from the existing R-7 “Semyorka” (“Seven”) missile design. The name “Vostok” was treated as classified information until Gagarin’s flight was first publicly disclosed to the world press.

The programme carried out six manned spaceflights between 1961 and 1963. The longest flight lasted nearly five days, and the last four were launched in pairs, one day apart. This exceeded Project Mercury’s demonstrated capability of just over 34 hours longest flight, and single missions.

Vostok 1

Vostok was succeeded by two Voskhod programme flights in 1964 and 1965, which used three- and two-seat modifications of the Vostok capsule and a larger launch rocket.

Cosmonaut selection and training

By January 1959, the Soviets had begun preparations for human spaceflight. Physicians from the Soviet Air Force insisted that the potential cosmonaut candidates be qualified Air Force pilots, arguing that they would have relevant skills such as exposure to higher g-forces, as well as ejection seat experience. The candidates had to be intelligent, comfortable in high-stress situations, and physically fit.

Chief designer of the Soviet space program, Sergei Korolyov, decided that the cosmonauts must be male, between 25 and 30 years old, no taller than 1.75 meters, and weigh no more than 72 kilograms. The final specifications for cosmonauts were approved in June 1959. By September, interviews with potential cosmonauts had begun. Although the pilots were not told they might be flying into space, one of the physicians in charge of the selection process believed that some pilots had figured this out. Just over 200 candidates made it through the interview process and by October a series of demanding physical tests were conducted on those remaining, such as exposure to low pressures, and a centrifuge test. By the end of 1959, 20 men had been selected. Of these 20, five were outside the desired age range, so the age requirement was relaxed. The Soviet spacecraft were more automated than the American counterparts, so significant piloting experience was not necessary

On January 11, 1960, Soviet Chief Marshal of Aviation Konstantin Vershinin approved plans to establish the Cosmonaut Training Center, whose exclusive purpose would be to prepare the cosmonauts for their upcoming flights; initially the facility would have about 250 staff. Vershinin assigned the already famous aviator Nikolai Kamanin to supervise operations at the facility. By March, most of the cosmonauts had arrived at the training facility; on March 7 Vershinin gave a welcome speech, and those who were present were formally inducted into the cosmonaut group. By mid-June, all twenty were permanently stationed at the center. In March, the cosmonauts started on a daily fitness regime, and were taught classes on topics such as rocket space systems, navigation, geophysics, and astronomy.

Due to the initial facility’s space limitations, the cosmonauts and staff were relocated to a new facility in Star City (then known as Zelenyy), which since has been the home of Russia’s cosmonaut training program for over fifty years. The move officially took place on June 29, 1960.

The first manned spaceflight, Vostok 1 in April 1961, was preceded by several preparatory flights. In the summer of 1960, the Soviets learned that the Americans could launch a sub-orbital manned spaceflight as early as January 1961. Korolyov saw this as an important deadline, and was determined to launch a manned orbital mission before the Americans launched their manned suborbital mission. By April 1960, designers at Sergei Korolyov’s design bureau, then known as OKB-1, had completed a draft plan for the first Vostok spacecraft, called Vostok 1K. This design would be used for testing purposes; also, their plan included Vostok 2K and Vostok 3K, which would be used for all six manned Vostok missions.

Despite the very large geographical size of the Soviet Union, there were obvious limitations to monitoring orbital spaceflights from ground stations within the country. To remedy this, the Soviets stationed about seven naval vessels, or tracking ships, around the world. For each ground station or tracking ship, the duration of communications with an orbiting spacecraft was limited to five to ten minutes.

First man in space

On April 12, 1961, the USSR opened the era of manned spaceflight, with the flight of the first cosmonaut (Russian name for space travelers), Yuri Gagarin.

Yuri Gagarin’s flight, part of the Soviet Vostok space exploration program, took 108 minutes and consisted of a single orbit of the Earth.

On August 7, 1961, Gherman Titov, another Soviet cosmonaut, became the second man in orbit during his Vostok 2 mission.

By June 16, 1962, the Soviet Union launched a total of six Vostok cosmonauts, two pairs of them flying concurrently, and accumulating a total of 260 cosmonaut-orbits and just over sixteen cosmonaut-days in space.

First woman in space

The first woman in space was former civilian parachutist Valentina Tereshkova.

Valentina Tereshkova reached the orbit on June 16, 1963 aboard the Soviet mission Vostok 6. The chief Soviet spacecraft designer, Sergey Korolyov, conceived the idea to recruit a female cosmonaut corps and launch two women concurrently on Vostok 5/6. However, his plan was changed to launch a male first in Vostok 5, followed shortly afterward by Tereshkova. Khrushchev personally spoke to Tereshkova by radio during her flight.

On November 3, 1963, Tereshkova married fellow cosmonaut Andrian Nikolayev, who had previously flown on Vostok 3. On June 8, 1964, she gave birth to the first child conceived by two space travelers.  The second woman to fly to space was aviator Svetlana Savitskaya, aboard Soyuz T-7 on August 18, 1982.




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