Are China and the USSR Equivalent Opponents to the US in Space?

The Shenzhou-9 crew in a simulator during training. Credit: Xinhua news agency / Qin Xian’an

Last week, China’s Shenzhou 9 landed after a successful mission that included the nation’s first docking with its Tiangong 1 prototype space station. The rapid development of its space program suggests that China is poised to become a powerful new player in space, and this is giving rise to speculation that the nation could turn out to be enough of a threat to the United States to spark a new space race. Perhaps some of these reactions are rooted in the similarities between China’s space program and the Soviet space program of the 1960s. Both are built on a similar model that’s very different from NASA. [Read more...]

The Real Apollo 18

Conspiracy theorists have concocted some incredibly creative stories to explain why NASA has not returned to the moon since Apollo 17’s splashdown in 1972. Some suggest that aliens on the moon prevented or scared astronauts from ever returning while others claim that there were undocumented missions to the moon. The other end of the spectrum sees moon hoax theorists claiming we never went to the moon, but the ‘evidence’ of these claims is so great it really deserves its own post. (Left, Apollo 17 commander Gene Cernan was the last man to leave a boot print on the moon. December 1972.)

Last week, Dimension Films released Apollo 18. Conspiracy theorists are coming out of the internet’s virtual woodwork in droves, lauding the film for finally admitting to the decades-old cover up. The real story of Apollo 18 is interesting but much less exciting.  [Read more...]

Designing the Perfect Cosmonaut

In a previous post, I talked about how NASA designed the perfect astronaut – the qualities that were considered vital in selecting the first generation Mercury astronauts. The Soviet Space Program was no different. The organization held its candidates to an equally stringent set of standards as well as a host of unspoken ideal qualities. A cursory look at the Mercury Astronaut selection and the first Soviet Cosmonaut selection reveal two greatly similar processes. But of course, different countries with different resources use different methods. Unsurprisingly, the Soviet Union’s selection and training prior to selecting Yuri Gagarin as its first cosmonaut differs from NASA’s, and some of the main differences between programs are fairly striking. When compared, the agenda of both nations are evident as they determined which man (or men) would represent them as the space age began. So, what makes the perfect Cosmonaut? (Left are three images of the first spacewalk, Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov. 1964.) [Read more...]

Landings, NASA, and the Soviet Space Program

I recently wrote a blog post about NASA’s choice of using exclusively splashdowns landings during the space race and a (relatively brief) discussion of why this method was far less desirable than a land landing alternative. In retrospect, I realized that I only told half the story. Part of what makes the NASA “splashdown v. land landing” story an interesting one is a comparison to their Soviet counterparts who used exclusively land landing systems. (The image to the left shows cosmonaut Alexei Leonov during his spacewalk, Voskhod 2, March 1965.)

Throughout the Space Race, both the Americans and Soviets were launching capsule-style spacecraft. Try as they might, the Americans just couldn’t land their spacecraft on land. Which begs the question: what did the Soviets do that the Americans didn’t, or couldn’t? [Read more...]