Salyut 1 was the first space station put into orbit. The Soviets launched it from Baikonur Cosmodrome on April 19, 1971 using a three-stage Proton launch vehicle. It completed 362 orbits before deorbiting and reentering the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean in October. It was destroyed by frictional heating during its return.
The 18,500 kilogram station was cylindrically shaped and measured 12 meters long by a maximum of 4.1 meters wide. It had three working compartments — a small-diameter working area, a large-diameter working area and an airlock transfer and docking component. The two working areas provided room and equipment for dining, recreation, control stations, food and water storage, hygiene, exercise and science experimentation. A round opening on top of the large working area had sensors for studying micrometeoroides in the Earth’s vicinity.
The main purpose of Salyut 1 was to study the effects of long duration spaceflight on the human body and to take photographs of the Earth from space. It carried a telescope for studying star spectra, a greenhouse to analyze plant growth, a camera and film plates to study cosmic rays and a telescope that could detect gamma rays coming from the sun. However, the cover on the gamma ray telescope failed to jettison, making it unusable.
The three pressurized areas had a collective habitable volume of 100 cubic meters. Two of these could be entered by the crew. The primary area contained eight big chairs, several control panels and approximately 20 portholes. The other area held the control and communication equipment, power supply, life support system and other auxiliary equipment.
There was also a fourth unpressurized compartment that contained engine and control equipment.
The station design was a hybrid between the Soyuz spacecraft and Almaz space station. Almaz was being developed at the same time as Salyut at the Chelomei OKB-52 bureau. The engine compartment and four solar panel design was borrowed from the Soyuz.
Salyut was originally called “Zarya,” but this was changed before launch so there would be no confusion between the station and the ground control call sign of the same name.
The first crew to visit Salyut 1 launched from Baikonur on April 22, 1971. The Soyuz 10 crew included Vladimir Shatalov, Alexei Yeliseyev and Nikolai Rukavishnikov. They reached the station and attempted to dock with it twice on April 24, but the hatch would not open. The mission failed and the crew returned home. They landed 120 kilometers northwest of Karaganda later that day.
The Soyuz 10 air supply became toxic during reentry. Rukavishnikov slipped into unconsciousness, but he and the other two men regained their health.
The next crew slated to visit the station was grounded shortly before launch. Valery Kubasov, Alexei Leonov and Pyotr Kolodin were replaced by their backup crew, Georgi Dobrovolski, Vladislav Volkov and Viktor Patsayev.
The replacement crew launched from Baikonur on June 6. They succeeded in docking to the station the following day. The men inhabited the station for 24 days, undocked on June 29 and headed for home.
A tragic accident occurred during their return. The spacecraft hatch valve was either open or jolted open when the descent cabin separated from the orbital module. The valve would normally open as the spacecraft descended through the lower levels of the atmosphere, equalizing the pressure inside and outside of the spacecraft. Having this happen in space was fatal.
The Soyuz cabin depressurized within one minute, approximately 25 minutes before landing. When the rescue team located the spacecraft 200 kilometers southwest of Kustanai, all three men were dead.
The next scheduled mission to Salyut 1 was cancelled.
The accident prompted designers to make many changes to the Soyuz spacecraft. One of the biggest changes required cosmonauts to wear space suits during launch and reentry. Between the bulky suits and the additional life support equipment, the spacecraft could no longer transport three men. Only two people flew on the spacecraft at a time for the next nine years. It would not be until 1980 and the Soyuz T3 flight that three cosmonauts again flew on a single Soyuz.
It took approximately two years for all of the changes to be implemented, and the station could not last in orbit that long. For this reason, Salyut 1 was deorbited in early October.
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