The last Salyuts

Salyuts 6 and 7 combined the best elements of earlier military Almaz and civilian hybrid stations. They also added some innovations that allowed them to operate more effectively and for far longer.

When Salyut 6 was launched into orbit in September 1977, it represented a great leap forward for the Soviet space programme. The most significant change was that its engines had an off-axis design, allowing for a docking port at either end of the station. The ability to dock a spacecraft at either end of the station was a huge advance: unmanned supply ferries would now be able to come and go while the crew's own spacecraft remained safely docked; the station could welcome visitors or hand over from crew to crew without being uninhabited for long periods; and if a visiting crew left their new spacecraft with the station and returned in the older one already in orbit, Salyut missions would no longer be limited by the Soyuz capsule's relatively short operational life.

and later unloaded the first cargo from a Progress supply ferry (see p.210). Later in the 96-day flight, a second guest crew visited, including Czech cosmonaut Vladimir Remek (see p.240).

When Grechko and Romanenko finally returned to Earth, it was aboard the Soyuz 27 spacecraft, left in orbit after its original crew had returned on Soyuz 26. This marathon formed a template for later Soviet space station operations -the only thing it did not attempt was a crewed handover. Instead, Salyut 6 was returned to automatic mode until the arrival of Soyuz 29 in June 1978. The new crew were Vladimir Kovalyonok and Alexander Ivanchenkov. During their marathon 140-day mission, they welcomed three Progress ferries and two visiting crews, with Polish and East German guest cosmonauts, and expanded the station's scientific programme into materials science. Two six-month tours then followed, in 1979 and 1980. By the time the final 75-day mission ended, with the return of Soyuz T-4 in May 1981, preparations were well underway for the next station. Before Salyut 6 was decomissioned in July 1982, it received one final visitor, the unmanned spacecraft Cosmos 1267, which was a test of Chelomei's TKS space tug, flying at last.

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