The Soviet Space Program

In August 1957 the Soviet Union carried out the first successful test of the R7 Semyorka, the world's first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICB). The R7 was the culmination of research and development based upon the Nazi party's V2 rockets, which had been launched at Allied nations during the Second World War. The first of these, the R1, was a replica of the V2, built by German prisoners under the guidance of Sergey Korolyov. Korolyov was a rocket engineer who was soon able to improve the original German design. The R2 was able to travel twice as far as the R1 and by the time of the R7, the rockets had an almost global range, making them the ideal choice for a space launch vehicle. The Space Race had begun.

The Sputnik satellite (NASA)

The Sputnik satellite (NASA)

Just two months after the Semyorka had been tested, Korolyov succeeded in putting the first man made object into orbit around the Earth. This Satellite was called Sputnik. It was followed a month later by Sputnik II, which carried the first space traveller, Laika the dog. Their launch was a major propaganda success over the United States and soon Korolyov was charged with building upon the Soviet Union's achievements in space.

Planning for a manned mission began in 1958 and resulted in the Vostok program, which ran from 1960 to 1963. The program was a great success and in April 1961 Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the Earth aboard Vostok 1. He was joined by five fellow cosmonauts over the next 2 years, including, Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space. The Vostok programme was followed by the Voskhod programme, which saw the Soviets achieving further milestones. The most important of these was achieved by the crew of Voshkod 2, when Aleksei Leonov performed the first ever space walk on March 18th 1965.

Korolyov's next target was to try and land a man on the moon before the United States. To achieve this goal he had designed the N1 rocket in conjunction with staff at his OKB-1 design bureau, as well as working on the design for the Soyuz manned spacecraft. Then, in January 1966, Korolyov died from a heart attack during a routine operation. It was only at this point that the world learnt the identity of the Russian's Chief Designer. His identity had been kept secret during the 1950s and 1960s, but he was now buried with state honours in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis.

Responsibility for landing a man on the moon now passed to Korolyov's second in command, Vasily Mishin, who approved the launch of Soyuz 1 in 1967. The spacecraft crashed, killing the cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov. Further problems were experienced when each of the unmanned N1 test flights exploded. These set backs saw America pull ahead of the Soviets in the space race and on July 21st 1969 Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin successfully landed on the moon. Although plans for a Russian mission continued into the 1970s, the program was eventually cancelled in 1974.