First International Space Flight, and a Precursor

Thirty-five years ago today — March 2, 1978 — the Soyuz 28 mission launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on a flight to the Salyut-6 space station. Soyuz 28 rates as the first space mission with an international crew by virtue of the fact that Soviet cosmonaut Alexei A. Gubarev was joined by Czech (i.e., of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic) cosmonaut Vladimir Remek.

Ten years earlier — on March 2, 1968 — the USSR had launched the unmanned Zond 4 mission from Baikonur atop a Proton K. Previous Zond spacecraft had been planetary probes, but Zond 4 was designed as a manned capsule, though this test flight did not include occupants.

(Zond spacecraft atop Proton upper stage, in Baikonur assembly building. Image from Wikimedia Commons.)

The mission included a couple of interesting elements:

The trajectory away from the Moon was probably unintentional (although some claims were made that it was aimed away from the Moon to avoid complications of lunar gravity). The spacecraft supposedly could not be sent towards the Moon because of a malfunction in the attitude control system. On Earth, cosmonauts Popovich and Sevastyanov communicated from an isolated bunker with Yevpatoriya Flight Control Center in the Ukraine via a relay on board the spacecraft to simulate communications between cosmonauts in space and the ground controllers on Earth.

The Zond series of launches continued, but did not include any manned missions.

Sometimes it’s remarkable how short a time it took for manned spaceflight to become almost routine. But who knows how long it will be before it’s routine enough for the rest of us to enjoy?

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