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Outer Planets

USSR became the first country that started sending successful unmanned expeditions to the outer planets even in the 1960s. Dozens of vehicles from Lunokhod to Vega, different in their unexpected design and perfect engineering installation, successfully fulfilled their tasks. The Moon, neighboring Venus and Mars, gas giants, the edge of Solar System… We are constantly shifting the limits of our knowledge.

«Lunokhod-1» automatic mobile lunar laboratory. Model. Scale 1:3


This is the world’s first spacecraft that was built to move across the surface of another planet. It was developed at the Lavochkin machine-building plant in Khimki at the end of the 1960s. The launch of the «Luna-17» automatic interplanetary station with «Lunokhod-1» on board was held on November 10, 1970. A week later, on November 17, 1970, the station soft-landed on the moon and «Lunokhod-1» rolled down to the lunar surface in the area of Mare Imbrium (the Sea of Rains). For ten months this planetary rover worked on the moon, three times exceeding its calculated capacity. During its mission, it covered a distance of 10.5 kilometers, transmitted around 25,000 photos to Earth and conducted the chemical analysis of lunar soil twenty-five times. In addition, «Lunokhod-1» was equipped with a corner cube reflector that was used to accurately measure the distance to the moon. Due to the degradation of the radioisotope power source «Lunokhod-1» stopped working and transmitting data on September 30, 1971. It is noteworthy that in 2010 «Lunokhod-1» was detected in the photographs of the lunar surface, and a month later, a group of US scientists was able to once again hit its reflector by the laser beam.

From the collection of the Polytechnic Museum

«Venera-1» automatic interplanetary station. Model. Scale 1:1

This first spacecraft designed for exploration of Venus was developed in the RSC Energia design bureau between the late 1950s and early 1960s. The project «Venera-1» was planned to start from the Earth orbit in the direction of Venus. On the way to the planet the station was supposed to hold a series of measurements of the solar wind and cosmic radiation, and then deliver a sealed chamber (containing a pennant with the Soviet coat of arms) to the surface of the alleged Venusian Ocean. There was a failed attempt to launch «Venera-1» on February 4, but a re-launch on February 12 was a success. Soon, for the first time in the history of Earth, the launch of a spacecraft in the direction of another planet took place from Low Earth Orbit. However, right after that «Venera-1» ran out of lack: seven days later it failed to respond in the next scheduled telemetry session. It was assumed that «Venera-1» failed due to the overheating of its solar-direction sensor. In addition, the station was equipped only with the automatic receivers, so the crew from the ground could not manually adjust its trajectory when required. According to the estimates, the station still set a record and passed within 100 thousand kilometers of Venus. Also, this mission initiated a whole new program in which a total of more than 20 satellites were launched for the study of Venus.

From the collection of the Polytechnic Museum

«Venera-4» automatic interplanetary station. Model. Scale 1:10

«Venera-4» automatic interplanetary station

This is the fourth in the series (the eleventh in the construction line) of Soviet interplanetary probes designed for the study of Venus. It was developed by the design bureau of the Lavochkin machine-building plant in Khimki. Every single launch of interplanetary probes to the surface of Venus brought more data about this planet. This enabled the engineers to modify the design of the subsequent stations. «Venera-4» was built to handle the temperature of 425 degrees Celsius and the pressure of up to 10 atmospheres. The station was supposed to deliver the lander to the orbit of Venus. The lander, in turn, was designed to study the physical and chemical parameters of the planet’s atmosphere. «Venera-4» was successfully launched on June 12, 1967, and on October 18 of the same year, the station reached Venus. The mission went according to the initial plan: the lander separated from the orbital module and at the altitude of about 60 kilometers began the parachute descent and transmission of telemetry to Earth. Unfortunately, the estimates of the atmospheric pressure on Venus were ten times understated, so after 93 minutes at about 30 kilometers, the apparatus was crushed when the pressure exceeded the safety margin of 20 atmospheres. However, the data that «Venera-4» managed to transmit changed the understanding of the structure and composition of the atmosphere of Venus. Thus, in future landers, the margin was successively increased to 180 atmospheres, which finally led to «Venera-7» landing safely on the planet’s surface.

From the collection of the Polytechnic Museum

Lander from «Venera-7» automatic interplanetary station. Model. 1970

This is the seventh lander in the series of Soviet space probes to study the atmosphere and surface of Venus. It was developed in the Lavochkin machine-building plant in Khimki. After the hard fate that befell the previous Venus missions, «Venera-7» was the most adapted to «survive» in the Venusian atmosphere. The safety margin of the lander, thanks to its new titanium case, was as much as 180 atmospheres. The new data on the density of the atmosphere of Venus enabled the engineers to completely revise the set of the measuring tools, and also modify and lighten the design of the brake parachute. The launch of the «Venera-7» took place on August 17, 1970, and on December 15 the station reached the upper layers of the atmosphere of Venus. The lander successfully decelerated, despite the 350g g-forces, and for the first time in history made a relatively soft landing on the surface of another planet. During a total of 53 minutes the lander transmitted data to Earth, although due to some small damage it could only transmit sensor readings, but no telemetry. However, the analysis of the data allowed the researchers for the first time to calculate the relation of the pressure and temperature of the Venusian atmosphere on the altitude, thus the mission was deemed successful.

From the collection of «NPO S.A. Lavochkin»

«Luna-16» automatic interplanetary station. Model. Scale 1:3. USSR, Moscow, 1972


The station was developed by the design bureau of the Lavochkin machine-building plant in Khimki with the intention to deliver to Earth a sample of lunar soil. To do this, in addition to the landing platform, «Luna-16» was equipped with the descent rockets and a descent capsule. It

was launched on September 12, 1970, and on September 20 the station softly landed. Due to the weight restrictions of the re-entry capsule, the landing spot was chosen so that the initial trajectory of the rocket on the way to the Earth would be as close as possible in relation to the surface of the moon, which would greatly simplify the maneuvering and trajectory correction. As a result, the station landed almost on the equator, in Mare Fecunditatis (the Sea of ​​Fertility), thus setting the record in maximum weight that was ever delivered to the moon. After the samples of the soil were taken, the ascent rocket was successfully launched. On September 24, 1970, the re-entry capsule with a sample of lunar soil soft-landed in Kazakhstan. Thus, for the first time in history, the unmanned apparatus recovered a substance from the surface of an extraterrestrial body (the previous soil sample was brought by the American astronauts of the Apollo lunar mission).

From the collection of the Polytechnic Museum

«Venera-9 » automatic interplanetary station. Model. Scale 1:10. USSR, Moscow, 1992


There were two stations built of this kind — «Venera-9» and «Venera-10», both developed by the design bureau of the Lavochkin machine-building plant in Khimki. The whole «Venera» program included the construction of twin devices, but to that day many launches ended unsuccessfully for at least one of the two. «Venera-9» and «Venera-10» were launched on June 8 and 14, 1975 and on October 22 and 25 respectively. Their landers made a soft touchdown on the day side of Venus. Both landers made contact and for about an hour transmitted collected data and telemetry to Earth. For the first time in history, it became possible to obtain panorama photos of the surface of Venus, as well as to study the chemical composition of its soil and clouds. After undocking the landers the stations became the satellites of Venus, traveling on two-day elliptical orbits. «Venera-9» and «Venera-10» became the first automatic stations which transmitted images from the surface of another planet.

From the collection of the Polytechnic Museum

«Mars-3 » automatic interplanetary station. Model. Scale 1:10

This station belongs to the fourth generation of the Soviet «Mars» program. It was developed by the design bureau of the Lavochkin machine-building plant in Khimki between the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was designed to study the surface of Mars both from the orbit and the lander. The launch was held on May 28, 1971. The station traveled to the Earth’s orbit and then was placed on a trajectory to Mars by an additional upper stage. After 6 months, on December 2, 1971, for the first time in history, the module soft-landed on the surface of Mars. However, the data transmission to Earth lasted only 14.5 seconds, after which it stopped for unknown reasons. Several assumptions were made, but the most probable explanations are the obiter’s withdrawal from the zone of visibility of the lander and the impact of dust storms, which lasted for more than four months. However, despite the small amount of the transmitted data, the Soviet «Mars-3» was the world’s first space device that softly landed on Mars.

From the collection of the Polytechnic Museum

«Luna-1» automatic interplanetary station. Model. Scale 1:2

Developed by OKB-1 (now RSC Energia), it was the fourth station in the Soviet «Moon» program and the first station, the launch of which was successful. The first three attempts failed due to the malfunction of the rockets. The purpose of this station was to reach the surface of the Moon, as well as to conduct a number of onboard experiments. The launch took place on January 2, 1959, after which the station successfully entered the calculated trajectory. However, due to an error in the calculations, the station did not reach the Moon, flying by the Earth’s satellite at a distance of 6,000 kilometers at the closest point. During the trajectory correction, the engineers did not take into account the time it took for the signal to reach the station from Earth. Nevertheless, «Luna-1» still set a number of important records. It became the first artificial satellite of the sun, reaching the escape velocity. In addition, its onboard magnetometer was the first to detect the outer radiation belt of the Earth. It was also the first time in history when the solar wind parameters were measured. On the way to the moon, the station created an artificial comet, releasing about a kilogram of sodium vapor: the cloud could be seen from Earth.

From the collection of the Polytechnic Museum

«Luna-3» automatic interplanetary station. Model. Scale 1:3

The seventh in the Soviet «Moon» program, it was developed by OKB-1 (now RSC Energia). The main mission of the station was to photograph the lunar surface, in particular, its far side which was beyond the reach of Earth telescopes. The launch took place on October 4, 1959, less than a year after «Luna-1». The trajectory of the station was very difficult for its time. For the first time in the history of exploration of outer space, it involved the gravity assist maneuver that would allow the station to fly around the far side of the moon and go back to Earth after the resulting acceleration. On October 7 the station photographed the moon, including its far side. The film was automatically developed directly on board (digital cameras did not yet exist), and the images were transmitted to Earth. According to the calculations, «Luna-3» had to get in contact with the Earth again, to transfer pictures from a closer distance, but no further contacts happened. Despite the noisy quality of the received images, they allowed the researchers to see some previously unknown areas of the lunar surface and give names to many of them.

From the collection of the Polytechnic Museum

«Luna-9» automatic interplanetary station. Model. Scale 1:3

The twentieth in the Soviet «Moon» program, it was developed by the design bureau of the Lavochkin machine-building plant in Khimki. «Luna-9» was the ninth Soviet station, whose mission was to soft-land on the moon. It was the first station to carry out such a mission with success. The launch took place on January 31, 1966. The station went on the Low Earth Orbit and then was sent to the moon. The landing happened on February 3, 1966, in Oceanus Procellarum (the Ocean of Storms). The 100 kg probe was successfully delivered to the lunar surface. The probe functioned for the period of 50 hours of communication with Earth, during which it transmitted panoramic images of the moon, as well as the data on the intensity of the radiation of the cosmic rays and the lunar soil.

From the collection of the Polytechnic Museum

Part of the aerostatic complex of the «Vega» automatic interplanetary station: container with a lid for packing a parachute and a «gondola» for scientific equipment. Model. USSR, Moscow Region., Khimki, 1980−1984

Part of the aerostatic complex of the «Vega» automatic interplanetary station: container with a lid for packing a parachute and a «gondola» for scientific equipment

The virtually identical «Vega-1» and «Vega-2» stations were developed by the design bureau of the Lavochkin machine-building plant in Khimki. They got their unusual name due to the uniqueness of their twofold mission: the stations were to deliver two units to Venus (the lander and the aerostatic complex) and then to have a rendezvous with Halley’s comet, which they had to photograph and hold a series of measurements of its environment. The «Vega-2» program was fully completed. For some unknown reason, the shock sensors of «Vega-1» were triggered at an altitude of 3 km above the surface of Venus, which activated the mechanism of soil sampling and analysis. So, this part of the mission was not fulfilled. The aerostatic probe drifted at an altitude of 54 km during 45.5 hours and transmitted to Earth scientific data on the atmosphere of Venus.

From the collection of the Polytechnic Museum

11D425A Liquid Rocket Engine for automatic interplanetary stations. USSR, Moscow region, Kaliningrad, 1979


The liquid propellant rocket engines from the series 11D425 were developed and built in the A.M. Isayev Chemical Engineering Design Bureau. They were used in the design of unmanned interplanetary space stations in the «Venus» and «Mars» space programs. The main objective of the engines was the trajectory correction and deceleration of the stations. Presented here is the 11D425A modification with a thrust of up to 2000 kgf used in the devices of the M-73 series, which finally became the missions «Mars-4» — «Mars 7». Their task was to create an artificial satellite of Mars and deliver the lander to its surface. All four stations successfully reached Mars, but only two of them managed to carry out their mission: «Mars 5» was launched safely into the orbit of the Red Planet, and «Mars 6» touched down on the surface and completed its scientific program.

From the collection of the Polytechnic Museum

Personal spoon of Sergei Krikalev, 1988

The cosmonaut, the Ph.D., the master of sport, the photographer… «the talented person is talented in everything». Sergei Krikalev was born on August 27, 1958. In 1981 he graduated from the institute, in 1988 he made his first space flight (six flights in total). In 1989 he received the title of the Hero of the Soviet Union, and in 1992 — the Hero of the Russian Federation (the star of the Hero of the Russian Federation № 1). Interestingly, in his second space flight, Krikalev flew from the Soviet Union and returned back several months after its collapse. In 1994 he became the first Russian cosmonaut who flew on the US space shuttle («Discovery») and on another US shuttle («Endeavour») four years later. Krikalev was one of the two crew members who for the first time opened the entry hatch to the International Space Station. During his sixth flight in 2005, he set a record for the longest man’s stay in space: 803 days. The record lasted until 2015 when it was broken by Gennady Padalka. Krikalev walked in open space eight times, amounting to the total of 41 hours 26 minutes. The spoon of Sergei Krikalev presented here is an unusual exhibit, since personal items of astronauts are very rare. One can take only one and a half kilograms of personal belongings to space, so the astronauts often take with them photos and gifts from family members, such as soft toys etc. Obviously, such things rarely get into museums, but this spoon got lucky.

«Granat» portable survival kit

This kit was intended for the survival of the crew in case the descent capsule went off-course. The «Granat» portable survival kit was an indispensable part of the equipment on the Soyuz spaceship. The kit includes a full set of necessary tools and materials needed to build a base camp, find food, and establish a radio transmission. In various modifications of «Granat», one could find a first aid kit, multitools, some fishing equipment, tools for water disinfection, a walkie-talkie with a set of batteries, blankets, a flashlight, a thread, a compass, a utility knife, a machete and a lot more. Noteworthy is the ingenuity of the designers of this equipment. For example, the metal lid from the first aid kit was prescribed to be used as a frying pan.

From the collection of NPP «Zvezda»

Medical supplies: hemostatic tampons. Research Institute of Medical and Biological Problems, Ministry of Health, USSR, 1987

The first aid kit is an indispensable item on every manned spacecraft. This is vital because no one is immune to accidents and small injuries, not even astronauts, which are supposed to be super healthy. Modern spaceships of the «Soyuz» series have two different first aid kits onboard, in spite of the fact that the flight to the International Space Station (ISS) usually lasts no more than six hours. One of the two kits contains some medical supplies that help fight g-forces and the zero gravity consequences, and the other has some first aid necessities inside. On the ISS, the situation is different: since the astronauts spend several months on the station, it is necessary to have a more substantial set of medical supplies, including emergency drugs. As of 2014, the Russian segment of the ISS had eighteen packs with medical supplies. In the US segment, there were only nine similar packs, but these contained not only the drugs but also a few basic diagnostic tools: an ophthalmoscope for eyes examination, an ear otoscope and a stethoscope for the lungs. Also, the ISS is equipped with a kit for the express blood test, which all the crew members take regularly. On the ground, a team of doctors is on duty 24 hours a day, its task is to monitor the medical condition of the astronauts. For obvious reasons, there is no specialized medical equipment aboard the ISS, so in a case of an emergency, the astronauts will have to rely on the medical supplies at hand and hold on for 72 hours. This is how long it takes to make preparations for receiving the crew from the space.

From the collection of the Polytechnic Museum

BH-2 Refrigerator from Mir Space Station, USSR, Moscow, 1988

BH-2 Refrigerator from Mir Space Station

This refrigerator was designed to store food on the orbital stations «Salyut» and «Mir». In order to lower the temperature inside the refrigerator unit, the excess heat is driven away into space. To achieve this, the heat exchanger is placed on the outside wall of the shadow side of the ship. In the first manned spacecraft, astronauts ate out of the tubes, which contained meat, fruit and vegetable puree. There was no necessity for the long-term storage of food. For longer expeditions of the orbital stations, the improved diets were developed (for example, borsch soup, rassolnik soup or the stew with vegetables). However, the cargo ships would deliver the parcels from family members to the astronauts, some of them containing natural food. Therefore, it became necessary to have an onboard refrigerator. BH-2 has five compartments. To prevent the food from «floating» into space when opening the lid of the refrigerator, the fabric strips with hooks were added to the design.

From the collection of the Polytechnic Museum

Tools for working in open space: anchor wrench

Due to zero gravity, even the simplest tools in space become impossible to use. For example, if an astronaut tries to hit something with a hammer he will be quickly thrown back. If he tries to turn the screw, he will be rotating in the opposite direction, and the screw will not even turn. To solve these problems, a special space tool has been developed, as well as a set of procedures regulating the work in space. Firstly, all of the orbital stations are equipped with special fastening for feet, both fixed and portable. They allow the astronauts to achieve the support needed at work. Secondly, special hammers, screwdrivers, and pliers were built at the Research Institute of the power tools construction, allowing astronauts to work comfortably in the conditions of zero gravity. For example, the hammer was hollow inside, and it contained metal balls. In action, they bounced back and compensated the rebound effect: as if the hammer would be stuck to the wall. Screwdrivers were fitted with special extensions to ensure the perfect fit to the bolt head. Their handles were attached perpendicular to the axis of rotation, which allowed the astronauts to use greater force. Recently, a special semi-automatic tool was developed for more advanced operations in space. One of these was used in the repair at the Hubble space telescope in 2009.

From the collection of the Polytechnic Museum

Food for space crews (mockup samples): veal

Contrary to popular belief, that all the food in space is homogeneous and comes exclusively in a tube, things have changed a long time ago. The first launches of «Vostok» indeed included some dull food in metal tubes, but since then much has been revised. Nowadays, the ISS astronauts’ menu is comprised of a total of 200 entries. Most of the meals are supplied in the form of pellets, from which the water is removed by means of freeze-drying. Importantly, it reduces the weight of the food, since bringing every gram to orbit costs enormously. The tubes are still used to store various sauces and soups. Fresh fruits, sweets, and even exotic foods are not rare guests in space — they arrive there from relatives of the astronauts as part of the program of psychological support. Obviously, all products undergo a rigorous selection and disinfection beforehand. Because of the zero gravity, there are special interior items to make eating more comfortable. For example, there is a table covered with adhesive tape to fixate a can. This can help when you are opening a tube with sauce, for example. Previously they tried to use a vacuum table (the vacuum is created above the surface) instead of the tape, but it did not last. The astronauts’ diet is strictly monitored, all the eating is regulated. A male astronaut should consume 3000 kcal a day and a female 2700 kcal.

From the collection of the Polytechnic Museum