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The Smithsonian Air & Space Museum Exhibit
Manned Space Flight
Manned space flight symbolized American and Soviet technological achievements and had significant military applications. The technology used to place astronauts or cosmonauts in orbit could also be used in military missiles. The Soviets pursued a permanent presence in space, launching the Salyut space station series beginning in 1972, followed by the Mir in 1986. U.S. manned space flight efforts competed with the Soviets in the race for prestige and technological superiority.
by Richard Terry, 1978
Manned space flight began on April 12, 1961, with Yuri Gargarin's single-orbit mission. The liquid-fueled, two-stage Vostok rocket that lifted Gagarin into space was used to launched a variety of military and civilian spacecraft from 1959 to the 1980s. During the 1980s, several years after this illustration was made, the Soviets began using Vostok rockets to place commercial satellites in orbit for other countries. Vostok means "east" in Russian.
by Ronald C. Wittmann, 1986
Developed in the late 1970s, the Buran space shuttle resembled the U.S. Space Shuttle in design and concept. The Soviets planned to use it to place satellites in orbit and to resupply the Mir space station. The Soviets launched the Buran only once, in 1988 without a crew. Russia cancelled the program in the early 1990s after the end of the Cold War. Buran means "snowstorm in the steppes" in Russian.
by Brian McMullin, 1986
The Soviet Union had conceptual plans in the 1980s to send manned spacecraft to Mars in the 1990s, even though its program to land cosmonauts on the moon failed. The mission would have required launching the spacecraft's components into Earth orbit for assembly. The roundtrip journey to Mars would have taken at least a year. Post-Soviet Russia cancelled the program due to its expense and questions regarding its feasability.
Soviet offensive forces grew dramatically in quality and quantity during the Cold War. These included missiles, submarines, and aircraft capable of delivering nuclear weapons. The U.S. devoted considerable resources to assessing and countering this threat. Both the United States and the Soviet Union produced thousands of offensive nuclear warheads capable of destroying both countries many times over. Arms control treaties during the last two decades have significantly reduces these nuclear arsenals.
by Dennis Mosher, 1978
The Soviets first deployed the Scud B in the late 1950s. A tactical, mobile, ballistic missile, it could deliver a conventional, nuclear, biological, or chemical warheads to a target about 320 kilometers (200 miles) away. The Soviets exported Scud B missiles to its Warsaw Pact allies and to such countries as Iraq, China, and North Korea. The Iraqi use of Scuds during the Gulf War showed the continuing threat posed by these weapons.
by Edward L. Cooper, 1987
This depiction of the Delta III nuclear-powered submarine was completed shortly after the warship entered service in the late 1970s. A Delta III could fire the nuclear-tipped SS-N-18 Stingray ballistic missile from 16 launch tubes. With a range of 6,500 kilometers (3,900 miles), Stingrays could hit targets in the United States from Soviet home ports or coastal waters. The DELTA III is still deployed with the Russian navy today.
by Edward L. Cooper, 1986
The deployment of the mobile SS-25 Sickle intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in the 1980s made Soviet land-based nuclear forces harder to locate and destroy. As seen in this work from 1986, the missile and support equipment was mounted on massive off-road vehicles that enabled rapid dispersed. The Sickle carried a single nuclear warhead and was about the same size as the U.S. Minuteman ICBM. Post-Soviet Russia continues to deploy this missile.
Beginning in the late 1960s, the Soviet Union has conducted a substantial research program to develop a defense against ballistic missles. The Soviets built, and Russia continues to maintain, the world's only operational anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system. Additionally programs focused on the development of of other ground- and space-based weapons using laser, particle beam, and kinetic energy technology.
by Ronald C. Wittmann, 1983
The Soviet Union built the world's only operational anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system around Moscow in the 1970s. Beginning in 1980, they improved and expanded this system. Two of these improvements are shown in this 1983 illustration: the silo-based, nuclear-tipped GAZELLE interceptor missile and a new large radar intended to control ABM engagements.
by Ronald C. Wittmann, 1987
Soviet research into ground- and space-based laser weapons systems began in the 1960s. They Soviets actually built several ground-based lasers in the 1980s which reportedly could destroy or interfere with satellites and aircraft. The space-based laser system envisioned in this 1987 work was designed to destroy or incapacitate satellites and intercontinental ballistic missiles, but was never built.
by Ronald C. Wittmann, 1987
The Soviets first explored the use of space-based particle beams weapons in the late 1960s. As portrayed in this 1987 illustration, the weapon would have targeted satellites or intercontinental ballistic missiles with high-velocity particle beams. The Soviet Union also studied other space-based directed-energy weapons, including those using laser and kinetic energy technology. None of these types of weapons were ever deployed.
The United States and the Soviet Union used many different reconnaissance systems during the Cold War. Some imaged military targets, others detected radar and radio emissions, and still others intercepted communications. Advances in technology enabled the both nations to conduct these missions from the relative safety of space beginning in the 1960s. Soviet systems provided military and political leaders with information on U.S. military forces and developments.
by Brian W. McMullan,1978
American U-2 overflights of Soviet territory in the late 1950s prompted the Soviet Union to develop its own high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft, the Yak-25RM Mandrake, which is depicted in this 1972 illustration. Unlike the U-2, the Soviets designed the Mandrake around an existing airframe, the all-weather Yak-25 interceptor. Carrying cameras and signals intelligence equipment, the Mandrake flew missions in the early 1960s over the Middle East, South Asia, China, and the border regions of NATO nations.
by Brian W. McMullin, 1982
This 1982 work shows the Cosmos 389 satellite, which was launched in December 1970 and performed electronic intelligence (ELINT) missions. Cosmos 389 was the first in a series of "ferret" satellites that pinpointed sources of radar and radio emissions to identify air defense sites and command and control centers. Transmitted to ground stations, the data was used for Soviet targeting and war planning.
by Ronald C. Wittmann, 1982
The Soviet Union placed a series of radar-equipped ocean reconnaissance satellites (RORSATs) in low Earth orbit beginning in 1967. Employing powerful radars and working in pairs, they located and targeted U.S. ships for destruction by Soviet naval forces. Nuclear powered RORSATs launched in the 1970s occasionally malfunctioned, including one that crashed and spread radioactive debris across northern Canada in 1978.
This page was last updated May 18, 2012.