Find out about the Russian Space Programme, and the incredible achievements in space exploration that Russian astronauts accomplished.

Sputnik, first satellite in orbit around the Earth

Winning the space race

During the 1950's United States of America and Russia were competing with each other to prove that they were the most powerful country in the world. Space exploration became a key area in which they could show their superiority.

In 1957, Russia stunned the world by launching Sputnik (left), the first ever satellite into orbit around the world.

Just one month later, they launched Sputnik 2, which carried a dog called Laika into space. The Russians were rushing far ahead of America in the Space Race!

Laika, first space dog
Valentina Tereshkova, first woman in space

The first people in space

Less than four years after Laika flew into space, the Russians claimed another first. Yuri Gagarin (right) became the first man in space in 1961 aboard his spacecraft Vostok 1. He was the first ever astronaut, or Cosmonaut as they are known in Russia.

In 1963, Russia claimed another first - this time the first woman in space. Valentina Tereshkova (left) was carried to space aboard Vostok 6, and she lived alone in space for 3 days!

Through the 1960's Russia claimed many other firsts, including Alexei Leonov's first spacewalk in 1965.

Yuri Gagarin, first man in space

Explore the Russian Soyuz spacecraft

The Soyuz is a single flight space craft, used for missions in earth orbit. Since its first flight in 1968, the Soyuz spacecraft has been in service
for more than 40 years. There have been well over 100 missions to date, and it continues to be used to transport crew and supplies to the
International Space Station.

Hover your mouse over the Soyuz spacecraft below to discover more about this great space craft.

Vostok 1 launch

The Soyuz rockets

As well as being the name of the space craft, Soyuz is also the name of the family of rockets that launch them.

Originally based on a large missile, the Soyuz rocket first flew in 1966, and has been the main rocket for Russian space missions. It is a multi-stage rocket, a bit like the American Saturn V, as used on the Apollo moon missions.

Rather than having giant rocket engines, the combined first and second stages have five rocket motors, each with four combustion chambers and exhaust outlets, and 12 small steering rockets! See the picture of all these rocket exhausts on the Soyuz rocket travelling to the launch pad (right) - they are painted red.

Rocket motors on a Soyuz rocket first stage
Salyut space station

The Salyut space stations.

The Russian space programme has always emphasised missions to help them learn how to live in space. From 1971, Russia has launched many space stations, starting from 1971 with basic Salyut space stations, that were small, cramped and lasted only a few weeks.

The last two Salyut space stations were more complex and lasted longer - each flew for over four years, with crews conducting experiments and research. Over 70 cosmonauts visited the seven Salyuts, and they were occupied for over 1,500 days.

Two more Salyut craft were redesigned as the first part of the Russian MIR space station, and the International Space Station.

MIR Space station crew
Buran - the Russian Space Shuttle

The modern Russian space program

During the 1980's Russia worked on a new Spacecraft - the Buran (see left), a reusable spacecraft to replace the older Soyuz. It was very similar to the Space Shuttle. It flew only once before being cancelled, due to high costs.

In 1986, construction began on the MIR space station. Learning much from the Salyut missions, this complex space station was lived in until 2001 when it re-entered the earth's atmosphere. On the right you can see an American Space Shuttle visiting MIR.

There is much Russian involvement in the International Space Station - in fact the very first part of the ISS to go into space was based on the Salyut space station and was built in Russia.

The MIR space station, with space shuttle Atlantis

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