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Essays from the Space Today Time Capsule:
The USSR Will Build Space Cities
by Cosmonaut Vitali Sevastyanov

SPACE TODAY was founded as a print newsmagazine in 1986. It migrated to online publication in 1995 as SPACE TODAY ONLINE (STO).

As the crown jewel of the space program of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the third-generation Mir station floated in orbit above Earth for fifteen years from 1986 to 2001. In 1987, cosmonauts from the Soviet Union took up permanent occupancy in the orbiting station.

This STO print archive article is a report on plans for building space cities written in Summer 1987 by USSR cosmonaut and space pilot Vitali Sevastyanov in response to a request from the editors of Space Today for information on long range plans.

Russian Space Station Mir while still in orbit above Earth
Mir station while still in orbit
When Yuri Gagarin, a 27-year-old Russian made his historic flight around our planet on April 12, 1961, he proved that the human race would not be bound to the Earth forever. His flight was but the first step. "But even a road thousands of kilometers long begins with a first step," the cosmonaut's mother said.

Yuri Gagarin was born in a small village near Smolensk. His father was a joiner on a collective farm. At 15 Yuri enrolled at a technical school to learn the trade of a steel maker. He went in for sport and read a lot. Later, Gagarin said that it was at that time that he developed an insatiable thirst for flying. His passion for space came from reading books by Herbert Wells, Jules Verne and later Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, the Russian space theorist.

Academician Sergei Korolev, the famous designer of space ships and a man who knew Gagarin well, said about him, "Yuri epitomizes the eternal youthfulness of the Russian people. He happily combines natural courage, an analytical mind and exceptional industriousness." To this must be added that Gagarin was a very amiable and cheerful person and had a good sense of humor. All that combined with his excellent skills played the decisive role in his becoming the first Soviet cosmonaut.

200 have been there. As many as 200 spacemen have been in orbit to date, with many having flown several missions. Soviet spacecraft also lifted cosmonaut researchers from socialist countries, that are members of the Intercosmos program, and from India and France.

A total of 16 days was spent by Soviet cosmonauts in the first single-seater ships of the Vostok type. On board the Salyut 6 station, its crews worked in space for about 700 days and on board Salyut 7 for more than 800 days. An equivalent shuttle program, with its weekly missions, would have required more than 200 launchings to achieve the same duration. Salyut 1, the first Soviet orbital spacecraft, was provided only with one docking unit. The station could be used either in the unmanned mode or in the manned one, with a crew deliverable by a Soyuz ship that docked with the Salyut.

In 1977 Salyut 6, a station of the second generation, was launched. It was fitted with two docking units, which changed radically the research program of Soviet orbital stations. Now, if one of the docking units was occupied by a Soyuz that brought up the main crew, the other docking unit made it possible to receive another Soyuz with a visiting crew, or an automatic Progress ferry ship. This advantage of Salyut 6 was used extensively: in four years of orbital service it accommodated 33 people.

Besides, the existence of two docking ports enabled large-sized "space trains" to be formed, consisting of craft that in size and mass were similar to Salyut 6. If these craft, in their turn, had two docking ends, multi-sectional orbital stations of any length could be built up in that way.

Three craft docked. In 1983, a research complex made up of Soyuz T-9, Salyut 7 and Cosmos 1443 operated in orbit for six weeks, with a total mass of 47 tons (94,000 lbs.) and a length of almost 35 meters (115 feet). It was a major step in orbital docking of craft having large masses and volumes.

By that time, Salyut stations had been perfected to such an extent that they became real testing laboratories, but one step before a permanent orbital station with rotating crews, a station that could be supplied with all it needed and could function normally for an indefinite period of time.

The extended exploitation of Salyuts provided Soviet men of science with many insights into the behavior of the human body in space. Since man's adaptability to space and his possible return to normal terrestrial existence without bad effects was one of the unknowns of space flight, this information was especially valuable.

There were, of course, problems in the early stages. Some of the cosmonauts, upon returning to Earth from their orbital missions, experienced difficulties on the firm ground. For example, in walking. To preclude this from recurring, new programs of work, physical training and recreation in orbit were drawn up. These programs owe their origins to Salyut flights. Under a space-research agreement between the USSR and the U.S., the Soviet Union shares with the United States data on how extended zero-gravity affects the human body. As American scientists pointed out on many occasions, they are especially interested in these Soviet experiments and their results, since they are unable to obtain such information from their national program of studies.

The next generation. The experience gained by seven Salyut orbital stations has allowed Soviet scientists to prepare and make a fundamentally new step in the development of the space technology. I refer to the launching in February 1986 of the Mir orbital station. As distinct from its predecessors, it has six, not two, docking ports. Four are on the periphery and two at the ends along the central axis. The result is that different configurations can be effected and flexible technology can be adopted more widely in orbit. This is the basic idea contained in the conception of a multi-purpose permanently-manned complex with specialized modules concerned with nature studies and technological, astrophysical, biological and other research. The six docking ports mean, above all, the new quality of the station, the possibility of using its costly scientific and technical equipment in full. The cargo bridge between Earth and orbit can operate very efficiently.

The Mir has twice as much (electrical) power as the Salyut and this is very important in conducting power-demanding experiments. For example, in space technology and materials science. This station is expected to do a particularly large volume of applications research. A permanent space station in near-Earth orbit offers vast benefits. With the help of such a station, everythingÐfrom the manufacture of perfect crystals at zero gravity to the organization of expeditions to other planetsÐcan be translated from the stage of costly experiments into daily reality.

Humans have been directly exploring space for little more than 25 years. Before that, we felt cramped in the space we lived in. But, having started space exploration, we were surprised and then pleased to discover that there were new areas for human endeavor. By exploring and using outer space, we are possibly making immense discoveries, determining our place in the Universe, first judging our terrestrial "frailty" and glimpsing the future which will from now on be never connected entirely with the Earth.

Learn more about the former Soviet Union in space:

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