Russia, formerly the Soviet Union, has long been at the forefront of the space frontier, beginning 50 years ago with the historic Oct. 4, 1957 launch of Sputnik - the world's first artificial satellite. Here is a rundown of the ten top Russian space missions from the drawing board to realization.
Russia, today, is studying the psychological impacts a possible crewed expedition to Mars would have on astronauts. Russian researchers have built a mock Mars expedition habitat with the floor space equivalent of a two-story house and is working with European scientists for an experiment that will shut <a href="http://www.space.com/news/070620_mars_500.html">volunteers</a> inside for about 520 days.
With the success of its Salyut, and later Mir, space stations, the former Soviet Union began the first "guest cosmonaut" program that allowed non-professional space flyers access to space. The first orbital guest cosmonaut, Vladimir Remek of then Czechoslovakia flew to Salyut 7 in 1978. A Japanese journalist flew to Mir for $12 million in 1990 as the first "ticketed flights." Russia's Federal Space Agency continues to launch guest cosmonauts and space tourists to the International Space Station today. <p>Pictured here is fifth space tourist <a href="http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/070424_spacetourist_return.html">Charles Simonyi</a>, who flew in April 2007.</p>
On July 17, 1975, the former Soviet Union launched two Soyuz cosmonauts into orbit to meet three U.S. counterparts aboard an Apollo spacecraft in the first diplomatic manned spaceflight. <a href="http://www.space.com/news/apollosoyuz_anniversary_000713.html">The Apollo-Soyuz mission</a> marked a cooperation milestone in the Cold War era with the two spacecraft spending two days docked during science experiments and goodwill exchanges.
Russian for 'Snowstorm,' the former Soviet Union's space shuttle <a href="http://www.space.com/news/spacehistory/buran_auction_020509.html">Buran</a> made only one unmanned spaceflight in November 1988 before the program was shelved and its orbiters put in storage. Unlike NASA's space shuttle fleet, the Buran orbiter could be flown on automated missions. It was launched with the aid of the massive Energia booster.
While not the first manned spacecraft to fly, the former Soviet Union's Voskhod spacecraft - a modified version of its one-man Vostok vehicle - was the first to fly a three-person crew. Voskhod 1 launched <a href="http://www.space.com/news/spacehistory/greatest_space_events_1960s.html">Oct. 12, 1964</a>. The first spacewalk was later staged from a Voskhod vehicle.
After several attempts, the former Soviet Union became the first to pierce the thick veil of Venus's ever-present cloud cover to return to the first-ever images of the planet's surface during the Venera 9 and 10 missions of 1975.<br> A series of Venera probes relayed images and data from the surface of Venus through the mid-1980s. Even <a href="http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/060911_venus_images.html">decades later</a>, researchers are still remastering and studying those first views of the second planet from the Sun.
The Soviet Union kicked off the era of manned space stations with its Salyut series of orbital outposts. <a href="http://www.space.com/news/spacestation/mirinteractive_precursors.html">Salyut 1</a> launched on April 19, 1971. After a beleaguered start, which included the death of the second Salyut 1 crew and failed follow-up Salyut launches, the Salyut 6 and 7 stations became the first operational stations and led to the development of the <a href="http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/missions/mir_finale_archive.html">Mir Space Station</a>. NASA
With the Space Race in full swing, the former Soviet Union <a href="http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/060327_mystery_monday.html">intentionally crashes</a> its Luna 2 spacecraft, also known as Lunik 2, on the moon on Sept. 14, 1959 to become the first man-made object to touch down on the lunar surface. Following Luna 2's delivery of Soviet-era emblems, future Luna program spacecraft snapped the first images of the moon's far side and, with 1971's Lunakhod, landed the first wheeled rover on the lunar surface.
The former Soviet Union maintained its lead by launching the first human into orbit on April 12, 1961 with cosmonaut <a href="http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/060327_mystery_monday.html">Yuri Gagarin</a> making history aboard his Vostok spacecraft. Future Soviet firsts, including the first woman in space and the first-ever spacewalk, followed in later years.
The Soviet Union inaugurates the Space Age on Oct. 4, 1957 with the launch of <a href="http://www.space.com/news/space_race_991101.html">Sputnik</a> atop an R-7 rocket. One month later, on Nov. 3, Sputnik-2 launches the first living creature - a dog named <a href="http://www.space.com/news/laika_anniversary_991103.html">Laika</a> - into space.