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Into the Cosmos

Into the Cosmos: Space Exploration and Soviet Culture

James T. Andrews
Asif A. Siddiqi
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    Into the Cosmos
    Book Description:

    The launch of the Sputnik satellite in October 1957 changed the course of human history. In the span of a few years, Soviets sent the first animal into space, the first man, and the first woman. These events were a direct challenge to the United States and the capitalist model that claimed ownership of scientific aspiration and achievement.The success of the space program captured the hopes and dreams of nearly every Soviet citizen and became a critical cultural vehicle in the country's emergence from Stalinism and the devastation of World War II. It also proved to be an invaluable tool in a worldwide propaganda campaign for socialism, a political system that could now seemingly accomplish anything it set its mind to.Into the Cosmosshows us the fascinating interplay of Soviet politics, science, and culture during the Khrushchev era, and how the space program became a binding force between these elements. The chapters examine the ill-fitted use of cosmonauts as propaganda props, the manipulation of gender politics after Valentina Tereshkova's flight, and the use of public interest in cosmology as a tool for promoting atheism. Other chapters explore the dichotomy of promoting the space program while maintaining extreme secrecy over its operations, space animals as media darlings, the history of Russian space culture, and the popularity of space-themed memorabilia that celebrated Soviet achievement and planted the seeds of consumerism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7746-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction: Space Exploration in the Soviet Context
    (pp. 1-12)
    James T. Andrews and Asif A. Siddiqi

    During the Cold War the space program represented an important marker of Soviet claims to global superpower status. The achievements ofSputnikand Gagarin were synonymous with a new and dynamic Soviet state no longer hobbled by the devastations of the Great Patriotic War. The Soviet government devoted enormous resources not only to perform its space achievements but also to publicize them in domestic and foreign arenas. Cosmonauts toured the globe, international space-themed exhibitions extolled the technological panacea of modern socialism, and books about the benefits of Soviet space technology surged out of official publishing presses. The rhetoric underlying this...

  2. Part I. The Space Project:: Cultural Context and Historical Background

    • 1 The Cultural Spaces of the Soviet Cosmos
      (pp. 15-27)
      Alexei Kojevnikov

      In the late 1990s, when I arrived as a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology, I found the small Russian-language community of mostly graduate students in Pasadena holding its annual parties on Soviet Cosmonautics Day. Never mind that in the Soviet Union itself, the day of April 12, when Yuri Gagarin first flew into space in 1961—although remembered and commemorated—had not been a major official holiday or a day off for workers. The students who gathered to celebrate did not necessarily see themselves as Soviet or even Russian, coming as they were from different post-Soviet countries....

    • 2 Getting Ready for Khrushchevʹs Sputnik: Russian Popular Culture and National Markers at the Dawn of the Space Age
      (pp. 28-44)
      James T. Andrews

      By the late nineteenth century a myriad of popular science journals started to discuss the possibility of exploring the cosmos. This developing space culture was a natural outgrowth of Russia’s interest with exploration on land, and subsequently air, that predated the Soviet era. By the Soviet 1920s a proliferation of popular books, newspaper articles, and pamphlets on air and spaceflight filled the popular press. In the 1930s, however, the state began to sponsor more nationalistic public spectacles canonizing aeronautical heroes and rocket designers alike.¹ Although popular film and theater on Soviet space exploration reflected a dynamic upsurge in envisioning and...

  3. Part II. Myth and Reality in the Soviet Space Program

    • 3 Cosmic Contradictions: Popular Enthusiasm and Secrecy in the Soviet Space Program
      (pp. 47-76)
      Asif A. Siddiqi

      Since the collapse of the Soviet Union,Sputnikand its successors have been the subject of a vast literature that has generally split into two distinct categories. One body of work, focused on recovering “truth” about the effort, has sought to fill gaps in our knowledge. In the deluge of “new” information available with the coming of glasnost and then continuing into the postsocialist period, historians and journalists have rushed to reveal the “real” story behind the Soviet space program. Another smaller but growing stream of recent literature, favored by social and cultural historians, has explored the meanings behind the...

    • 4 The Human inside a Propaganda Machine: The Public Image and Professional Identity of Soviet Cosmonauts
      (pp. 77-106)
      Slava Gerovitch

      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. The head of the Military-Industrial Commission, Dmitrii Ustinov, had called to report on the impending launch of the first manned spacecraft with the 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...

    • 5 The Sincere Deceiver: Yuri Gagarin and the Search for a Higher Truth
      (pp. 107-132)
      Andrew Jenks

      The Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin once remarked to a curious Canadian journalist: “A lie is never a fair means to achieve a goal. I do not believe that conditions force you to lie. You know, the truth, even the most bitter truth, is always better than a lie.” Perhaps in this instance Gagarin spoke from the heart, but on other occasions the world’s first man in space played fast and loose with the facts. Although he publicly endorsed a new ethos of openness and sincerity in Soviet culture after Stalin’s death, Gagarin also concocted deceptions for purposes of maintaining state...

    • 6 Cold War Celebrity and the Courageous Canine Scout: The Life and Times of Soviet Space Dogs
      (pp. 133-156)
      Amy Nelson

      In the gripping Cold War contest that was the space race, the feats of astronauts and cosmonauts marked some of the most iconic moments of the twentieth century. The race to send humans beyond the Earth’s atmosphere shifted the battlefield of the Cold War, focusing the energies of the two superpowers on a struggle for scientific and technological supremacy at once more compelling, and thanks to the mass media, more accessible than conventional warfare. Contoured by personal and geopolitical rivalries and fueled by the superpowers’ shared aspirations and values—including a faith in progress, the veneration of science and technology,...

  4. Part III. The Soviet Space Program and the Cultural Front

    • 7 Cosmic Enlightenment: Scientific Atheism and the Soviet Conquest of Space
      (pp. 159-194)
      Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock

      If, as Oscar Wilde said, a man is half of what he is and half of what he wants to be, wrote the Russian writer Viktor Pelevin, “then the Soviet children of the Sixties and Seventies were all half-cosmonauts.”¹ Images of cosmonauts—on newly erected monuments, the walls of schools, pins, postage stamps, or the mosaics that decorated metro stations—ensured that most Soviet citizens living through the space age had “one foot in the cosmos,” their everyday realities “a tent camp, in which people lived temporarily, until the sun city was built.”² Most Soviet people lived somewhere along the...

    • 8 She Orbits over the Sex Barrier: Soviet Girls and the Tereshkova Moment
      (pp. 195-212)
      Roshanna P. Sylvester

      On June 16, 1963, Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova, a twenty-six-year-old Soviet “everywoman” blasted off aboardVostok 6to become the first woman in space (figure 8.1).¹ Her mission was to join fellow cosmonaut Valerii Fedorovich Bykovskii, who was already in orbit at the helm ofVostok 5. Despite the notable fact that Bykovskii was in the process of setting a new record for the longest space voyage in human history, it was Tereshkova, not her male comrade, who captured the attention and imagination of the terrestrial public. A Cold War variant of the new Soviet woman, Tereshkova became an instant celebrity,...

    • 9 From the Kitchen into Orbit: The Convergence of Human Spaceflight and Khrushchevʹs Nascent Consumerism
      (pp. 213-239)
      Cathleen S. Lewis

      The Cold War over consumer goods between the United States and the Soviet Union literally began in the kitchen. It was in the American kitchen that U.S. Vice President Richard M. Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev had a public and impromptu discussion through their interpreters at the opening of the American National Exhibition at Sokolniki Park in Moscow on July 24, 1959. Their discussion over the relative industrial accomplishments of their respective countries took place at an American exhibition of a modern, affordable, and well-equipped kitchen that had been on display at the 1958 World’s Fair at Brussels. In...

    • 10 Cold War Theaters: Cosmonaut Titov at the Berlin Wall
      (pp. 240-262)
      Heather L. Gumbert

      On August 6, 1961, the Soviet cosmonaut German Titov became only the second person to orbit Earth. With this accomplishment Titov became a global figure in the race to explore the “final frontier.” Less than a month after his spaceflight, Titov visited a frontier of a different kind: the newly built Berlin Wall, on the front line of the Cold War. On an official state visit to the German Democratic Republic (GDR), he met with state officials, received the Karl Marx Medal, appeared at rallies in Berlin, Leipzig, and Magdeburg, and met with East German citizens. Standing at the wall,...