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One of the oldest pieces of the International Space Station has been in place for more than 20 years. The Russian-built module is a descendant of the first space station, which was launched 50 years ago today.
Salyut 1 was based on a design for a military station. As the station was being developed, though, the Soviet Union transferred it to another agency.
It was given the name “Salyut” just days before launch. It’s the Russian word for “salute.” The name honored cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who became the first person in space a decade before Salyut was launched.
The space station was about 50 feet long, and weighed 40,000 pounds at launch. It was divided into several compartments for cosmonauts to live and work in.
The first cosmonauts arrived at Salyut five days after its launch. But they couldn’t link up with the station, so they had to return home. A second crew arrived a couple of months later. The three cosmonauts operated several experiments, including an ultraviolet telescope that looked at hot stars. But the cosmonauts died during the return to Earth when a valve opened early and their air escaped into space.
The Soviets launched eight more Salyut space stations, and six of them were successful. They hosted dozens of cosmonauts, who eventually spent as long as a year aboard them. Their success led to the Mir space station — and, eventually, to one of the longest-serving pieces on the International Space Station.