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Salyut-8 was a Soviet space station that served as the site of the first unarmed, non-lethal space conflict in 1994. The conflict reportedly occurred due to political differences and involved two cosmonauts, one from the Afghan SSR.
Salyut-8 ("Salute-8") was the last of a series of space stations operated by the Soviet Union in the last years of the twentieth century. The first five Salyut stations, launched in the 1970s, carried two cosmonauts, who arrived via capsule-type Soyuz spacecraft. The Soyuz also served as the crews' return vehicle, remaining docked to the station's single port for the duration of the mission.
These early outposts were plagued with developmental problems. A faulty pressure equalization valve resulted in the suffocation of the crew of the first during reentry. The second station, a disguised Almaz-series military space station flying under the designation Salyut-2, was hit by fragments of its jettisoned booster rocket, causing a pressure loss and crippling its flight control systems. Seven days into its mission a mysterious accident caused both the station's solar arrays to be lost, leaving the station without power. So it remained, until its destruction on reentry a month later.
However, the Soviets persisted and had better success with the next three stations, which performed civilian scientific work and clandestine military projects while providing invaluable experience in the long-term habitation of space, with crews working aboard for periods sometimes lasting for two months or more. Salyut-3, another incognito military station, holds the dubious honor of being the first manned spacecraft to carry and fire a weapon, a 23mm cannon of the kind used in contemporary atmospheric fighter planes. The weapon was tested satisfactorily against target satellites.
Following the successful three-month flight of Salyut-5, a partial redesign was undertaken to incorporate the benefits gained by the experience of the program so far. These modifications included a second docking port, allowing resupply of the station using unmanned Progress-class vessels while the crew's Soyuz capsule remained docked to the station. This, along with various other optimizations, allowed much longer missions to be flown. Salyut-6 and -7 remained in orbit for four years or more, with replacement personnel being flown in rotation to relieve the resident cosmonauts.
Salyut-8, with a redesigned core module, was intended to remain in orbit for more than five years, and to host a total rotating contingent of more than forty cosmonauts. This may seem unimpressive in view of the much greater capabilities of later spacefaring systems. However, taking into account the technology of the era, the achievement remains substantial. Further Salyut missions, and a follow-on Mir program, envisaged the indefinite occupation of space by humans for the first time.
The Salyut-8 station represented an evolution of the previous design of the earlier examples of this series. Like these stations, the core of the design consisted of a large central module, cylindrical in shape, with two long, perpendicularly mounted arrays of photovoltaic solar panels. The central module provided living quarters and working space for the two inhabitants of the station. Docking collars at each end of the module allowed link-up with the small capsule-type spacecraft in use at the time. The Soyuz-type on which the crew arrived would be integrated into the station for the duration of the cosmonauts' stay. The second docking ring allowed the stations to be resupplied periodically with consumables by automated Progress spacecraft. This allowed long-duration missions to be planned. Following a stay of about two months, the cosmonauts would return to Terra aboard the Soyuz capsule and another pair arrive to take over the station.
The real step forward of the Salyut-8 lay in its modular design. The core module was designed to interface with other, purpose built components. A number of different modules were designed for various purposes. The station was intended to receive these modules and expand, eventually housing a crew of more than a dozen, with facilities for activities ranging from astrophysical research to support of further spaceflight operations. It was to be mankind's first permanent inhabited outpost in space.
Each component of the Salyut-8 station was lifted into orbit atop a massive Proton rocket. These huge vehicles remained in use by the Soviet space program for over fifty years, undergoing continuous improvement throughout their service lives. Though primitive by 31st century standards, these powerful rockets were the only reliable means of lifting a significant mass into orbit that the technology of the time could produce. Along with their contemporaries, the venerable Saturn rockets in use by the so-called NATO powers, they paved the way for the spread of man across the stars and set him on the path towards the glories of the Star League. These towering giants, roaring through the skies into the unknown atop a pillar of fire and smoke, symbolized the peculiar romance of the precarious first days of ancient spaceflight. They have become, along with the stagecoaches and pack mules of earlier days, classic symbols of the pioneering spirit of mankind.
- Strategic Operations, p. 244