At home in space

Once it became clear that the United States would win the race to the Moon, the Soviet Union redirected its space efforts closer to home. The duration of space missions had steadily extended throughout the 1960s, but if cosmonauts were to carry out long-term research in orbit, a semipermanent space station would be needed. Such a station would offer a more comfortable environment for the cosmonauts, and be able to receive uncrewed shuttle spacecraft with new supplies from Earth.

Some early Soviet Salyut space stations were operated by the military, and partly intended as crewed spy satellites. The early years were troubled—Salyut 1's first crew was killed by a leak in their reentry capsule on their return to Earth. However, the Soyuz capsules used to ferry people to and from orbit were

soviet success

The Mir space station used a "modular" design-new elements such as extra laboratories were added throughout its lifetime. The same idea has been applied to the International Space Station.


This photo of the US Skylab shows a makeshift sunshade put in place by the first crew after the original shield was torn off during launch. The crew also had to pull open the main solar panel by hand.

soon made more reliable, and are still in use today. Salyuts 6 and 7 operated for four years each, and were replaced in 1986 by Mir, a much larger station that operated until 1999.

The initial American response was Skylab, a converted Saturn V rocket stage lifted into orbit in 1973. The first US space station had its share of problems, but hosted three crews for periods of up to 84 days. However, when Skylab was abandoned in 1974, the US had no immediate plans for a successor.

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