Written by Gordon Lalor
We are currently going through the 50th anniversary of the launching of the first space station, the Soviet Union’s Salyut programme.
This was a very ambitious programme that the Soviets embarked on to show that they were still a force to be reckoned with after the success of the American moon landings. The entire program was developed in the space of 16 months and the first station Salyut 1 was launched on April 19, 1971, just a week after the 10th anniversary of Yuri Gagarins first space flight.
The name Salyut (the Russian for salutation or greeting) was only picked 10 days before launch. The launch was almost flawless, the station was in the correct orbit, but the cover for the main instrument suite hadn’t detached. The three man crew for the station were scheduled to launch a few days later on the 22nd but freezing weather caused a delay to the 23rd. This launch of Soyuz 10 was a success but the docking procedure with the station was plagued with problems, too much fuel was used in the rendezvous and because of a flaw in the design of the spacecrafts attitude control the docking system was damaged.
The Soyuz module was connected to the station only by a set of small latches and the crew could not enter the station, even worse attempting to undock could permanently damage the space station. The problem was solved by one of the cosmonauts rewiring the controls for the docking mechanism so that the latches could be separately released.
The next attempt was made by Soyuz 11 which launched on June 6 1971 and had a problem free docking with the station the next day. The mission was planned to last till the end of June and the official story was that the Soviets had no interest in a race to the moon and were instead concentrating on scientific research using space stations. The first space station presented a steep learning curve for the crew and the mission ended a day early with the Soyuz un-docking on the June 29 and landing on the 30th. Tragedy struck during re-entry as the capsule de-pressurised and all three crew died.
Limerick Astronomy Club email limerickastronomyclub @gmail.com
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