MOSCOW -- The Soviet Union launched a sophisticated orbiting space station Thursday, ushering in a third generation of technology that brings the Soviets closer to establishing a permanent home for man in space.
The space station, named 'Mir,' or 'Peace,' was operating normally after it was launched with no passengers aboard early Thursday, the official Tass news agency said.
It was not immediately known when the first cosmonauts would be launched to board the station or how many people it would hold.
The station has six docking ports -- four more than the Soviets' Salyut-7 station presently in orbit -- and four modules for research and living quarters that can operate independently, Tass said.
The launching of the station marked the first time in the history of the Soviet space program that two stations were in orbit simultaneously.
The Peace station has an increased energy supply than earlier stations and more comfortable living quarters, including special cabins equipped with desks, arm chairs and sleeping bags, Tass said.
The station is also equipped with advanced electronic and computer technology, Tass said. Additional specialized modules also can be attached in the future.
Alexei Leonov, deputy chief of the cosmonauts training center and a member of the joint U.S.-Soviet space mission in 1975, told the news agency the station is 'a third-generation Soviet space laboratory.'
The station will function as a base for assembling a multi-purpose permanently operating manned complex for scientific and economic research, Tass said.
'The module is a kind of unmanned large-volume craft which has life-support and power systems and which is capable of performing independent maneuvers in outer space,' Leonov said.
He said the Peace station represents 'the beginning of a transition from research and experiments to large-scale production activities in outer space.'
Tass said the four modules will operate as a shop for technological production, astrophysics, biological research and medical preparations.
A Western diplomat said the sophisticated equipment was a step in the direction of establishing a permanently manned station.
The Soviets, who emphasize permanently manned space stations rather than the reusable craft of the U.S. space shuttle program, launched the first orbiting manned station in 1970.
The first Salyut had only one docking port. Salyut-6, launched in 1977, ushered in the second generation of technology by adding the capacity for docking two ships.