The Liberty Gazette
March 24, 2020Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
By the early 1970s, the space race against the Soviets was winding down in favor of a more cooperative approach. Now over half a century later, we can see the changing trends in their science magazines, where they wrote about their fantasies of life in outer space. Turns out, as polarized as we were, we weren’t alone in our dream worlds, at least not then. While the U.S. still dreams, Russia seems to have lost their excitement. Writer Winnie Lee explored the topic in the March 13, 2020 issue of Atlas Obscura and came up with some interesting observations.
Engineer and scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky published papers about intelligent life beyond Earth. Extraterrestrial beings, entire civilizations of them, he believed, had the power to influence the organization of matter and the course of natural processes. His fellow Russians celebrated his aspirations, cheering him on to find the road to cosmic intelligence and connect man with space.
Technology for the Youth (Tekhnikamolodezhi in Russian) was a magazine the Soviets launched in 1933. Russian cosmonauts supposedly wrote in an “open letter” in a 1962 issue declaring that, “each of us going to the launch believes deeply that his labor (precisely labor!) makes the Soviet science and the Soviet man even more powerful and brings closer that wonderful future—the communist future to which all humanity will arrive.” This was their “cultural revolution” and they didn’t see any reason to limit it to life on earth. They craved the idea of living in space and meeting alien life forms.
Illustrations such as UFOs and other futuristic machines graced the covers with Soviet purpose: to advance communism. Illustrators let their imaginations travel to extremes, designing thought which the government directed. The fields of defense and space exploration were probably the only places relatively safe for nonconformists, such as artists. In every other aspect of communist life, uniformity was demanded, the individual and creativity to be squelched. But the galaxy of the unknown offered artists precious freedom and security found nowhere else. The freedom to explore alternate worlds and parallel realities gave them a break, even if momentarily, from their harsh lives.
Designers found ways to keep the KGB off their backs by advancing the acceptable cause of communism, touching many aspects of life such as cosmic-style architecture. Houses and public spaces were built to look like flying saucers and satellites. Beginning in kindergarten, children’s classrooms were decorated with galaxies. Their playgrounds were filled with rockets and spaceships. And everywhere, one could find posters touting, “Communists pave the way to the stars,” and “Science and Communism are inseparable.”
But the average Alexander wasn’t so much sold on becoming a cosmonaut. What this push for space did for the Russian general public was to open the doors to the world of fantasy. Books and movies about meeting alien civilizations became the craze. State-run movie houses enjoyed sell-out crowds when they showed futuristic and science fiction films.
By the time Americans put a man on the moon, when both Americans and Soviets had conducted space flights, the fantasizing fizzled, and Russian magazine covers changed. Replacing the dazzling and colorful and sometimes whimsical art were black and white photos. Articles changed from science fiction storytelling to matter-of-fact reporting. Once-swelled anticipation flat-lined. Soviet space exploration became ordinary news. The chase was more exciting than the capture.
Today, their interest in space seems less romanticized, focusing on the problems of overpopulation, waste recycling, alternative energy and ecology. On the Roskosmos website (the Russian state space corporation) is an invitation for youth to join the cosmonaut program. No artists are beckoned, and there’s no hype or social media. Just a quiet statement.
There are plenty of brilliant people who happen to be Russian. But we feel fortunate to have been born in the United States of America, the home of commercial space enterprises such as Boeing, SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic, where individuals are encouraged, and space exploration is anything but boring.