Russia’s achievements in space
Russia is proud of its achievements in space … and justifiably so, as it achieved a large number of firsts, including…
The successful test of the world’s first ballistic missile in August 1957. German developments acquired by the Soviet Union after World War II proved helpful here. A launch pad was created near the village of Tyura-Tam in Kazakhstan. This later became known as Baikonur, which is today Russia’s main space launch site.
The first two cosmonaut dogs’ real names were Albina and Markiza, but the country’s leadership did not like foreign-sounding names, so named them Belka and Strelka. In August 1960, they became the first living creatures to orbit the Earth. Their space voyage lasted a little over 24 hours, during which their spaceship circled the Earth 15 times. Both dogs lived to a ripe old age and died natural deaths. Their stuffed bodies are now at the Cosmonautics Memorial Museum in Moscow.
The Soviet Union launched the first artificial Earth satellite Sputnik-1 on 4 October 1957, ushering in the space era. News of the launch stunned the world, as Western propaganda believed the Soviet Union was technologically way behind the West. The satellite emitted a radio signal that could be heard by any amateur radio fan.
The Americans may have been the first to land on the Moon, but Soviet pennants had been dropped there on 14 September 1959 by the Soviet space station Luna-2, which was the first probe to reach the moon. That same year, the Soviet Luna-3 station photographed the dark side of the moon.
The first full-pressure spacesuits were made in the Soviet Union in late 1959.
On 12 April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to fly into outer space, making him possibly the most famous person on the planet at the time.
The world’s first moon rover, Lunokhod-1, was created in the Soviet Union. It was intended for studying the moon’s surface, radioactive and space X-ray radiation and the chemical composition and properties of moon rocks. It was delivered to the moon’s surface on 17 November 1970 and worked for 10 months – three times longer than its designed lifespan – covering a total of 10.5 kilometres and transmitting 211 panoramic lunar pictures and 25 000 photographs.
Soviet scientists were also the first to land a workable piece of space apparatus on another planet — Venus. Venera-7, an automatic space research station, landed on the surface of the planet in mid-December 1970. The body of the landing module was made of titanium to withstand the pressure of 100 atmospheres and 500-degree heat.
In March 1965, Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov became the first person to walk in space. He spent 10 minutes in free flight at a distance of more than 5 metres from the spaceship – a long way when you consider that the spaceship was hurtling through space at a speed of more than 7 km per second.
Valentina Tereshkova (known as Chaika, or Seagull) was the first woman cosmonaut. She spent nearly three days in space aboard the Vostok-6 spacecraft. Tereshkova later married cosmonaut Andrian Nikolayev. Their daughter Yelena became the first child born to a ‘space’ family.
The Mir space station was the first consistently inhabited long-term research station in outer space. The main module was put into orbit on 20 February 1986. Over the next 10 years, six modules were added to it. The Mir station covered a distance slightly longer than that from Earth to Uranus. In 2001, the station was brought back down to Earth, landing in the Pacific.
The first commercial astronaut, Japanese journalist Akiyama Toyohiro, went into outer space aboard the Soyuz TM-11 spacecraft in early December 1990, although the space tourism era is considered to have started with the flight by American businessman Dennis Tito to the International Space Station. Soyuz spaceships have delivered several more tourists to the ISS Russian section. Space tourist flights have maintained media interest in space matters and brought private capital into space programmes.