Soyuz craft(sŏ-yooz ) A series of Soviet crewed spacecraft, the first of which – Soyuz 1 – was launched Apr. 23 1967. The flight of Soyuz 1 ended tragically when its parachute became entangled during reentry and it crashed in Kazakhstan, killing its cosmonaut pilot Vladimir Komarov, the first person to die during a space mission. The program continued, however, and Soyuz 4 and 5 carried out the first docking of two spacecraft, and a transfer of crew, on Jan. 16 1969. In Oct. 1969 Soyuz achieved one of its most notable records, with three craft being launched in as many days, resulting in a total of seven cosmonauts being in space at the same time. In June 1971 three cosmonauts died aboard Soyuz 11 during a return trip from the space station Salyut 1. Further Soyuz launches were put on hold for three years.
In 1975, the Soyuz 19 spacecraft docked with the US Apollo 18 craft in the first international space effort, the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project. From then to the end of the 1990s, Soyuz craft ferried cosmonauts to and from the remaining Salyut stations, and then from the Mir space station. From 1998, they shared the job of transporting personnel and materials to and from the International Space Station with US space shuttles and carried on the task alone following the loss of Columbia in 2003 until shuttle flights resumed in 2005.
The Soyuz craft has undergone various design changes over the years, although it still carries some similarities to the Vostok and Voshkod craft of the early Soviet space era. The first notable changes came in 1980 with the introduction of the Soyuz T, which was equipped with more advanced electronics and navigation facilities and could carry three people instead of just two. In 1987 another upgrade, the Soyuz TM, was introduced for servicing Mir. It could act as a ‘lifeboat’ if Mir's computers failed and was equipped with life-support systems for the station's crew. The Soyuz TMA, now used for servicing the International Space Station, was introduced in 2002. It consists of three parts: the orbital module (the topmost and largest section, providing living accommodation and a working environment for the crew while in space), the reentry module (the central section, with room for three crew members and equipped with a climate control system, parachutes and retrorockets for the return to Earth), and the service module (the bottom section that carries the rocket fuel, oxygen tanks, thrusters, and communications and navigations equipment). Solar panels on the outside of the service module supply power to the whole craft while it is in space. Upgrades of the Soyuz, including the Soyuz-Fregat, are marketed by a Franco-Russian company, Starsem.