Soviet spacecraft call signs

The spacecraft of the Soviet Union were not individually named, nor are those of Russia today. Only the general type of spacecraft, for example, "Vostok," "Soyuz," or "Soyuz-T" is publicly announced after launch, usually followed by the number of the flight of that type of spacecraft. The Soviet and now Russian call signs are more nearly code words, and so are not disclosed before launch. Each is given to a particular cosmonaut who commands a spacecraft, generally staying as his or her designation from spacecraft to spacecraft. The other crew members use the same call sign with a number of their rank in the chain of command suffixed. Russian popular journalism refers to the crew by the plural of the call sign (for example, "the Fotons").

Kedr, meaning "cedar," was the call sign of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space. It would have disclosed nothing to a listener concerning the momentousness of the flight. The rest of the call signs of the Vostok series were the names of birds. The call sign of the launch facility itself for Vostok was nearly a code word: Zarya, meaning "dawn."

Early Soyuz flights intent on practicing docking procedures were given call signs elaborating on the first few letters of an alphabet. Soyuz 4, which had the call sign Amur, docked with Soyuz 5, called Baikal - the names derived from a railway project of that era, intending to link those two geographical features. Soyuz 6 was given a call sign equivalent to "Antaeus," which referred to the largest aircraft of the era, the Antonov 22. Its mission in a group flight was to film the intended docking of Soyuz 7 (called Buran, which means "snowstorm") with Soyuz 8, called Granit ("granite") - standard Soviet military call signs. The equivalent for the letter A was Aktif, meaning "Active"; it would be inappropriate for the mission of Soyuz 6.

Later Soyuz flights to the Salyut space stations and Mir had less noteworthy call signs: Foton, meaning "photon", etc.

In contrast to the naming conventions applied by the Soviet Union and now Russia, most American space flights, with the exception of those of Project Gemini and early Apollo flights, have had their spacecraft officially named. Calls to ground facilities by radiotelephone use the name of the spacecraft (e.g., "The Eagle has landed") as the call sign.


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