Been used for decades, launching cosmonauts to space, is the then Russian spacecraft – The Soyuz. Best known for its safe trips to the ISS (International Space Station), Soyuz has been long into operations dating back to its first no crewed mission way back on 28th November 1966. Overall these years into service, Soyuz has been instrumental in sending cosmonauts to several space stations similar to the Almaz series, Mir, Salyut series and now the ISS.
Spacecraft Soyuz is usually launched on top of Soyuz rockets, Russian inline boosters that has seen many variants since its inception in the mid-1960’s.
Suffering two fatal missions, the first in 1967, a first Soyuz crewed expedition, Soyuz 1, tragically ended because of parachute failure which killed Vladimir Komarov, its sole cosmonaut. The second, Soyuz 11, was the first three cosmonaut team expedition, also finished in fatal consequences for all its crew members (not wearing proper spacesuits) and its cabin losing pressure a little ahead of its re-entry.
Soyuz is the only medium of transportation for astronauts to the ISS, till date, after NASA retired its space shuttle in 2011. However, NASA has been supporting the two commercial crew space shuttle’s development - The SpaceX Dragon and the Boeing CST-100, both of which are expected to starts themselves with no crew test flights by 2018 or 2019.
The Soyuz Element
Soyuz has been through almost ten different variations since its introduction in 1966, with its latest that includes Soyuz-TM, retiring in 2012, Soyuz TMA-M, retiring in 2016 and the Soyuz MS, in service now. It is a single-use spacecraft been specially designed to carry three passengers for several weeks, though in recent times most expediting crews use it for just a few hours or maybe days somewhere in between six-month stay at the space center. Soyuz spacecraft includes an orbital module for missions, a re-entry module to get back to Earth and a service one that constitutes engines and instruments and other necessary paraphernalia to go through with the task.
Crew members in the spacecraft breathe a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen that is as similar an atmospheric pressure as in Earth. The present version of Soyuz, the Soyuz MS is of 7.48 meters (24.5 feet height with a maximum diameter of 2.7 meters (9 feet) and its solar panels extending 10.7 meters (35 feet) from the spacecraft’s module span, as per its manufacturer – RKK Energia.
The Chinese Shenzhou, notably uses the same technology similar in Soyuz TM, although it is not directly related to the Soyuz line, as per the Guardian. The Russian cargo spacecraft being used to service ISS have also been derived from Soyuz.