Tag Archives: Soviet Union

The moment Yeltsin became a capitalist

In 1989 Boris Yeltsin, member of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union and leader of one of what could be considered the equivalent of one of its mid-western states, visited Texas and toured the Johnson Space Center as well as a typical American supermarket. It was the grocery store that impressed him, not America’s space program.

He was dazzled by the fact that grocery stores were everywhere, and that they even offered free samples. A year or so later, a biographer wrote that on the plane ride from Texas to Florida, Yelstin couldn’t get the vision of the endless food supply out of his mind, and lamented how different things were for his own countrymen. According to wikipedia, Leon Aron, quoting a Yeltsin associate, wrote in his biography, “Yeltsin, A Revolutionary Life” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000): “For a long time, on the plane to Miami, he sat motionless, his head in his hands. ‘What have they done to our poor people?’ he said after a long silence.” He added, “On his return to Moscow, Yeltsin would confess the pain he had felt after the Houston excursion: the ‘pain for all of us, for our country so rich, so talented and so exhausted by incessant experiments.’”

He wrote that Mr. Yeltsin added, “I think we have committed a crime against our people by making their standard of living so incomparably lower than that of the Americans.”

And then, in his own autobiography, Yeltsin wrote about the experience at the grocery store himself, which reshaped his entire view on communism, ultimately leading to his leaving the Communist party. “When I saw those shelves crammed with hundreds, thousands of cans, cartons and goods of every possible sort, for the first time I felt quite frankly sick with despair for the Soviet people,” Yeltsin wrote. “That such a potentially super-rich country as ours has been brought to a state of such poverty! It is terrible to think of it.”

In writing Leaving Earth, I read all these same sources and was struck as well by how much this moment influenced Yeltsin. Very clearly, what Yeltsin saw that day led him to abandon communism.

If only more Americans could experience the same contrast he did, that of the shortages and poverty of top-down, command economies like socialism and communism vs the wealth and vibrancy and freedom of capitalism. I suspect unfortunately they will have to turn the U.S. into a new Soviet Union before they will realize how bankrupt such systems are.

The last two satellites in Russia’s missile warning constellation have failed.

In January the last two satellites in Russia’s ballistic missile warning system shut down, with the first of the next generation replacement constellation not scheduled to launch until June.

“Oko-1 was part of Russia’s missile warning system. The system employed six satellites on geostationary and highly elliptical orbits. The last geostationary satellite got out of order in April last year. The two remaining satellites on highly elliptical orbits could operate only several hours a day. In the beginning of January, they also went out of order,” Kommersant said.

The new generation early warning satellite Tundra was planned to be launched in 2013. However, the launch was postponed several times as the apparatus was not ready to be put into operation, sources in the aerospace industry told the daily.

Increasingly I am reminded of the Cold War, when our competition was the bloated, inefficient, and poorly managed Soviet Union. The communist nation was definitely a threat, as they got a lot accomplished through sheer brute force and determination. Their long term problem was that it was an amazingly inefficient system, guaranteed to eventually fall apart.

A London university has digitized and placed online a collection of historic space images.

A London university has digitized and placed online a collection of historic space images.

I don’t think the press release’s claim that these images have never been online before is true for all the images. Nonetheless, the online availability especially of the Russian Venus images is very welcome.

The Wall

An evening pause: Fifty-one years ago today the Soviet Union and East Germany — in the name of ideology and communism — cut Berlin in half, putting a wall between neighbors, friends, and families. The documentary below was made in 1962 and will give you a sense of the evil of that wall, as felt by the people who were oppressed by it.

I think it a reasonable thing to remind ourselves again and again that the use of force in the name of any ideology, no matter how well intentioned, is always wrong.

A graveyard of ships in the desert

A graveyard of ships — in the desert.

This environmental disaster in the Soviet Union was caused more by that failed country’s centralized state-run command society than the technological society they were trying to create. Though technology in any kind of society can certainly do harm to the environment, when all decisions are controlled by a single entity — in this case the communist Soviet government — it is practically impossible to adapt and adjust when things start going wrong.

In a free democracy, however, you have many safety valves. No project is ever so big that it effects everything, and if things start to go wrong the chaos of freedom will allow people to choose differently, correcting the problem more quickly.

Fifty years ago tomorrow the Berlin Wall went up

Fifty years ago tomorrow the Berlin Wall went up. Two stories:

Cosmonaut Titov becomes the first man to fly in space more than 24 hours

An evening pause: Fifty years ago today Soviet cosmonaut Gherman Titov became the second Russian to fly in space, and the first to stay in orbit more than one day. During his seventeen orbit flight he also was the first human to experience space sickness and to sleep in space.

The newsreel below is somewhat comical, as the Soviets were not very forthcoming with information. To provide visuals the newsreel used film footage showing a V2 rocket from World War II, as well as a very unrealistic globe with an equally unrealistic spacecraft to “demonstrate the course of an orbit around the earth.”

Nonetheless, because the newsreel is of that time, it illustrates well the fear the west had of the Soviet’s success in space. For a communist nation to be so far ahead of the U.S., which so far had only flown two suborbital flights, was a challenge to the free world that could not stand.

The U.S. and the rising Russian space program

The Russians yesterday successfully launched their first space telescope since the fall of the Soviet Union. Here is a Google translation of a Russian article describing Spektr-R’s research goals:

[Spektr-R is] designed to study galaxies and quasars in the radio, the study of black holes and neutron stars in the Milky Way, as well as the regions immediately adjacent to the massive black holes. In addition, using the observatory, scientists expect to receive information about pulsars and the interstellar plasma. It is planned that the “Spektr-R” will work in orbit for at least 5 years.

Though this particular space telescope is probably not going to rewrite the science of astrophysics, its launch is historically significant. It indicates that Russia has just about recovered from the seventy-plus years of bankrupt communist rule that ended in 1990.
» Read more

The first spacewalk

An evening pause: Forty-six years ago today Alexei Leonov became the first man to walk in space. This Soviet-era film shows practically the entire event, using footage from two cameras. Unfortunately, I don’t speak Russian and it is not subtitled. I’d love it if someone out there could provide a translation.

Several things to note as you watch:
» Read more