Winning the space race

Russia is proud of its achievements in the field of space exploration, and rightly so. With a string of records and ‘firsts’ under its belt, Russia – especially in the days of the ‘space race’ during Soviet times – was and still is a leader in space travel and exploring the cosmos.

Here are just a few of its milestone achievements…

  • A successful test of the world’s first ballistic missile took place in August 1957. The launch occurred near the village of Tyura-Tam in Kazakhstan, which later became known as Baikonur.
  • The Soviet Union launched the first artificial Earth satellite Sputnik-1 on 4 October 1957. The satellite emitted radio waves which could be heard by any amateur radio fan. The space era had truly begun!

Sputnik 1

By Joanna Poe from Munith, MI, USA (2008-12-07_16-16-06) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

  • In August 1960, Soviet space dogs Belka and Strelka became the first creatures to orbit the Earth. Their voyage lasted a little over 24 hours, during which time their spaceship circled the Earth 15 times. Both dogs lived to a ripe old age and died natural deaths. Their bodies are now at the Cosmonautics Memorial Museum in Moscow.
  • America may have won the race to send a man to the Moon, but Soviet pennants arrived there 10 years previously. They had been dropped on the Moon’s surface on 14 September 1959 by the Soviet space station Luna-2 – the first probe to reach the moon. That same year, Luna-3 photographed the ‘dark side’ of the moon.
  • On 12 April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to fly to outer space.
  • The first full-pressure spacesuits were made in the Soviet Union in late 1959.
  • The world’s first moon rover, Lunokhod-1, was created in the Soviet Union. It reached the moon’s surface on 17 November 1970 and worked for 10 months, covering a distance of 10.5 kilometres and sending back around 25 000 photographs.
  • Soviet scientists were also the first to land a workable space apparatus on another planet — Venus. Venera-7 – an automatic space research station – landed on the surface of our nearest planet in mid-December 1970. The body of the landing module was made of titanium to withstand the pressure of 100 atmospheres and 500-degree heat.
  • In March 1965, Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov became the first person to walk in space. He spent 10 minutes in free flight at a distance of more than 5 metres from the spaceship as it hurtled through space at more than 7 km per second.
  • Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman cosmonaut. She spent nearly three days in space aboard the Vostok-6 spacecraft.
  • The Mir station was the first consistently inhabited long-term research station in outer space. The main module was put into orbit on 20 February 1986. Over the next 10 years, six modules were added to it. In 2001, the station was scuttled in the Pacific.
  • The first commercial astronaut – Japanese journalist Akiyama Toyohiro – went into space aboard the Soyuz TM-11 spacecraft in early December 1990. Since then, Soyuz spaceships have delivered several more tourists to the ISS Russian section.