June 13, 2024

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The forgotten rescue of the Salyut 7 space station

The forgotten rescue of the Salyut 7 space station

With only two space stations in orbit around Earth today in the form of the International Space Station and China’s Tiangong Station (“Palace of Heaven”), it’s easy to forget how many space stations have been launched in the past century. And the Soviet Union fired the most, as part of the Salyut program (in Russian for “salute” or “fireworks”). Although the program included both military (the Orbital Experimental Station, or OPS) and civilian (Durable Orbital Station, or DOS) stations, it was the civilian stations that had the most success, as well as the most daring rescue attempt with salute 7 recovery space station.

Salyut 7 (DOS-6) was set to repeat the success of Salyut 6 after its launch on April 19, 1982, until the disaster in February 1985. Due to a series of electrical and other malfunctions, ground communications with the space station were cut, and at that time the station began Uninhabited space is gradually tumbling towards Earth’s atmosphere. This left officials with two options: leave the station to burn up in mid-air, or mount a rescue mission.

Finally, on June 6, 1985, Soyuz T-13 lifted off for a rendezvous with Salyut 7. On board were cosmonauts Vladimir Dzhanibekov — who had previously hand-docked with Salyut 7 — and Viktor Savinykh. Both men did everything they could to perform manual docking and attempt to revive the doomed space station. Eventually, they were able to revive the station using what little charge was left in its batteries and Soyuz thrusters, while braving the freezing temperatures in the dead station’s interior.

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Salyut 7 would continue to perform its duties until February 1991, with Mir (DOS-7, launched 1986) as the first modular space station to take over. The final DOS console (DOS-8) that traces its lineage directly to this era is still in use today as Zvezda module of the International Space Stationkeeping the heritage of the Salyuts and the bravery of Dzhanibekov and Savinykh alive.