Science & Technology

What Is Salyut 1? Learn About the History and Impact of the World’s First Space Station

Written by MasterClass

Sep 3, 2019 • 3 min read

Salyut was a pioneering Russian space station that paved the way for the next 50 years of aeronautical discovery. During its six months in space, it became a site of hope, breakthrough, and tragedy.

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What Is Salyut 1?

Salyut 1 was the world’s first space station—a predecessor to the likes of today’s International Space Station (ISS). It was built by the USSR, which launched it into low Earth orbit on 19 April 1971. As part of the Salyut program (it means “salute” in Russian), the Soviets built steadily improved versions of the space station, culminating in Salyut 7 in 1982.

Learn more about the ISS here.

What Are Space Stations?

Space stations enable us to experience and take advantage of spaceflight over long periods of time. Their unique environment allows us to conduct experiments that aren’t possible on Earth—directly observing the universe and our planet with multiple sensor types, and using the unending, near-perfect vacuum and microgravity environment for research and manufacture. They are also a testbed for spaceship hardware, to gain proven experience and confidence close to home before we head further into the solar system.

Where and Why Was Salyut 1 Built?

Salyut 1 grew out of the Soviet Union’s top-secret military Almaz space station program. Its structure was heavily based on the Almaz, as were later Russian civilian space stations.

The space race between the USSR and the United States in the 1960s and 1970s accelerated the development of the Salyut space station. After NASA achieved the first moon landing with Apollo 11, the Soviet Union was determined to outdo the American agency’s equivalent space station program, Skylab. That space station ultimately launched a few years later, in 1973, using the heavy-lift capabilities of the Saturn V rocket.

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What Were the 4 Structural Components Of Salyut 1?

Cylindrically shaped and weighing 40,620 pounds, Salyut 1 was made up of four compartments.

  1. The docking module (pressurized). This compartment contained the docking port that allowed Soyuz spacecraft to supply the space station.
  2. The main module (pressurized). About 13 feet in diameter, this was the primary living quarters for Russian cosmonauts aboard the Salyut 1.
  3. The auxiliary module (pressurized). It carried the life support system, the power supply, control panel, communications for speaking to ground control, and other equipment. The outside held solar panels.
  4. The engine and control system (unpressurized).

4 Key Milestones in the History of Salyut 1

Salyut 1’s stay in space was brief but impactful. Below are four significant milestones in its six-month lifetime.

  1. 19 April 1971. The Salyut station lifts off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch site in southern Kazakhstan, using the Proton-K rocket as a carrier.
  2. 22 April 1971. What is meant to be space station’s first crew launches aboard the Soyuz 10. However, they are unable to dock and join the space station, and so they return to Earth.
  3. 6 June 1971. A replacement crew launches on Soyuz 11. They manage to dock with Salyut and stay on board for more than 23 days. However, the entire Soyuz 11 crew die during an accident on re-entry, necessitating a redesign of the Soyuz spacecraft and a halt to further missions.
  4. 11 October 1971. Salyut re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere and crashes into the Pacific Ocean, having been intentionally de-orbited. Without missions to enable refueling, it had run out of fuel.

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What Is Salyut 1’s Significance In Space History?

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Salyut 1 marked significant progress in the history of human spaceflight. It paved the way for future Salyut iterations—Salyut 2 and Salyut 3 weren’t successful, but Salyut 4 spent more than four years in Earth orbit—and eventually the Russian Mir space station.

These were some of the legacies of the Salyut program:

  • The early Salyut design was adapted, with the addition of a second docking port, into the Salyut 6 and 7—space stations meant for long-term continuous occupation.
  • Its later DOS-7 station evolved into the core module for the Mir station, which orbited the earth for 15 years in the 1980s and 1990s.
  • The DOS-8 evolved into the Zvezda service module, which, combined with another Russian module, Zarya, formed the core part of the ISS.

Whether you’re a budding astronautical engineer or simply want to become more informed about the science of space travel, learning about the rich and detailed history of human space flight is essential to understanding how space exploration has advanced. In Chris Hadfield’s MasterClass on space exploration, the former commander of the International Space Station provides invaluable insight into what it takes to explore space and what the future holds for humans in the final frontier. Chris also talks about the science of space travel, life as an astronaut, and how flying in space will forever change the way you think about living on Earth.

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