When the Space Shuttle retired last year, many of us probably thought we'd seen the last of the old-school space workhorses. But spare a thought for Russia's Soyuz spacecraft. The first Soyuz manned mission was in April, 1967 and the program has been going ever since. Of course, even with the best design or product, the smart move is to plan for its eventual replacement, right?
The parade of possible replacements for the Soyuz began as early as 1970 and each had something interesting to bring to the table, despite never taking shape. After all it's hard to compete with a craft that carried on launch after launch and has become what many consider to be the safest and most cost effective spacecraft ever built.
The Soyuz is so reliable, at least one is always docked at the ISS to act as an escape craft.
The world is changing and as talk turns towards colonizing Mars and mining asteroids, the Soyuz could do with a replacement as it is small and is only capable of low earth orbit.
Now more than ever, as the new privatized space race takes off, it's understandable that Russia's space agency wants something shiny, new and built for the moon and beyond. With that in mind, RSC Energia, Russia's main space contractor has announced a new design at the end of 2012, promising test flights in 2017.
Will it take flight is anyone's guess, but in the meantime, enjoy the gallery of what might have been.