Since the dawn of the space age in the 1950s there have been a wide variety of different spacecraft to reach Earth orbit, from capsules like the Gemini spacecraft to space planes, specifically the Space Shuttle. However, the longest serving vehicle comes in the form of Russia’s main space workhorse, although it has undergone a variety of upgrades over the years.
With over 200 manned and unmanned flights to date, the Russian Soyuz holds the record for the current longest-serving spacecraft. The first variant, Soyuz 1, reached space on 23 April 1967 although, tragically, its lone cosmonaut died when the vehicle crash-landed upon its return to Earth. Since then the Soyuz has been upgraded, and is now the only vehicle capable of taking humans to and from the International Space Station.
In their long history the Soyuz have also been used to ferry astronauts to Russia’s first space station programme, the Salyut space stations in the Seventies, and their successor Mir in the Nineties.
Image courtesy of NASA.