The Soyuz program was first outlined in December 1962 by Chief Designer Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, but was initially rejected. In 1965, however, he was given permission to design a circumlunar flight program, with the eventual goal of landing a man on the moon. The initial unmanned and secret test flights were unsuccessful; all three ended in situations that would kill anyone on board. Despite this, the Soviet government decided to go ahead with the Soyuz 1 launch on April 26th, 1967. The mission ended the same way as the test flights did when Vladimir Komarov, the only person on board, crashed near Orenburg the next day, and died immediately. This set the Soyuz program back by 18 months, as the Soyuz 2 mission, which was originally intended to launch on April 27th, 1967, was delayed until October 25th, 1968. By then, the Soyuz program was far enough behind the Apollo project that no test flights of the lunar module were tested. The Soyuz missions, after the Americans landed on the moon with Apollo 11, focused on the establishment of space colonies. Seven Salyut space stations were in space and usable from the launch of Soyuz 10, on April 23rd, 1971, to the launch of Soyuz T-15, on March 13th, 1986, which found Salyut 7 frozen and unusable. Also, 29 missions to the space station Mir were sent, from Soyuz TM-1, launched May 21st, 1986 to Soyuz TM-29, which pulled away from Mir on August 27th, 1999.

The Soyuz missions were often planned improperly and hastily, and once a mission carrying three women, to be launched on International Women's Day, had to be canceled because of a shortage of Soyuz spacecraft themselves! Also, the safety systems on the craft were often only designed properly after they had proven themselves to be inadequate. For example, problems with the parachutes and solar panels were only fixed after the crash of Soyuz 1, which crashed due to flaws in both those systems. Also, the Soyuz craft was wholly redesigned after the disaster on Soyuz 11, where the cabin depressurized and all three crew members were killed. In the redesigned craft, only two people could fly, but they would have space to wear spacesuits during potentially dangerous portions of the mission. Also, the solar panels where removed entirely, preventing any problems with them.

A look at the systems of the Soyuz craft shows the technology level of the Soviet Union at the time it was first launched. The majority of the systems are similar to the technology employed on the American Mercury missions, but certain systems were much more advanced than anything employed on an American craft. The automatic docking systems, for example, allowed two Soyuz craft to dock with each other in orbit and exchange crews. Also, the Soyuz craft had automatic piloting systems, and many times the craft either went into space or came down on their own. Indeed, Soyuz 2, Soyuz 20, Soyuz T-1, and Soyuz TM-1 all both went to space and returned successfully on their own.

If anything, the design of the Soyuz craft has been much more long lived than any American ship. While the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs were all ended after relatively few missions, 83 Soyuz missions have flown, and the Soyuz craft are going to be used in the future, mainly to send crews to the International Space Station.

Lately, however, financial concerns have threatened the future of the Soyuz craft. The Russian government has said that it will no longer be able to send more than one mission into space each year, and certain systems that were originally considered essential by the designers to the Soyuz craft, such as the automatic docking systems, can no longer be used, because they are made in former Soviet Republics other than Russia, and therefore are not free to the Russian government. Also, Baikonur, the launch pad most often used to send Russian missions into space, now lies in Kazakhstan, and therefore Russia must rent use of the pad from the Kazakh government, something it can not always afford to do.

This is part of my ISU for Space Science on the Russian space program. I don't remember the exact mark it got me, but I recall it was pretty good.