A big hat tip to the Soviet military-industrial-space complex: on April 19, 1971 -- exactly 36 years ago today -- the Soviets launched the first-ever operational space station, known as Salyut 1:
"As they often were during the space race, the Russians were out in front of NASA in concept and launch. But just as often, they were bedeviled by technical glitches and failures, and so it was with Salyut 1. Beaten to the moon by the Americans, the Soviet space program turned its attention to the deployment of a working space station, which had been on the drawing boards since 1964. Salyut 1 was essentially a lash-up, its components assembled from spacecraft originally designed for other purposes.
The April launch went smoothly and Salyut 1 entered orbit, but it was all downhill after that. The crew of Soyuz 10, intended to be the first cosmonauts to take occupancy of Salyut 1, couldn’t enter the space station because of a docking mechanism problem. The crew of Soyuz 11 spent three weeks aboard Salyut 1, only to be killed on the return trip to Earth when air escaped from their craft. Finally, it was curtains for Salyut 1, which fired its rockets for the last time Oct. 11, 1971, to begin its planned re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere and disintegration over the Pacific Ocean."
[image: Salyut 1]