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Soyuz 11

After Apollo 11 Soviet Space Program Changes Direction

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Soyuz 11 capsule after landing.

Soyuz 11 capsule after landing. All three crewmembers were discovered dead.

NASA
With the landing of Apollo 11 on the Moon on July 20, 1969, the Soviets officially lost the race for the moon. So, they turned their attention in another direction, towards constructing space stations, a task they became quite good at, but not without problems.

The first ever space station, Salyut 1 was launched on April 19, 1971. It was an 18,500 kilogram cylinder, 12 meters long by 4.1 meters at its widest. It contained 3 compartments; a small working/living area, a large working/living area and an airlock transfer and docking component. It was designed to be used manned or unmanned and had only one dock to receive another spacecraft.

Primarily built to study the effects of long-term space flight on humans, the station also was used for studying the same effects on growing plants as well as meteorological research. It also included a spectogram telescope, Orioin 1 and gamma ray telescope Anna III for astronomical studies.

Salyut 1’s first crew launched aboard Soyuz 10 on April 22, 1971. This crew included Vladimir Shatalov, Alexei Yeliseyev and Nikolai Rukavishnikov. When they reached the station and attempted to dock on April 24, the hatch would not open. After making a second attempt, the mission was cancelled and the crew returned home. Problems occurred during reentry and the ship’s air supply became toxic. Nikolai Rukavishnikov passed out, but he and the other two men recovered fully.

The next Salyut crew, scheduled to launch aboard Soyuz 11 was Valery Kubasov, Alexei Leonov and Pyotr Kolodin. Prior to launch, though, Kubasov was suspected of having contracted tuberculosis, which caused the Soviet Space authorities to replace this crew with their backups, Georgi Dobrovolski, Vladislav Volkov and Viktor Patsayev, who launched on June 6, 1971.

After the docking problems that Soyuz 10 experienced, the Soyuz 11 crew used automated systems to maneuver within 100 meters of the station, then hand-docked their ship.

Problems continued to plague the mission. The primary instrument aboard the station, the Orion telescope would not function because its cover failed to jettison. The cramped working conditions as well as a personality clash between the commander Dobrovolskiy (a rookie) and the veteran Volkov made it very difficult to conduct the experiments planned for the mission. After a small fire occurred, it was decided to cut the mission short and depart after 24 days, instead of the planned 30. Despite this, the mission was still considered a success at this time.

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