On this day in 1971, the Soviet Union launched Salyut 1, mankind’s first space station. The station was visited only once by a Soyuz 11 crew for 24 days, who had to cut their mission short do to technical problems, including an electrical fire. The crew died of asphyxia on the trip back to Earth.
While an earlier Soyuz 10 crew had attempted to dock with the Salyut 1, they were unsuccessful. This unsuccessful docking, followed by the death of the Soyuz 11 crew, led to a redesign of the Soyuz spacecraft. Unfortunately, the new spacecraft could not be launched in time to save the Salyut 1. The station burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere in October 1971.
The Salyut 1 was followed by the successful launch of five more stations, the last one being the Zvezda Service Module, launched in 2000. This module is still in orbit and part of the International Space Station.
Even with all of the issues, it was a great accomplishment for the Soviet Union. The United States did not have its own space station in orbit until the launch of Skylab 1 on May 14, 1973.
No one said space missions were easy or safe, as NASA has also learned over the years.
You can read more about the Soviet and Russian space stations at this NASA site.