There exists only one video of what followed Soyuz 11’s violent decompression. In it, we see two men sprawled over white sheets, helpless on the dead grasses of the Kazakh steppe. Their faces are obscured by the sweating, heaving medics huddled over them, performing the kiss of life, frantically trying to save them: but their essences had been sucked out in a silent flash. Their skin is as gray and lifeless as the ground they lay upon. All crewmen were lost.
The Salyut-1 (“salute”, “fanfare”) was intended to be one of the USSR’s defining blows to the United States in the Cold War. The first space station of any kind was going to be a Soviet one, and the eager Soviets had already sent a team of three men to occupy it. It was a hasty decision: the Soviet team had recently abandoned their lunar mission plans, and were in a mad dash to show the world that they could still make firsts in space. From the initial design phases to the actual launch of Salyut-1, only 16 months had passed.
The first manned flight to Salyut-1 was the Soyuz 10. There was a malfunction in the docking procedure and the mission had to be scrapped. Soyuz 11 was the second attempt, and the world was leaning forward in their seats as the crew successfully completed its three-hour docking procedure with Salyut on June 7th, 1971. But the three men: Vladislav Volkov, Georgy Dobrovolsky, and Viktor Patsayev, were greeted with a troubling sight: the space station was filled with smoke.