Friday, 24 August 2012

Astronyms, part 2: Soviet/Russian Stations and Oddities

This is part of this series of posts on the history of spacecraft naming.

With Soyuz pretty firmly settled as the standard Soviet spacecraft, and the Moon already claimed by the US, Moscow turned instead to developing long-term space stations, orbitting in the relatively calm shallows of low Earth orbit. This would, after early problems about as bad as those experienced by the early Soyuzes, eventually lead to a line of stations with longevity to match the Soyuz line, plus lots of interesting names for me to investigate. I'd also like to briefly mention a couple of the more interesting planned designs that never made it.

Salyut and Almaz
(Space stations. In space service 7 June 1971 to 25 June 1986, and 4 July 1974 to 25 February 1977)

A Salyut (left) and Almaz (right)

Meaning 'salute' and 'diamond' respectively. Using similar bottle-shaped hull structures and most of the same internal hardware, the sciencey Salyut & military Almaz stations were intentionally designed to look the same to a casual observer (even now, I'm not sure if I should split this description properly in twain), so that secret military things could be secretly tested under the cover of civil scientific development. The Salyuts were part engineering experiment (testing how a long-term orbiter could work) and part science lab, but their name is all political. For such "civilian" stations, 'salute' is a pretty damn military name. Perhaps it was a cunning double-bluff to help conceal the Almaz class a smidge more. It's also easy to see the patriotic whiffle in having an orbiting salute for the Soviet Union (and the same salute, in a more mocking manner, as it passes over the West). 6 stations of this type were launched, but 2 failed before they could be crewed. Neither failed station was officially called 'Salyut', and the 2nd was given the bogus designation Kosmos 557, to pretend it was just a generic satellite.

[EDIT: Evidently, the Salyut stations were originally named Zarya ('dawn') stations by their designers. A late change to Salyut because of a radio callsign clash meant Salyut 1 was launched with Zarya still painted on the hull. 'Dawn' would have linked back nicely to 'East' and 'sunrise', though as mentioned under my bit about the International Space Station's modules, I am currently a little confused by this cluster of Russian near-synonyms.]

Almaz, meanwhile, borrowed an existing code word from the Soviet space program, as noted in part 1 of this series, for an additional layer of secrecy. For more secrecy, all the Almazes were named as if they were part of the Salyut series of missions, as Salyut 2 (failed before it could be crewed), Salyut 3 and Salyut 5. The purpose of the station was to provide reconnaissance the way spy satellites do, but before it had been proven that automated satellies could do that job. The Americans had a similar plan, their Manned Orbiting Laboratory (a similarly misleading name, but more openly described as a military project), but this was cancelled when automated spy satellites showed they could do the job cheaper, as computers became a thing. The Soviets stuck with the Almaz idea about a decade longer before making the same decision. Almaz is interesting too in that it's the only known people-carrying space vessel to have been armed, with a 23mm (or 30mm, some say) cannon for killing other satellites. As I said, 3 of these stations were launched, the first one failing.

As a post-script, modified Salyuts were eventually used as the core modules of Mir and the International Space Station. Diagrams of each are included below for comparison, but note that they're facing the opposite direction. The most obvious changes are the bigger solar panels and the multi-ported docking wossname. A pair of unused Almazes have also been bought by a British company, with the hope of using them as part of a tourist station. I am not optimistic about this.
Mir Core Module
Zvezda module, ISS

(Space station. In space service 15 March 1986 to 15 June 2000)

Mir, final configuration, with Soyuz and Progress docked at each end.

Now here we have an interesting name. The translation is usually given as 'world' or 'peace', which brings to mind the idea of world peace, which is nice. But why does one word mean those two fairly different things? My Russian is a little rusty, but Google Translate reckons the same word also means 'kingdom' and 'pax'. A surprising amount of Russian was influenced by Latin (tsar, for example, is said to derive from Caesar), and I'm going to wildly hypothesize that the Russian 'mir' was understood in a similar way to the 'pax' part of the  Pax Romana (although the Romans themselves didn't call it exactly that), an enforced peace, a state peace, where peace stands more for order and perhaps even obedience than general non-violence and cooperation. In other words, I'm suggesting the Soviet implication with this name might have been just as nationalist and patriarchal as Soyuz and Salyut, but misunderstood in the English-speaking world. Or I could be talking shit and they really did only have happy, nice, friendly sentiments when naming Mir. Any Russian-speakers who know better, please educate me.

[EDIT: Two further translations of 'mir' are 'society', and, derived from that meaning, a form of rural village. A source I can't find again right now hinted that the space station may have been named after that last meaning, with each of its modules analogous to the individual homes of a village. A similar vision has come up more recently with ESA's talk of a 'Moon village'.]

Mir is also technically interesting, as the first multi-modular space station, with a bunch of additional sections attached to a modified multi-ported Salyut core. [Salyut 6 and 7 each had extra TKS modules added, but only one at a time, limiting their potential to expand.] This made Mir much more useful and adaptable and it stayed in service for years. I remember, as a young teen (maybe 1997 or 1998), having to go to some boring thing with my parents and entertaining myself by reading a Time article about how the station was on its last legs. The descriptions of panics over leaks and near-collisions with Progress cargo ships were especially vivid, and were probably the first stories that made human spaceflight seem like a real thing to me.

The modules added to the Mir core were Kvant-1 and -2 ('quantum'), Kristall ('crystal'), Spektr ('spectrum'), Priroda ('nature') and the Stykovochnyy Otsek ('Mir Docking Module'). The first 5 follow a sciencey sort of theme, which makes sense, given the researching nature of the station. The Mir Docking Module, on the other hand, may have been Russian-built, but was only attached to allow US shuttles to dock there more easily and appears to have been named in the bland US style of the '90s (to be discussed in part 5).

I could go on forever if I look at every design study that was never realised. Instead, I'm going to limit myself to only vessels that were built and tested (but never crewed) and/or that I find exceptionally interesting. [Edit: Updated and expanded.]

Originally a Soviet competitor design to Soyuz, the Transportnyi Korabl Snabzheniia (TKS or 'transport supply vessel') had a two-component layout more similar to the Apollo CSM. It was initially conceived as part of a lunar mission (much like Soyuz was), and then more fully designed in concert with the Almaz station design, as its standard station crew ferry (just as Soyuz was paired with the Salyut design). But then all of the Salyut stations of both types were instead standardised on the Soyuz, and no TKS ever operated independently with a crew. Some were operated independently by remote, and some were docked with various stations, at which time they became occupied modules of the larger structure. The TKS consisted of a simple conical crew module, the Vozvraschaemyi Apparat (VA or 'recovery vehicle'), and the large, tubular, solar panel-winged Funktsionalno-gruzovoy blok (FGB or 'functional cargo block'), which carried support and mission equipment, docking gear and, unlike the Apollo service module or Soyuz equipment module, was pressurised for crew occupation. It seems neither half of the TKS, nor the whole vessel, was ever assigned a proper name. Confusion over translation has apparently led to the VA being known incorrectly as Merkur in the West - perhaps because it was the first Soviet conical crew module, in the pattern established by Mercury?

TKS's role as a station module has been more noteworthy than anything else, with 1 serving as a module of Salyut 6 (the first ever added permanent module on a station, though never occupied, as it docked only after the last crew departed), 2 serving consecutively as modules as Salyut 7 (these were actually used by the crews), 4 serving as major Mir modules, and 1 currently serving and 1 planned as ISS modules. The TKS-derived Zarya module of the ISS was actually the first module of that station in orbit, before the Salyut-derived Zvezda core module. The VA component was not used after Salyut 7, and the FGB component has transformed significantly over the years.

The name Zvezda ('star') is surprisingly interesting in Soviet space naming, considering it never actually got used for anything, until the post-Soviet ISS module by that name. The name is clearly spacey enough (perhaps a bit too obvious for my taste), but also likely refers to the Red Star of the Soviet flag and air force roundel. There was a planned 'fighter' version of Soyuz, the 7K-VI, intended to go by that name while defending Almaz crews, but that was scrapped before the first Almaz had even been launched. At around the same time, there was a plan for a Soviet Moon base, also named Zvezda. That plan died a slow death, stuck in development for decades, until rising military money-hogging killed it.

Lunar Soyuz
The earlier parts of the Soviet lunar landing program were also worth mentioning, if only to wrap up the remaining major Soyuz variants. The closest to successful was the Zond ('probe') unoccupied version of the Soyuz 7K-L1, intended to fly some cosmonauts around the Moon without stopping to kick it. It wouldn't have been much better than a cheap publicity stunt and proof of concept, similar to Apollo 8. A few non-human Zonds succeeded in flying by the Moon. Then there was the Soyuz 7K-LOK, a larger lunar orbiter, intended to be the command module for the dinky little LK (Lunnyy Korabl, or 'moon ship') lunar lander module, mirroring the US Apollo two-ship system. There was also the Soyuz A-B-V ('A-B-C') idea, a three-ship orbiter (no lander). None of these ever amounted to anything, once Apollo "won" the Moon.

Shuttles Challenger (left) and Buran (right)
Lastly, there was the quite successful, should-have-been-crewed, space plane Buran ('blizzard'), a blatant copy of the US space shuttle. It made only a single automated test flight into space, without any crew, before the Soviet Union collapsed and the whole thing was cancelled. The choice of name is especially nice, making a virtue of the vessel's bright white upper heat-resistant tiles, as well as connecting it to the frankly stupidly cold climate of Russia. Buran had also been the callsign of cosmonaut Anatoli Filipchenko.

The gliding, winged part of the whole system was more broadly identified as the OK, the Orbitalny Korabl, meaning orbital vessel, and there were actually more OK hulls laid down than there were of the American OV shuttle hulls, most of them non-flying test articles. Apart from OK-1K1, the Buran itself, there are three others of interest to me. OK-GLI was Buran's equivalent of the atmospheric glide test shuttle Enterprise OV-101, but it was modified with four tail-mounted jet engines to allow it to get itself airborne from a conventional runway takeoff, without needing an equivalent of the US shuttle's 747 carrier plane. This test jet had no name, but is noteworthy as the only one of its family that was ever actually piloted. GLI is easily identified at the rear by its extra engine nacelles, and at the front by its black cheeks right up to cockpit level. OK-1K2 and OK-2K1 were both mostly completed and would have been the 2nd and 3rd Soviet/Russian shuttles to actually get into space. Sources conflict on 1K2's name; it was either going to be Burya ('tempest', which fits the windy weather theme) or Ptichka ('birdy' or 'little bird'). It's also been suggested that Ptichka was actually a nickname for all of the OKs collectively, which seems more likely to me. OK-2K1 was named Baikal - unlike the uncertain 1K2, this name was actually painted on its side - after Lake Baikal; this was also the callsign of cosmonaut Boris Volynov, who had retired as the Buran program was starting up. Work had barely begun on OK-2K2 and OK-2K3, and I don't believe any names for them were ever properly established.