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A Permanent Presence in Space

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"America is too great for small dreams.... We can follow our dreams to distant stars, living and working in space for peaceful, economic and scientific gain. Tonight, I am directing NASA to develop a permanently manned space station and to do it within a decade."

 President Ronald Reagan, 1984

"I have decided today that the United States should proceed at once with the development of an entirely new type of space transportation system designed to help transform the space frontier of the 1970's into familiar territory, easily accessible for human endeavor in the 1980's and 1990's."

 President Richard Nixon, 1972

Before the race to the Moon ended, both the Americans and the Soviets were planning their separate futures in space. After the competitive short-term goals of manned spaceflight had been met in the 1960s, many advocates of space exploration envisioned a permanent human presence in space.

But support for manned missions to the Moon and beyond declined, and the focus for human activity in space shifted to near-Earth orbit. During the 1970s and 1980s, the United States and the Soviet Union took different approaches to manned spaceflight around Earth.

Space Race Exhibition
SI#: 97-17206


After the Apollo missions to the Moon, the United States began developing an entirely new vehicle, the Space Shuttle. A reusable Shuttle would make access to space "routine" for short but frequent missions.

Meanwhile, the United States used the last of its Apollo-era vehicles to launch an experimental space station, Skylab, in 1973, and to participate in a Soviet-American rendezvous in space, the Apollo-Soyuz mission, in 1975.

The Space Shuttle first flew in 1981. Proponents of a space station as the next U.S. venture in space won presidential support in the mid-1980s but faced continuing pressure to justify the program's cost and purpose. A quarter-century after Skylab, after many delays, the United States began to build a permanent base in space.


The Soviets gradually pursued a goal of establishing a permanent presence in space. They adapted their Moon-era hardware to launch a number of orbital space stations called Salyut, using Soyuz spacecraft to ferry crews and supplies for missions of increasing duration.

In 1986 Salyut was succeeded by a modular space station, Mir, which was used for more than a decade as new laboratory and power modules were added. Some crew members spent a year or more on Mir. Cosmonauts have been living and working in space almost continuously since 1971.

With the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the two manned spaceflight programs began to converge. Americans and Russians worked together in joint missions on the Space Shuttle and Mir, and in planning a new international space station. Competition has yielded to cooperation in space.

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