Voskhod program: The Soviet Union’s first crewed space program


The Voskhod spacecraft was a vehicle used by the Soviet Union during the Cold War space race to carry crews of up to three cosmonauts. Though it only flew two missions, Voskhod (which means “sunrise” in Russian) achieved major milestones with each flight: Bringing the first multi-person crew into space and helping carry out the first spacewalk in history.¬†

The USSR’s Voskhod program was the country’s second human spaceflight project, following the earlier successes of the Vostok program, which ran from 1960 to 1963 and took single-person crews into orbit. In June 1963, architect of the Soviet spaceflight program Sergei Korolev proposed four more missions under Vostok that would have added new capabilities, such as ¬†improved guidance systems and eventually, two-person crews, according to a NASA spaceflight paper by historian Asif Siddiqi.

Around the same time, the United States was readying its second human spaceflight program, the two-person Gemini missions, which had the potential to leapfrog Vostok in size and abilities. Spurred by the possibility of falling behind in the space race, “Soviet leader [Nikita] Khrushchev contacted Korolev and ordered him to convert the Vostok spacecraft into a vehicle capable of carrying not two, but three cosmonauts,” Siddiqi wrote.

Related: Are we really in a new space race with China and Russia?

The Soviet’s risky race into space

While there is some historical evidence to suggest that it was a Communist Party leader other than Khruschev who gave the order, or possibly even Korolev himself who decided to undertake the bold action, the end result was a mission widely considered rushed and potentially dangerous. The website RussianSpaceWeb.com, an independently-run site dedicated to Russian space history and news, declares the first Voskhod launch the “riskiest mission ever!”¬†

That’s because the Voskhod vehicle was a slightly modified