April 19, 1971 01:40:00 UTC
Site 81/24 Baikonur Cosmodrome
The most valuable mission in the way to make the Soviet space program a success occurred with the launch of the first space station, Salyut I into low earth orbit by the Soviet Union on April 19, 1971.
It orbited the Earth almost 3,000 times during its 175 days in space before it was intentionally crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Despite an array of problems, the first space station, Salyut I made important progress towards living and working in space for a long-term and paved the way for future space stations.
Salyut 1 was modified from one of the Almaz airframes and was made out of five components; transfer compartment, main compartment, two auxiliary compartments, and Orion 1 Space Observatory. The station was about 20 meters long and 4 meters in diameter at its widest point. Two double sets of solar panels extended like wings on the exterior of the compartments at either ends.
Initially Salyut 1 launched unmanned from the Soviet Union. Two days later, Soyuz 10 lifted off, carrying a crew of three towards the space station with the intention of remaining in space for 30 days.
However, due to a failure in hard docking of Soyuz 10 the crew had to abort this mission. As a result, they returned home early and unsuccessful. During the re-entry process, a problem rendered the air supply of Soyuz 10 toxic. This lead to one of the cosmonauts slipping into unconsciousness. Fortunately, all three could survive with no long-term effects.
The Soyuz 11 crew achieved successful hard docking and performed experiments in Salyut I for 23 days. However, they were killed by asphyxia caused by a failure of a valve just prior to Earth re-entry and are the only known people to have died above the Kármán line. Salyut I’s mission was later terminated, and it was re-entered on October 11, 1971.
For the last time, the engines on Salyut I fired on October 11, 1971 bringing the space station into a lower orbit that would result in its eventual plunge into the Pacific Ocean. But despite its early death, Salyut I set the stage for stations to come after. The Soviets continued to put short-term stations into space for several years until they felt they were ready for a long-term project.
Even though the plan for Salyut I did not function as expected we witness the success in long-term space station projects of Soviets that came along with the initiative step as the launch of Salyut I 50 years ago on 19th April.