By STEVEN NALLEY
For the Hubble Space Telescope, Voyager, John Glenn, Apollo 11 and Challenger, there is an equal balance: Yuri Gagarin, Sputnik 1, Sergey Korolyov, K.E. Tsiolkovskii, Vostok 1, Lunokhod 1, Salyut 1, Mir — their Russian counterparts.
Many Americans are significantly more familiar with one side of the Cold War space race than the other, and James Andrews wants to change that.
On Thursday at 5 p.m., Andrews will present “Red Cosmos: Space Exploration, Mythology, and Soviet Popular Culture, 1917-1964” at McCain Hall at Mississippi State University.
Andrews, the director of the Iowa State University Center for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities, has written two books on the Russian space program: “Red Cosmos: K.E. Tsiolkovskii, Grandfather of Soviet Rocketry” and “Science for the Masses: The Bolshevik State, Public Science, and the Popular Imagination in Soviet Russia.” His third book on the subject, “Into the Cosmos: Space Exploration and Soviet Culture,” is due out next week.
Ten years ago, Andrews said, he developed an interest in the history of Russian space exploration during research for another book on the popularization of science in Russia. He discovered how popular flight and space exploration were in Russian press, film and theatre, he said, and this popularity goes back farther than many Americans know.
“I will present a long history over the course of the 20th century that provides, I hope, another perspective on the Russian space program — the relationship it has with popular culture,” Andrews said. “I will try to argue throughout this broad, public lecture that air and space flight were deeply embedded in the Russian cultural fabric going back to the pre-1917 era, thus focusing less on the more widely known technical achievements and more on the relationship between politics, culture, media and public engagement.”
Andrews said he grew up in the 1960s watching the space race develop between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, like many Americans of his generation. As great as Americans’ nostalgia for the space race is, he said, Russia’s nostalgia may be greater.
“With the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s 1961 circumnavigation of the globe, I have seen the Russian state and press more interested in looking backward at that time and reflecting on its long history of technical ingenuity in this arena as well as thinking about new public programs,” Andrews said. “The Russians today, maybe more than Americans, have been supporting programs such as science olympiads and inventor competitions for children, and are holding a series of programs in schools titled ‘Space is for Humanity,’ which are generously supported by the Russian government to spread awareness of space exploration.”
The co-sponsors for Andrews’ visit to MSU are the Bagley College of Engineering, the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development, and the MSU history department. Alan Marcus, head of the history department, said he has known Andrews for 15 years and wants to expose faculty and students interested in the history of science and space flight to Andrews’ work.
“Andrews, as an American, brings a certain understanding to the space race, but as an historian of Soviet science, he has pored through the records in the (former) Soviet Union and thus has developed a fine knowledge of Soviet politics and scientific endeavors,” Marcus said. Andrews said he is looking forward to his first visit to MSU.
“I am very pleased to visit MSU,” he said, “especially since it has very strong academic programs in the history of science and technology and engineering sciences.”