5 Facts about the Soviet Space Program

By Antoine Marlio-Marette

Here are 5 unknown facts about the Soviet space Program.

First Fact:

In 1903, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a math teacher, published “Exploring Space with Reactive Devices”, the first major study of rocketry in which he developed the first basic formulas for space travel, such as the velocities required to maintain orbit and to leave Earth’s gravity, as well as the basic means of rocket propulsion, the first type of movement that could be produced in space. His study only fascinated the German scientists in the 1920s as people believed in canon propulsion as a mean to travel to the Moon (as it can be seen in A Trip to the Moon by Georges Méliès in 1902).

Second Fact:

Some important Soviet space events emerged from the strangest ideas. Indeed, the rocket that launched Yuri Gagarin 60 years ago, in 1961, was repurposed from a rocket designed to place military satellites in orbit. Furthermore, the first space station Salyut 1 in 1971 was first thought out as a part of a plan to launch an orbiting nuclear battle station.

Third Fact:

Sergei Korolev, the chief designer of the Soviet space program is perceived as having had more influence than his German counterpart Werner von Braun, father of the US space program. He was an aircraft designer with great talent in design integration, organisation, and strategic planning. In 1938, he was unjustly arrested on the charge of being a “member of an anti-Soviet counter-revolutionary organisation” which later was transformed into “saboteur of military technology”. He was tortured and imprisoned for 6 years, suffering life-lasting injuries, until his talent as a rocket designer was discovered at an aerospace design facility prison where he had been designing rockets and planes for the Soviets during the Second World War. After that he developed, as a chief designer, the first generations of rockets based on V-2 rocket blueprints and enabled Sputnik, Laika and Yuri Gagarin to be launched in space as well as the first ballistic missile. These rockets were so successful that they are still used today.

Forth Fact:

Baikonur has been and still is the primary rocket launching facility for both Soviet and Russian space programs since 1955. It is located in the desert of Kazakhstan near the Aral Sea, as it was far from populated areas to avoid destruction and casualties in case of an accident during a rocket launch. The location was kept secret from population and the world, even from the US, until it was spotted by a US spy plane in 1957. Even the name was intended to confuse people, as its name refers to a village 320 km from the launch site. Baikonur is even known as “the Biggest Cosmodrome in the World”, where all the Soviet and Russian space missions were launched. The Cosmodrome was a city by itself and at its peak, in the 1980s, was home to 150 000 people, 52 launch pads, 34 science laboratories and 10 factories. Furthermore, it had its own agricultural system and was next to 6 towns which had movie theatres, one of the best hospitals in the Soviet Union, 13 schools, multiple specialised music schools, 3 palaces of culture, a palace of Young Pioneers, and resorts and beaches built on an artificial lake. The rockets were transported to the launch site by trains from the different factories in the USSR.

Fifth Fact:

At a last try to beat the US after the Moon Landing in 1969, the Soviets launched Salyut-1, the first space station in 1971. When three cosmonauts aboard Soyuz 11 spent three weeks in Salyut-1, it was supposed to be a historical moment as the first crew in an orbiting space station. However, after spending three weeks conducting experiments and observations, the heroes went back into the Soyuz module to land back on Earth. When the ground personnel opened the hatch after the module landed safely, they found the three cosmonauts unresponsive. The spacecraft suffered a depressurisation which was fatal. After the first 6 successful missions, ROSCOSMOS decided to remove space suits from the ships as they were considered as being useless and taking up precious space and weight. There were then resupplied and required for the cosmonauts to wear them during any phases of a mission where there was a risk of depressurisation.


History.com: https://www.history.com/news/the-5-deadliest-disasters-of-the-space-race

Facts and Details: http://factsanddetails.com/russia/Nature_Science_Animals/sub9_8d/entry-5070.html

Interesting Engineering: https://interestingengineering.com/7-interesting-facts-about-soviet-russian-spacesuits

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