It all began in the 1960s when the Soviet Union began the Almaz program which was a highly secretive military space station program. However, it wasn’t until April 19, 1971 at the launch of Salyut 1 when the Soviet Union began its public attempt at having people live and work in low earth orbit.
According to Wikipedia Salut 1 was a modification of the military Almaz program. “After the landing of Apollo 11 on the Moon in July 1969, the Soviets began shifting the primary emphasis of their manned space program to orbiting space stations, with a possible Moon landing in the 1970s if the N-1 booster became flight-worthy (which it didn’t). One other motivation for the space station program was a desire to one-up the U S Skylab program then in development.” The first crew rode the Soyuz 10 capsule to the space station, but had problems docking the two vehicles, so they had to return to Earth. The second crew took Soyuz 11 to the station and lived there for 23 days. That was the successful part of their journey. It ended badly when a pressure-equalization valve opened too early asphyxiating the three crewmen. The station was later allowed to fall out of orbit since they couldn’t get the Soyuz vehicle defect corrected in time.
The first United States space station was born at 1:30 pm on May 14th 1973. Perched atop a Saturn-V rocket the unmanned Skylab space station was launched into space. Three separate crews spent time in space performing measurements and experiments in the modular lab. The third and last crew spent 84 days in space and concluded their mission with the splashdown taking place on February 8, 1974. Skylab was unoccupied through it’s ignominious end when it plummeted back to earth in July of 1979 due to failures to the systems that kept the lab in a safe orbit above the earth.
I was living in Spokane, Washington when it fell to Earth and the experts were very concerned that if the vehicle didn’t break up enough and stayed larger it could drop on the state of Washington. Instead it did fall apart and most of the debris did fall into the ocean. However, some fairly large pieces did fall on land in Australia doing some damage, but no deaths or injuries were reported.
The next step in man’s effort to live and work in space had to wait until February 26, 1986 when the then Soviet Union launched the first module of the Mir Space Station into space atop a Proton booster rocket. It lasted 15 years in spite of its planned 5 year mission. The space station orbited at about 250 miles above Earth traveling at 17,855 miles per hour. It eventually had six modules and was the first cooperative space venture with American astronauts docking their space shuttle with Mir for the first time and visiting the facility on June 29, 1995. The Russian cosmonauts made 25 Principal Expeditions to Mir. Due to a series of onboard fires and a serious collision with one of the restocking vehicles the journey of over 86,331 orbits around the Earth was over. On March 23,2001 Mir was taken out of orbit and burned up over Fiji with debris falling into the South Pacific Ocean. It was actually a controlled crash.
Now we finally get to the point of this story. The “teenager” I refer to is The International Space Station (ISS). Its first module, the Russian Zarya module was launched 1998. According to space.com “The ISS is the most complex international and scientific and engineering project in history and the largest structure humans have ever put into space.” “As a permanently occupied outpost in outer space, it serves as a stepping-stone for further space exploration. This includes Mars, which NASA is now stating as its goal for human space exploration. They go on to explain that five different space agencies representing 15 countries built the $100-billion International Space Station and continue to operate it today.”
The ISS weighs 861,804 pounds and in area is as large as a football field. The standard crew on the station is six people. Recently, two men -NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Roscomos’ Mikhail Kornienko were the first to spend one full year the International Space Station. The agencies involved have expressed interest in more one-year of missions, but as yet have not made the final commitment.
Not to be outdone the Chinese developed and launched their Tiangong-1 Space Station was launched into space in September 2011. The plan was to test docking technologies and other skills that the Chinese would need to build a complete space station in 2020. However, they have lost control of the vehicle and if they can’t regain control the Tiangong-1 Space Station will plummet to earth in a ball of fire. But never fear the Chinese launched Tiangong-2 into space September 15, 2016. They were planning to send two crew members to the station by the end of October (which has just past).
It seems we are on the brink of stepping away from our earthly home and taking a journey to another planet. As the statement from “Star Trek” states we will continue to go “Where no man (or woman) has gone before.”
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