Monday, August 3, 2009

The Space Race and Russia: a History of Undisclosed Failures

My favorite songwriter from the University of (Leftist) Leeds has graced us with an engaging and newsworthy article worthy of a Pulitzer. Englishman Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey writes on the recent fortieth anniversary (July 19th) of the American landing on the Moon and its miniscule impact in comparison to Russia’s longstanding and venerable record. He writes that Russia’s reputation has suffered an international smear campaign, referencing the ‘defeat’ of the USSR’s space program as nonsensical.

How can the Soviet program have been defeated when the United States currently relies on Russian space vehicles for entry into space? And who will continue to bring people and cargo to the ISS after 2010? Bancroft-Hinchey may not be a Russian, but he understands a historical Russian pretext: that Mother Russia endured Mongol invasions for two centuries so Western Europe could flourish and develop faster than their eastern brethren. The same concept continues to be applied today. How can NASA survive in space unless Russia assists it?

Russia has clearly bore the brunt of space endeavors. As if every Soviet accomplishment in space needs to be noted, Pravda’s star writer writes a litany of firsts. These include the launching of the first satellite (Sputnik, 1957), the first animal in space (Laika, 1957), the first man in space (Yuri Gagarin, 1961), the first woman in space (Valentina Tereshkova, 1963), and the first space station (Salyut, 1971). These were indeed firsts for humankind. However, Russia’s historical record is riddled with inaccuracies and little-known details that are best left unmentioned in Russia’s textbooks.

Sputnik might not have left ‘the American people so psychologically vulnerable’, as Eisenhower put it, if they knew the circumstances around its construction. Joel Barr and Alfred Sarant, American engineers, had supplied the Soviets with military secrets for years before they defected to the Soviet Union in 1950. The information they provided helped construct the first artificial satellite and build a new arena for the Soviets to prove that they plainly did not have an inferiority complex. Additionally, Laika the dog, the first animal in space, did not survive in space for nearly two weeks, but was dead on arrival.

The permanent member of Pravda’s editorial staff tactlessly suggests that the United States engineered the Moon landing. While Bancroft-Hinchey’s claim is laughable, it is nevertheless hackneyed, having been postulated many times before. American conspiracy theorists, probably at the insistence of a Soviet active measures campaign, continue to doubt the lunar landing. Never mind the fact that there were five consecutive landings after this one. However, this conspiracy ranks alongside some of the more unusual (proven) Soviet insults, including the U.S. military invented the AIDS virus to infect Third World countries and American parents adopt foreign children to harvest their ‘baby parts.’ Bancroft-Hinchey serves two purposes in life: to promulgate Russian propaganda and continue to excuse past grievances against the noble Soviet Union. If Pravda and The X-Files had an illegitimate child, he would be that unfortunate offspring striving to work farther from the truth.

Space exploration in the 21st century is a microcosm for its quarry: vast and empty. With President Obama’s ambiguous stance on space, the future of NASA is unknown. The Constellation program and its new launch vehicle and spacecraft (Orion) might not go into effect for years now and space funding may be significantly slashed. The American people will have to wait until a solidified plan is implemented, if at all. Meanwhile, Russia maintains that she has no intentions of a lunar mission with Mars shining brighter. Indeed, we can all assume that in the post-Soviet age, Mars just might be that better shade of propaganda-red for Russia to pursue.

Russian Military Chorus Belittles Europe's Energy Dependence

Moscow's Military District is known for much more than ensuring public order. Their ensemble of Slavic singers apparently can carry quite a tune for audiences. One recent song showcases the insinuations of Russia's foreign policy. Their musings of the challenges to come are both captivating and alarming for the contiguous countries and those affected by Russia's energy monopoly.

The song begins with the question of Ukraine's eventual entry into NATO. Russia's response? Cutting the gas for all of Ukraine. While the audience cackled, they most likely were recalling Gazprom, the Russian energy monopoly cut off supplies of natural gas to Ukraine after a payment deadline expired in January. Relations have been icy ever since Ukraine's Orange Revolution in 2004 launched the pro-Western career of President Viktor Yushchenko. Since then, Putin's relationship with its neighbor has deteriorated and continues to do so.

The next stanza details the recurrent everyday problems of Europe. It says that American Special Forces are already there, implying it is Europe's prerogative to have them there. Russia's military is not distressed, however, as its prescriptive policy calls for the gas to be cut for Europe too.

The singers state that the Belorussians are the only normal, peaceful people. They make this claim because the neighboring country drink's vodka to their health. Russia and Belarus continue to maintain an amiable relationship in the post-Soviet sphere. As a memorial to their infatuation of all things Soviet, Belarus has even kept its name for their secret service: the KGB. Belarus continues to rely on Russia for virtually all of its natural resources, enduring the politically compatible relations between Putin and Lukashenko.

The piece continues in Russia's desire to lead the long list of European countries; a fact demonstrated by it's frustration of having been denied the number one spot. Russia's Napoleon complex made itself evident in the innate necessity to be considered significant after the culmination of the Soviet Union. This explains the reasoning behind others allowing it to become member to the G-8, partner with NATO, and maintaining its chair on the UN Security Council. With an out-of-touch military that desperately needs to modernize and its economic difficulties, Russia will always seek ways of seeming important, if only outwardly.

The chorus of the song repeats the following line: "...and suddenly a shade of smile will touch your eyes, and the good mood will never leave you." Indeed, this verse seems to acknowledge that Russians will always be cognizant of and appreciate their energy power over Europe. This mocking will no doubt continue to surface in both Russian concert halls and inside Kremlin walls.