Archive for the ‘soviet union’ Tag

Happy Birthday, Leonard Bernstein!   Leave a comment

lb_bdayIn 1959, American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein (08.25.1918-14.10.1990) visited the Soviet Union. His interpretation of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony is, in the eyes (and of course ears) of some, controversial.

Nonetheless, Bernstein’s performance received a thunderous ovation, and Shostakovich came on stage to congratulate Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic.




April 12, 1961: Yury Gagarin, First Man in Space   Leave a comment

To the rest of the planet, he was a pioneer, a hero of galactic proportions and the ultimate propaganda weapon. But to his family, Yuri Gagarin was a poetic soul with a passion for Pushkin and Saint-Exupéry who wrote his wife a letter telling her not to remain alone in the very likely event that he never returned from the epochal flight he made 50 years ago.

A fascinating and deeply personal picture of the first man in space has emerged from an interview with his elder daughter, Elena Gagarina.

And while it comes as little surprise that the cosmonaut had no true conception of “internal pain” – and was so mentally and physically disciplined that he would take naps of exactly 40 minutes and wake up “on the dot” without an alarm clock – he was far more than a perfectly drilled machine.

Perhaps because the Germans kicked the family out of their home and forced them to live in a dugout in the garden for three years, Gagarin became a keen student of history.

“He was curious and interested in everything,” remembers his daughter. “He was part of a generation that had had so few opportunities open to them and then, after the war, they were avid for everything.”

Literature, too, became a fascination.

“He knew Pushkin very well, and Tvardovsky and Ivakovsky – poetry connected with the war. He liked a great deal of literature: Lermontov, and Saint-Exupéry, for example. He liked to read to us in a very loud voice. It was too difficult for us to understand at the time, but he still liked doing it.”

Despite his fondness for the work of the French aviator and writer, Gagarin’s preferences were characteristic – and sadly prescient.

“He thought of himself as pilot. His favourite book wasn’t The Little Prince, it was Night Flight [a novel about a doomed airmail flyer].”

Before boarding Vostok 1 on 12 April 1961 for the flight that would propel him into orbit and history, Gagarin deployed a little white lie to try to protect his wife.

“She knew what he wanted to do, and when he was leaving for Baikonur he told her what he was doing,” says Gagarina. “But he didn’t tell her the actual date. He told her the flight would take place a few days after the real date, so she wouldn’t be worried.”

He himself, however, was under no illusions about his mission.

“He wrote a letter for my mother saying that it was likely he wouldn’t return, because the flight was extremely dangerous, and that he wanted her not to remain on her own in that case. But he didn’t give her the letter. She found it by chance among his things when he came back. He hadn’t wanted her to find it, and told her that she should throw it away. But of course, she kept it.”

But, after a 108-minute orbital flight of Earth, Gagarin did return – to a hero’s welcome, instant global fame and meetings with everyone from the Queen to Fidel Castro.

In the seven years between his space adventure and his death in a plane crash at 34, though, the cosmonaut grew weary of recounting his experiences.

“He talked about it so often, and with so many people, that it seemed to me he was rather tired of talking about it,” remembers Gagarina. “What he talked about to me was his childhood – about what it was like to grow up in Smolensk, and about the war.”

“It was just a part of my life and growing up. He was always the First Cosmonaut of the World for me, and his whole life was connected with space and space exploration. There wasn’t a before and after for me.”


The Kliper: A New Age of Russian Space Exploration   Leave a comment

The US will soon be retiring their space shuttles to replace them with a new vehicle, scheduled for 2013. Until then, the Americans will be riding on Russian Soyuz capsules. But the Soyuz itself, a 40 year old technology with many modernizations, is on its way out, to be replaced with bigger better platforms.

The replacement for the will be the Kliper, a ship carrying 6 crew and a half ton of cargo. It is scheduled to fly its maiden voyage some time in 2010. The ship is about twice the size of the Soyuz and will require much larger rockets, most likely the Zenit class of booster rockets, in order to make orbit. It will return to earth by extending wings and gliding down, for a soft landing.

Interestingly enough, if things go according to plant, the new, larger Kliper, will actually save money. The present Soyuz missions run between $20 to $30 million each (compared to the American space shuttles at around $300 million each). Kliper flights are supposed to move more equipment and people for less money, but even it the costs stay the same, with more room on the ship, there will be room for more space tourists and at $20 million per pop, the ships will earn a profit, with just one added passenger.

Development of the Kliper is also priced at the low cost of $1 billion, compare that to the $10 billion for the American Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV), which is still on the drawing board.

But the Kliper is only the first modern step in a new plan by the Russian space agency to conquer the inner sphere of our solar system. Next on the development board is a manned spacecraft powered by a nuclear electric engine. For decades, Russia and the Soviet Union have developed nuclear powered satellites, which did not have to rely upon easily damaged solar arrays, for power. Of course those put out only kilowatts of power, while this ships engines will have to run on the megawatt range.

The ship’s design is scheduled to be complete by 2012 and a finished by 2021, at an estimated cost of 17 billion rubles, or $580 million. More realistic estimates put the price tag at $1 to $1.5 billion, over the next decade.