Soviet Space Mythologies

Soviet Space Mythologies: Public Images, Private Memories, and the Making of a Cultural Identity

Slava Gerovitch
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Soviet Space Mythologies
    Book Description:

    From the start, the Soviet human space program had an identity crisis. Were cosmonauts heroic pilots steering their craft through the dangers of space, or were they mere passengers riding safely aboard fully automated machines? Tensions between Soviet cosmonauts and space engineers were reflected not only in the internal development of the space program but also in Soviet propaganda that wavered between praising daring heroes and flawless technologies.Soviet Space Mythologiesexplores the history of the Soviet human space program within a political and cultural context, giving particular attention to the two professional groups-space engineers and cosmonauts-who secretly built and publicly represented the program. Drawing on recent scholarship on memory and identity formation, this book shows how both the myths of Soviet official history and privately circulating counter-myths have served as instruments of collective memory and professional identity. These practices shaped the evolving cultural image of the space age in popular Soviet imagination.Soviet Space Mythologiesprovides a valuable resource for scholars and students of space history, history of technology, and Soviet (and post-Soviet) history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-8096-4
    Subjects: General Science, History of Science & Technology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Creating Memories of the Space Age
    (pp. xi-xx)

    THE Nobel Prize laureate Orhan Pamuk’s novel,The White Castle, is a subtle reflection on the power of memory. Living in seventeenth-century Istanbul, two main protagonists—an Italian scholar and a Turkish noble—share their most intimate memories and gradually adopt each other’s memories as their own. Their distinct identities begin to blur until they (and the reader) can no longer recognize who is who. Eventually they switch their original identities, as the power of memory overwhelms them. The Turk becomes a scholar and leaves for Italy, while the Italian abandons science to enjoy luxurious life at the sultan’s court.¹...

  5. 1 “WHY ARE WE TELLING LIES?”: The Construction of Soviet Space History Myths
    (pp. 1-26)

    In May 1961, soon after Yuri Gagarin’s pioneering spaceflight, the first group of Soviet cosmonauts was vacationing at a Sochi resort. Sixteen of them leisurely posed for a group shot, which later became an iconic photograph of the Soviet Space Age.¹ The version published much later in Soviet media, however, had only eleven cosmonauts in the frame—only those who made it into the spotlight after their flights. Five others did not get their chance to fly in space and were erased from the visual record of the space program. Among them, for example, was the cosmonaut trainee Grigorii Neliubov,...

  6. 2 STALIN’S ROCKET DESIGNERS’ LEAP INTO SPACE: The Technical Intelligentsia Faces the Thaw
    (pp. 27-47)

    ON September 25, 1938, Joseph Stalin authorized execution by firing squad of seventy-four military specialists and defense engineers. The rest of the Politburo followed suit, huddling their signatures below Stalin’s. This was a routine procedure; in 1937–1938, Stalin signed over 350 such lists, condemning to death at least 39,000 people whose execution required his personal sanction. Number 29 on the September 25 list was an engineer from a rocket research institute, one Sergei Korolev. He had been arrested in June 1938 on a trumped-up charge of wrecking and sabotage and tortured into confession.¹ Two days after Stalin’s approval, a...

  7. 3 “NEW SOVIET MAN” INSIDE MACHINE: Human Engineering, Spacecraft Design, and the Construction of Communism
    (pp. 48-67)

    ON April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin’s historic spaceflight shook the world, sending enthusiastic crowds of Soviet citizens into the streets to celebrate. One after another, the Soviet space program boasted new successes—the first group flight, the first woman’s flight, the first multicrew mission, and the first spacewalk. For the postwar generation of Soviet people the cosmonauts’ triumphs signified an ultimate payoff for years of sacrifice during the war and for Stalin-era privations. “Gagarin’s achievement was our greatest pride,” recalled one member of the “Sputnikgeneration.”¹ According to a 1963 poll, Soviet youth considered Gagarin’s flight to be the greatest...

  8. 4 THE HUMAN IN THE ARMS OF TECHNOLOGY: Gagarin’s Flight in Documents and Stories
    (pp. 68-97)

    IN the Soviet Union there was only one official version of space history, and it was tirelessly reproduced in various memoirs, fiction books, and movies. In that version, everything worked perfectly, and Gagarin smiled all the way from the launch pad to Red Square. In the closed circles of space engineers and cosmonauts, however, various legends circulated, gradually acquiring lifelike detail and a mythological status. With the advent of perestroika, and especially after the collapse of censorship in the first post-Soviet years, multiple versions of history proliferated. Cosmonauts, engineers, military personnel, physicians, mathematicians, technicians, and other witnesses began to tell...

    (pp. 98-127)

    IN December 1968, Lieutenant General Kamanin wrote an article for theRed Star, the Soviet Armed Forces newspaper, about the forthcoming launch ofApollo 8. He entitled his article “Unjustified Risk” and said all the right things that Soviet propaganda norms prescribed in this case. But he also kept a private diary. In that diary, he confessed what he could not say in an open publication. “Why are the Americans attempting a circumlunar flight before we did?” he asked. Part of his private answer was that Soviet spacecraft designers overautomated their spacecraft and relegated the cosmonaut to the role of...

  10. 6 THE HUMAN INSIDE A PROPAGANDA MACHINE: The Public Image and Professional Identity of Soviet Cosmonauts
    (pp. 128-154)

    ON April 11, 1961, as Nikita Khrushchev was resting in his vacation residence at the Black Sea resort of Pitsunda, he received a telephone call. A high-ranking government official in charge of the defense industry called to report on the impending launch of the first piloted spacecraft with cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin the very next day. Just a few days earlier, on April 3, Khrushchev had chaired a meeting of the Presidium of the Party Central Committee, which approved the launch but did not set a specific date. Now the date was set, and Khrushchev began to think ahead about the...

  11. 7 REMEMBERING THE SOVIET SPACE AGE: Myth and Identity in Post-Soviet Culture
    (pp. 155-170)

    VICTOR Pelevin’s novelOmon Ra(1991) is a gloomy parody of the official history of the Soviet space program. The main protagonist, Omon Krizomazov, inspired by Soviet propaganda, goes through grueling cosmonaut training, making many personal sacrifices along the way, only to discover that the heroic one-way lunar landing mission, for which he has been training, is merely a sham played out in front of cameras on an underground stage set. Moreover, he finds out that the entire Soviet space program is an elaborate low-tech hoax, underlying the display image of technological utopia. Pelevin’s carnivalesque subversion of Soviet values goes...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 171-212)
    (pp. 213-226)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 227-232)