Why the Soviet space workhorse Soyuz is still going strong – 50 years on

Why the Soviet space workhorse Soyuz is still going strong – 50 years on

by Robin McKie, The Guardian

It has ferried Britons, tortoises and cosmonauts into orbit, seeing off its more complex US rivals

The capsule claimed the life of the first astronaut to fly in it and was later involved in one of the worst accidents in spaceflight history. Yet Soyuz – which was first blasted into space 50 years ago – has since become the most successful craft to carry humans into Earth orbit. It is the workhorse spaceship on which manned missions beyond the atmosphere are now completely reliant.

Soyuz took the first earthlings – a cage of tortoises – to the moon in 1968, carried Britain’s only two astronauts, Helen Sharman and Tim Peake, into space, has been used for well over 100 manned space missions and has since become the only craft capable of ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station. For an ageing piece of cold war technology, the spaceship has earned itself a remarkable reputation and has seen off far more complex, expensive craft such as the space shuttle, which was retired by NASA five years ago.

But the future of Soyuz is in question today. Some experts believe that the craft will soon be replaced by cheaper spaceships now being developed in the US by Elon Musk and other entrepreneurs. Others expect that Soyuz will still be flying for years to come. “Soyuz is certainly not done yet,” said former NASA engineer David Baker, editor of the UK journal Spaceflight and author of Soyuz: An Owner’s Workshop Manual, published by Haynes. “It could easily be in use in years to come.”

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