74 votes
Accepted

Did a Soyuz fly with a Union Jack?

The USSR's next-to-last crewed launch was Soyuz TM-12, flying to Mir, carrying two Russians and the UK's first astronaut, Helen Sharman. Here's a photo of TM-12 on the launch pad with the UK flag ...
74 votes
Accepted

What "fuel more powerful than anything the West (had) in stock" put Laika in orbit aboard Sputnik 2?

Laika's magical mystery propellant was kerosene and LOX. Sputnik 2 was launched on the 8K71PS launcher. This was a modified R-7 ICBM, and like all the R-7 derived launchers, its RD-107 and RD-108 ...
69 votes
Accepted

How (the heck) did Lunokhod 2 drive, navigate and survive a ~40 kilometer drive over four months on the Moon using 1970's technology?

A few interesting videos about the lunokhod rovers: Tank on the Moon The Lunokhod Rovers - It Happened in Space #7 Secret Soviet Lunar Rovers and Extra Terrestrial Cars - Lunokhod, Mars Rovers The ...
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56 votes
Accepted

What led Yuri Gagarin to believe his hatch was not properly sealed?

Gagarin learned about the problems with the hatch when the hatch was reopened. From Roscosmos: В 7.30 С.П. Королев поинтересовался о самочувствии у Ю.А. Гагарина. Казалось, что все идет согласно ...
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53 votes
Accepted

Why did the Soviet Union decide to use 33 small engines instead of a few large ones on the N1?

Developing new engines takes time, and time was a precious resource in the Moon race. The major problem with making larger engines is the problem of combustion instability of large combustion chambers....
48 votes
Accepted

What are the teeth on the edge of Venera 13 and 14?

The teeth served an aerodynamic function. ...metal teeth were added to the periphery of the impact ring in an effort to reduce the spin and oscillation during the descent and prevent the rough ...
46 votes

Did Sputnik 1 tell us more than "beep"? What science was improved by information gained from its orbiting the Earth?

Shot answer: Was Sputnik-1 "only for beep" - no, it wasn't :) It was technical test of R-7 as space launcher and test of spacecraft in orbit (athough very simple spacecraft). Also scientists ...
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41 votes
Accepted

Gagarin not ejecting from capsule

Initially, the USSR insisted that Gagarin had landed with the spacecraft, because of requirements for FAI certification of spaceflight records: One of the stipulations for spaceflight requires that ...
39 votes
Accepted

Why were early Soviet spacecraft spherical?

From this pdf (Reconsidering Sputnik: Forty Years Since the Soviet Satellite) at NASA.gov referring to Sergei Korolev, the lead rocket engineer for the Sputnik project: There were many debates on ...
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33 votes
Accepted

How did the USSR track Gagarin's Vostok-1 orbital flight? Was tracking capability an issue in the choice of orbit?

The Answer is on a page by Sven Grahn. No ocean going tracking ships were used. Only ground stations on the territory of the USSR. In the other answers some russian sources about the use of tracking ...
  • 48.1k
33 votes

Did Sputnik 1 tell us more than "beep"? What science was improved by information gained from its orbiting the Earth?

I don't know what the USSR was trying to do with it, but I know what the US Navy did with it. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Lab used the Doppler shift on the 20 MHz ...
  • 6,538
31 votes

How did the U.S.S.R manage to rotate the N-1 from horizontal to vertical?

They used an extremely large rail-based transporter/erector nicknamed the "grasshopper". Image source This image shows the N-1 in the process of rotation. Image source russianspaceweb says the ...
28 votes

Did Sputnik 1 tell us more than "beep"? What science was improved by information gained from its orbiting the Earth?

Sputnik 1 was pressurized with nitrogen at 1.3atm. The period of the beeping was tied to a pressure sensor. The logic was being that if anything (such as a micrometeoroid) penetrated the satellite, ...
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27 votes

How did the Vostok ejection seat safely eject an astronaut from a sealed space capsule?

According to this NASA page someone was killed when his space suit was ripped during a test of the ejection system. Korolyovs [Korolevs] reaction to Dolgov's death was to take a number of urgent ...
  • 48.1k
24 votes

What caused the N1 to become a failure?

Generically the program was underfunded, and the main issue was lack of full up testing of each stage. With 30 engines, the interactions in the plumbing were very complex and caused imperfect fuel/...
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24 votes
Accepted

Was the Soviet N1 really capable of sending 9.6 GB/s of telemetry?

That claim is rather dubious. First, there is the claim of 320,000 channels of telemetry, while one paragraph earlier it lists 13,000 sensors on board. There will be setpoints in addition to sensor ...
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24 votes
Accepted

Why did Voskhod 2 carry two cosmonauts when Voskhod 1 proved it could carry three?

The Voskhod capsule was very cramped, and the three-cosmonaut flight was essentially a propaganda stunt. From Wikipedia: [Voskhod 1 was] the first flight without the use of spacesuits... The three ...
21 votes
Accepted

How was the cosmonaut of the Soviet moon mission supposed to get back in the return vehicle?

There are good diagrams of the Kontakt docking system in the Mir Hardware Heritage document by Portree. As stated in comments, this was an unpowered, misalignment-tolerant docking system that did not ...
19 votes

What caused the N1 to become a failure?

To add to geoffc's excellent answer, another issue that might have been worked out with more testing was the KORD, a computer system for controlling the 30 different engines. Ideally, the KORD would ...
  • 1,908
19 votes
Accepted

What are these objects near the Cosmonaut's faces?

These are two microphones of the cosmonaut's headset (шлемофон - hat with headphones and microphones). Two microphones reserve each other. The ДЭМШ-microphone possessed considerable resistance to ...
  • 7,733
18 votes
Accepted

Was splashing down on the USSR-controlled territory a possibility for Apollo missions?

The planned landing areas for Apollo command modules were pre-programmed beforehand and happened in the South Pacific. Often the South Pacific, but sometimes the North Pacific or the Atlantic. Both ...
18 votes

What is this long truss associated with Mir?

I believe that's the Sofora girder which was made up of 20 segments totalling 14 metres in length. There was an RCS thruster at the top end which made it easier to orient the station and used less ...
  • 1,143
17 votes

Why did Sputnik 1 have four antennas?

I think @PearsonArtPhoto 's answer misses several major points. From http://www.cs.mcgill.ca/~rwest/link-suggestion/wpcd_2008-09_augmented/wp/s/Sputnik_1.htm The satellite carried two antennas ...
  • 148k
17 votes

How did the USSR track Gagarin's Vostok-1 orbital flight? Was tracking capability an issue in the choice of orbit?

Ships were used to receive telemetry. Work in the ocean took place on February 12, 1961. At this time, preparations for the launch of the world's first manned spacecraft Vostok were completed. ...
  • 7,733
16 votes

How did the USSR track Gagarin's Vostok-1 orbital flight? Was tracking capability an issue in the choice of orbit?

I've found that language barrier problem exists. There are many info in Russian that have no proper translations in English. There were space tracking ships too. Information that USSR had not them ...
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16 votes
Accepted

Which of the former Soviet republics have sent a cosmonaut into space?

Wikipedia's List Of Cosmonauts page has a handy breakdown for "Soviet and Russian cosmonauts born outside Russia". According to that page: All Soviet and RKA cosmonauts have been born ...
16 votes
Accepted

What is this long truss associated with Mir?

Updated answer: TL;DR: Mayak (Lighthouse/beacon) or URS truss, mounted on Salyut-7 in May 1986. Additional element, including interview with cosmonaut Vladimir Solovyov, added at end of this answer -...
15 votes
Accepted

How did Lunokhod 1 become "lost" in 1971; in what ways did astronomers "look for it" after that?

A team called APOLLO (Apache Point Observatory Lunar Laser-ranging Operation), led by Tom Murphy, professor at UC San Diego uses the lunar retroreflectors. Murphy said his team had occasionally ...
  • 122k
15 votes
Accepted

Why did Sputnik 1 have four antennas?

Sputnik was the first satellite. It was set up before we had an understanding of how difficult it would be to maintain a satellite's position, and in fact was a very simple system overall. The 4 ...
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Only top scored, non community-wiki answers of a minimum length are eligible