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On This Day in History - April 19, 1971

Salyut 1, the world's first space station, was launched into low Earth orbit by the Soviet Union on April 19, 1971. Construction of the space station began in early 1970, and after nearly a year it was shipped to the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Russia where the remaining assembly was completed. Launch was planned for April 12, 1971 to coincide with the 10th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's historic flight on Vostok 1, but technical problems delayed it until April 19th.


Salyut1 Space Station as seen from the Soyuz 11 spacecraft. Credit: Space.com

Salyut 1 orbited the Earth almost 3,000 times during its 175 days in space before it was intentionally crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Shaped like a cylinder, Salyut 1 was made up of three pressurized compartments for cosmonauts and one unpressurized compartment containing the engines. The station was 65 feet long and 13 feet in diameter at its widest point. Two double sets of solar panels extended like wings from the craft at either end.


Georgi Dobrovolski, Vladislav Vokov & Viktor Patsayev aboard Soyuz 11. Credit: Space.com

On June 6, 1971 a Soviet Soyuz 11 craft transported cosmonauts Georgi Dobrovolski, Vladislav Vokov, and Viktor Patsayev to Salyut 1, where after three hours, they successfully docked with the station. They remained on board for 383 orbits in the course of just over three weeks, setting a new space endurance record.


Rendering of Soyuz 11 docking with Salyut 1. Credit: Space.com

On October 11, 1971, the engines on Salyut 1 fired for the last time, bringing the space station into a lower orbit that would result in its eventual plunge into the Pacific Ocean. Despite its early death Salyut 1 set the stage for stations to come after, making important progress toward living and working in space long-term and paving the way for future space stations like the Space Station Mir and the International Space Station.


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