The Soviet Space Program was one of the crowning achievements of the Soviet Union. The expedition captured the zeitgeist of the late 1950s. Competing with the Americans, the Russians were able to record a number of firsts. In a 43 month window, they successfully launched the first dog in space, the first satellites, the first spacecraft to the moon and the first man in space.
At the peak of the Soviet Space Program’s powers in 1985, their cosmodromes launched 100 rockets a year, a figure which dwarfed the United States numbers by five times.
Indeed, in that era, many Soviet children dreamed of getting to space and unlocking new doors as Russian cosmonauts. Most of the fairy tales told involved expeditions to the moon and back.
Cognizant of the fact that all this would not have been possible without the contributions of some great men and women, we’ll be highlighting some of the protagonists of the Soviet Space Program.
Once the USSR Space Program had established that it was feasible for life to survive outside the confines of Earth (they’d already sent dogs to space), they took a big gamble by sending a human into the cosmos.
On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin went aboard the Vostok 1 spacecraft and traveled upwards some 188 miles. In a span of 108 minutes, he managed to orbit the Earth at an incredible 18,000 miles an hour. That’s quite something right?
Intrigued by what layout there in the heavens from a young age, Gagarin started his career as a pilot in the Soviet Air Force before quickly rising to the rank of a Senior Lieutenant. After making his Russian cosmonaut application, he was accepted into the Soviet Space Program in 1960.
After a couple of intense training which involved the solving of complex math equations, weightlessness exercises, and exposure to heat chambers, he was able to tick all the right boxes and make his way aboard the legendary Vostok 1 spaceflight. To ensure that the USSR Space Program got off to a good start, Gherman Titov was his assigned backup in case of any complications.
While that alone was an amazing feat by itself, he defied the odds by lasting a whopping 10 minutes outside the Voskhod 2 capsule. After the experience, he remarked that he felt a sense of euphoria, akin to a seagull soaring high above the Earth.
It’s worth noting that despite all the excitement, Leonov experienced a minor hitch while getting back aboard the space ship. Due to the pressure difference, his suit became inflated so much that his feet were no longer in his boots, his fingers were outside the gloves, and he was unable to get back within the airlock. Thankfully, he still managed to keep cool and get back by dissipating oxygen from his suit via a pressure valve. His training on oxygen deprivation came in handy in that situation and he survived with nothing more than a couple of sweat drips.
Even after experiencing the hitch, he made his way back to space on the Apollo-Soyuz voyage which happened in 1975. This goes to show that with a little determination, there’s no stopping an inspired individual.
An accomplished engineer with a doctorate in Physics, Konstantin Feoktistov became the very first person outside the Soviet Communist Party to tour space. Under the careful watch of Mikhail Tikhonravov, his team helped assemble a couple of Sputnik satellites together with the Soyuz, Voskhod, and Vostok space capsules.
Incidentally, he was sent out to space in 1964 despite having just started his cosmonaut training that very same year.
Their space voyeur was also the very first spaceflight in the Soviet Space Program that didn’t require cosmonauts to adorn special suits.
His work as a cosmonaut and his lead role in the Soviet Space Program as a designer of two space stations, Mir and Salyut, saw him get honored with a crater named after him on the far side of the Moon.
Sergei Krikalev is a record-maker. He’s well renowned for logging the most time in outer space than every other person before and after him. Throughout his lifetime, he’s managed to clock 803 days, 9 hours, 39 minutes in space. Having pointed this out, it’s important to remember that he notched the numbers over a span of 6 different space missions.
As a well-versed mechanical engineer, he came up with creative ways for a rescue team to conduct repairs on the faulty Salyut 7 space station back in 1985. After his contribution to the mission, he was quickly embraced in the Russian cosmonaut community. During his escapades, he managed to clock 41 hours, 8 minutes of spacewalks. So impressive is his influence to the USSR space program that he happens to also have an asteroid named after him!
While aboard the Vostok 6 spacecraft, she logged 1,250,000 miles under her belt after orbiting Earth an astonishing 49 times.
Having been launched from Russian hidden station in Baikonur, central Asia, she touched down on June 19, 1963, in Kazakhstan. Legend has it that she was selected for the cosmonaut training because she was an amateur parachutist, therefore, her 20,000 descent from high grounds on a parachute was relatively easy.
Her achievement is made all the more special by the fact that the female cosmonaut program came to a close in 1969. It was not until 19882, that a second woman, Svetlana Savitskaya, made her way to space.
The Soviet Space Program will go down in history as a memorable point in history. Thanks to their competition with the United States, mankind was successfully able to touch down on the moon in 1969 and explore many other new lands in successive years.
Having analyzed some of the heroes of the USSR space program, we’re confident that you’ll be able to draw some inspiration from their stories and dream of exploring the cosmos sometime in the not too distant future.
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