First Permanently Manned Space Station Is Launched Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Building on the progress made in long-duration flights on Salyut missions, the Soviet Union took the major step of establishing a permanent manned presence on the Mir space station.

Summary of Event

While the American space shuttle program was grounded in the wake of the 1986 Challenger accident, Challenger (space shuttle) accident the Soviet Union proceeded to a new plateau in space station development. The core module of the space station Mir (meaning “peace” or “commune” in Russian) was launched from the Baykonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on February 20, 1986. Mir represented a third-generation Soviet space station design. Like the space stations Salyut Salyut space stations 6 and 7, Mir had a docking port at each end. Unlike the second-generation space stations, Mir also had four extra docking ports arranged radially at the forward end just behind the forward axial docking port. Otherwise, Mir was quite similar to Salyut 6 and 7. Nevertheless, this new space station was an evolutionary design, as the space station module was meant to serve as the core for attachment of specialized modules. Space stations;Mir Mir space station Astronauts and cosmonauts [kw]First Permanently Manned Space Station Is Launched (Feb. 20, 1986) [kw]Manned Space Station Is Launched, First Permanently (Feb. 20, 1986) [kw]Space Station Is Launched, First Permanently Manned (Feb. 20, 1986) [kw]Launched, First Permanently Manned Space Station Is (Feb. 20, 1986) Space stations;Mir Mir space station Astronauts and cosmonauts [g]Soviet Union;Feb. 20, 1986: First Permanently Manned Space Station Is Launched[06020] [g]Central Asia;Feb. 20, 1986: First Permanently Manned Space Station Is Launched[06020] [g]Kazakhstan;Feb. 20, 1986: First Permanently Manned Space Station Is Launched[06020] [c]Spaceflight and aviation;Feb. 20, 1986: First Permanently Manned Space Station Is Launched[06020] [c]Science and technology;Feb. 20, 1986: First Permanently Manned Space Station Is Launched[06020] Kizim, Leonid Solovyev, Vladimir Romanenko, Yuri Laveikin, Alexander Titov, Vladimir Manarov, Musa Levchenko, Anatoli

Because the heavy-lift Energia booster was not ready to support Mir operations in the second half of the 1980’s, Mir was designed for launch by the Proton booster. As a result, the maximum diameter (4.15 meters), length (13.1 meters), and mass (20,000 kilograms) of Mir were virtually identical to the Salyut 6 and 7 space stations. The heavy multiple-docking adapter at the front of Mir forced Soviet mission planners to launch Mir nearly devoid of scientific equipment and without all essential systems and supplies for long-duration habitation. Mir was designed to be heavily supported by initial manned flights, unmanned Progress freighters, and the addition of specialized modules. When launched, the original plan was to dock four additional large modules to Mir before 1990. Those plans were eventually delayed for technological and economic reasons.

Mir was given a number of improved systems that expanded its capabilities beyond those of Salyut 6 and 7. Among these were a capability for routing communications and telemetry data transmission through a communications satellite system at geosynchronous altitude, a new docking system (Kurs) that did not require the space station to be oriented facing spacecraft on final approach during rendezvous maneuvers, a lightweight manipulator arm designed to maneuver add-on modules from one forward docking port to another, a gallium arsenide solar array system capable of generating 9 kilowatts of usable electrical power, and a new computer control system requiring less human input.

When the station was launched, the majority of Mir’s interior consisted of living space. Few scientific experiments could be performed initially on the station, as little equipment and apparatus were on board. There were, however, 90 cubic meters of working and living space available inside Mir. The space station was composed of three major parts: the docking and transfer module, the work module, and the crew compartment.

The transfer module served as a hub for traffic into other modules expected to be added to the core space station and included an airlock through which cosmonauts could exit to perform extravehicular activities (EVAs). The primary purpose of the work module was to provide space for experimentation. The crew compartment represented a vast improvement over Salyut designs. For privacy, there were two individual cabins, each equipped with a chair, a table/desk, a sleeping bag, and a window for a soothing view of Earth. For food preparation, Mir had a galley complete with a refrigerator and a pair of food warmers. A folding table and removable chairs were available for eating meals. A repair shop was equipped with special zero-gravity tools for station maintenance that could be used on EVAs as well. For personal hygiene, there was a zero-gravity toilet, makeshift shower unit, and wash station. Stowed beneath the crew compartment floor were a bicycle ergometer and treadmill for crew exercise and relaxation. The interior of the space station was organized in such a way as to preserve a natural sense of up and down and was painted in pleasing, soft pastel colors.

The Mir Space Station in 1995 as viewed from the Soyuz TM spacecraft.


Mir was inserted into a 172-by-301-kilometer orbit. Maneuvers were executed that placed Mir in the same orbital plane as the abandoned Salyut 7 space station. This action led Western observers to speculate that Salyut 7 and Mir were about to be docked together. Those expectations were not met, however; Leonid Kizim and Vladimir Solovyev were launched on March 13, 1986, in Soyuz T-15 Soyuz program and rendezvoused and docked to Mir at the forward axial port. Kizim and Solovyev activated the life-support equipment and set up housekeeping on Mir. Soyuz T-15 carried some experimental equipment that the cosmonauts installed and tested. Further equipment, in addition to propellant, food, water, and air supplies, was delivered by the unmanned Progress 25 freighter that docked at the aft port on March 21. Progress 25 also was used to boost Mir to a more stable 336-by-360-kilometer orbit. A second Progress vehicle was dispatched to Mir a month later to complete the refueling of Mir’s propulsion system and alter the space station’s orbit, making possible a departure of Soyuz T-15 for a trip to Salyut 7.

Kizim and Solovyev undocked from Mir on May 5 and docked to Salyut 7 the next day. The cosmonauts reactivated the station, performed a pair of EVAs to retrieve space-exposed specimens, and removed several pieces of working scientific equipment for use on Mir. On June 25, Soyuz T-15 undocked from Salyut 7, leaving the space station abandoned in orbit. Kizim and Solovyev returned to Mir late the next day and resumed activities to set up Mir for future experimentation and long-duration spaceflights. After some initial scientific work, they prepared Mir for automatic mode and then returned to Earth on July 16. They had spent 125 days in space and lived on two different space stations.

Mir was next inhabited by Yuri Romanenko and Alexander Laveikin when Soyuz TM-2 docked to Mir in the early morning hours of February 8, 1987. This was the first long-duration cosmonaut team assigned to Mir. During their stay on Mir, Romanenko and Laveikin were visited by seven unmanned Progress freighters; the Soyuz TM-3 international cosmonaut team of Alexander Viktorenko, Alexander Alexandrov, and Mohammed Faris, a Syrian, who remained on Mir for six days; and the first expansion module, called Kvant.

Kvant (“quantum” in Russian) was a combination astrophysical research laboratory, work area, and space station support module. Kvant was 5.8 meters in length and had a diameter of 4.15 meters. At launch, Kvant carried a total of 1,500 kilograms of support equipment and 2,500 kilograms of consumables and other cargo. Inside the expansion module was an extra 40 cubic meters of working space. Kvant docked to the aft port of Mir after some initial difficulty caused by debris that prevented thedocking mechanism from latching. Romanenko and Laveikin had to perform an emergency EVA to dock Kvant to Mir successfully. Kvant had a duplicate port at its own aft to support docking of both Progress and Soyuz spacecraft. On April 21, Progress 29 docked to the aft port of Kvant and was able to refuel Mir’s propellant tanks through special plumbing lines routed through Kvant.

Soyuz TM-3 launched on July 22 to pay a visit to Romanenko and Laveikin. Soyuz TM-3 flight engineer Alexandrov replaced Laveikin as Romanenko’s companion on the long-duration team, and Laveikin, Viktorenko, and Faris returned to Earth in the older Soyuz TM-2 spacecraft, leaving the fresher Soyuz TM-3 for Mir’s resident crew.

Cosmonauts Vladimir Titov, Musa Manarov, and Anatoli Levchenko were launched on December 21, 1987, in Soyuz TM-4. Their mission was to replace Romanenko and Alexandrov and then remain aboard Mir for an entire year. The event of this team’s taking over residence of Mir marked the first time one space station crew had been completely exchanged for another without any lapse in habitation of the station, thus establishing Mir as the first permanently occupied space station.


One of the earliest space program design studies carried out by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration National Aeronautics and Space Administration;space stations (NASA) included the development of a manned space station in low Earth orbit as a platform for scientific research in a weightless environment. Political considerations in the Cold War Cold War;space race technological competition between the United States and the Soviet Union led the United States to abandon space station development in favor of deep space exploration, including manned lunar landings. When the Soviet Union lost the Moon race, the direction of its space program changed toward the development of Earth-orbiting space stations, a goal the Soviets often touted as more important than exploration of the Moon. The Salyut program was the test bed for the development of a permanent presence in low Earth orbit. Initial efforts in the Salyut program were geared toward upstaging the efforts of NASA’s Skylab astronauts.

Salyut 1, which was launched on April 19, 1971, was home to a trio of cosmonauts for twenty-four days, a record-setting endurance, in June of that year. The mission restored much of the diminished Soviet pride in its space program until the tragic loss of these cosmonauts during reentry, when a valve unexpectedly bled their return vehicle’s cabin atmosphere rapidly into space. Soyuz 11 landed safely, but its crew died. After a detailed investigation of the Soyuz 11/Salyut 1 accident, the Soviet space station program renewed its efforts to be successful prior to the launching of Skylab. Several attempts to orbit a Salyut 2 failed. Salyut 3, the first successful Soviet space station, was launched on June 25, 1974, well after the Skylab program had concluded. This space station was primarily a military version and was home to only a single crew of two cosmonauts who stayed on board for sixteen days.

Salyut 4, a civilian version, was launched on December 26, 1974. This space station was home to a pair of crews that lived for twenty-nine and sixty-three days in space before returning safely to Earth. During this mission, an automated docking of an unmanned Soyuz spacecraft to Salyut 4 was accomplished, setting the stage for the Progress freighters that would resupply second-generation Salyut space stations. Salyut 5, the final military version, was launched on June 22, 1976. This space station was home to two crews whose residence on orbit lasted forty-nine and eighteen days.

Salyut 1 through Salyut 5 were not meant for repeated use and had no significant capability for repair or resupply. The Soviet Union’s second-generation space stations, Salyut 6 and 7, were equipped with a pair of docking ports, one front and one aft. Salyut 6 was launched on September 29, 1977. Before Salyut 6 was deorbited destructively (in July, 1982), it was home to numerous cosmonaut teams for a total of 676 days. Long-duration flights were incrementally increased from 96 days to a record 185 days. The Soviets learned many lessons about physiological and psychological adaptation to long-duration exposure to life in an orbiting space station, and their confidence in operations grew. Progress and Soyuz resupply flights restocked consumables and propellants and delivered new scientific equipment, samples, and film.

Salyut 7 operations (1982 to 1986) increased endurance to 237 days before the station was abandoned in orbit and replaced by the third-generation Mir, which took its place in history as the first permanently manned space station. With its six docking ports and capability for module expansion, Mir was a significant step forward. In the mid-1990’s, with Cold War competition behind them, American and Russian space agencies decided to work together on the project that led to the building of the International Space Station. This effort later attracted the support and cooperation of the European Space Agency European Space Agency and other countries in a joint scientific endeavor. Space stations;Mir Mir space station Astronauts and cosmonauts

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hooper, Gordon R. The Soviet Cosmonaut Team: Comprehensive Guide to the Men and Women of the Soviet Manned Space Programme. San Diego, Calif.: Univelt, 1986. Provides highly detailed crew biographies as well as complete information on the cosmonauts’ training assignments and flight assignments. An indispensable resource for serious Soviet spaceflight researchers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Johnson, Nicholas L. The Soviet Year in Space: 1987. Colorado Springs: Teledyne Brown Engineering, 1988.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. The Soviet Year in Space: 1988. Colorado Springs: Teledyne Brown Engineering, 1989.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. The Soviet Year in Space: 1989. Colorado Springs: Teledyne Brown Engineering, 1990. These three volumes describe all Soviet space programs, both manned and unmanned, for 1987, 1988, and 1989, respectively. Included are detailed diagrams, easily understood graphs and charts, and copious comparative statistics. Indispensable resources for serious Soviet spaceflight researchers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Linenger, Jerry M. Off the Planet: Surviving Five Perilous Months Aboard the Space Station Mir. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000. Fascinating firsthand account by a NASA astronaut who spent 132 days on Mir in 1997 and endured numerous life-threatening emergencies there.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Newkirk, Dennis. Almanac of Soviet Manned Space Flight. Houston: Gulf, 1990. Thorough yet concise history of the Soviet space efforts focuses on early manned spectaculars, lunar race difficulties, and the development of a permanent manned presence in low Earth orbit. Well researched, with an accessible format that allows for ease of both reading and information retrieval.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Oberg, James E. The New Race for Space: The U.S. and Russia Leap to the Challenge for Unlimited Rewards. Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 1984. Written for the layperson interested in comparing the directions of the United States and Soviet space programs in the 1980’s. Heavily illustrated and easy reading, but thought-provoking.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Star-Crossed Orbits: Inside the U.S.-Russian Space Alliance. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002. Part memoir and part investigative journalism by a writer long interested in the exploration of space. Describes the space program alliance that was formed between the United States and Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union and examines the strengths and weaknesses of each side.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">U.S. Congress. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Soviet Space Programs: 1981-1987. Report prepared by Congressional Research Service, the Library of Congress. 100th Congress, 1988. Committee Print. Two-part document prepared for Congress traces the development of Soviet capabilities in the arena of manned spaceflight. Particularly strong in detailing the science programs carried out on the Salyut 6 and 7 space stations.

Russians Launch the Salyut Space Station

Skylab Inaugurates a New Era of Space Research

European Space Agency Is Formed

Apollo-Soyuz Test Project

Space Shuttle Docks with Mir

International Space Station Is Manned

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