Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age

A world-class exhibition, bringing together real space artefacts, papers and associated materials for the first time in the UK  coming soon to the Science Museum, London.

In 1957 Russia launched Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite, into space and just four years later sent the first ever human – Yuri Gagarin. Discover the dramatic story of how Russia became the first nation to conquer space exploration in this landmark new exhibition coming soon.

Cosmonauts will reveal the most significant collection of Russian spacecraft and artefacts ever to be shown in the UK. Come face-to-face with Vostok-6, the capsule flown by Valentina Tereshcova, the first ever woman into space, or examine the fascinating gadgets cosmonauts need to live in zero gravity, including a space shower, toilet, medical instruments and survival kits for crash landings.

Explore the historical, cultural and spiritual context of Russian space travel, shaped by the turbulent early decades of the twentieth century, and discover the influence it had on Russian culture during this period. See poignant testimonies and memorabilia belonging to some of the biggest names in spaceflight, and discover the deeply personal stories of the pioneers who kick-started the space age and turned the dream of space travel into a reality.

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Cosmonaut curator – wanted!

The Science Museum is currently looking for a ‘Cosmonaut curator’, fluent in Russian, and able to negotiate with Russian museums. This suggests to use that early planning is afoot for a big development in their coverage of the Soviet space programme.

Interested? Full job description here…

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Modelling Yuri’s World 5:

Yuri Gagarin model in space suitFor some of us, words and pictures are not enough, we like to see things in three dimensions. Few of us though, have the space or the cash to collect real aircraft, rockets, statues, buildings and vehicles. Instead, we turn to models. In this series of posts, we look at some of the kits and ready made models that re-create Yuri’s world in miniature:

Curiously, perhaps the most difficult item of all to find, when trying to build up a collection of models representing Yuri’s world – is Yuri himself!

If you want to collect Yuri Gagarin memorabilia – stamps, medals, posters, commemorative watches, mugs, hats, t-shirts etc., etc., there is almost too much choice, ranging from original Soviet productions, through modern replicas to entirely new creations. In amongst these you will regularly find some of the small bronze busts and statuettes produced in the USSR, but if you want a proper, detailed, scale model figure of Yuri, either in his ‘Falcon’ spacesuit, or in his airforce uniform, well . . . good hunting!

One solid example I have been able to find is actually an English production by Reheat Models, a one-time producer of specialist, short-run resin kits. This model, at 120mm (1:15 scale) is not in production at the time of writing but examples can occasionally be found haunting ebay. For a nicely built up example of this kit see:
http://www.collectspace.com/ubb/Forum16/HTML/000624-2.html

Reviews the kit praise its technical detail, but not the likeness to Yuri’s face . . .

Other than that, it is worth noting that the American Revell plastic kit of the Vostok spacecraft does include a pilot figure.

Evidently there is a gap in the market out there for some enterprising model manufacturer to fill!

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Modelling Yuri’s World 4: SOVIET CARS

GAZ M-13 Chaika 1960sTime to move on from trucks to cars. Here things are much more straightforward, especially in the die-cast field. The Soviet car industry in the early post-war years struggled to find an equivalent to the cheap ‘people’s cars’ available in the US and Europe, and for a while at least, was most famous for the big GAZ and ZIL saloons and limousines produced for government agencies, VIPs, senior party figures and the emergency services.

Models of these are quite easy to find, so it should not be difficult to represent the range of vehicles that would have figured in the lives of Korolev and the prominent government and industrial figures he dealt with.

The GAZ ‘Chaika’ saloon (which Yuri drove as a Soviet VIP) is also a popular model subject, as are the parade limousines based on it and other models which would have featured in Yuri’s triumphal progress through Moscow.

While most of these are available as original USSR produced models for those willing to seek them out, there has also been a high level of interest in Soviet era cars from todays collectors, resulting in a number of modern manufacturers both in former USSR member countries and beyond producing a wide range of Soviet era cars.

Perhaps the most striking example of the latter is the Italian D’Agostini firm which in 2009 published a collector’s ‘part-work’ magazine on the subject, with a different model car or truck accompanying each issue. These and other more recent productions are keenly traded, and evidence of the continuing – and probably growing – interest in the history of the Soviet Union’s design and technology.

Posted in Making a Graphic Novel, Soviet vehicles, The Book | Leave a comment

Modelling Yuri’s World No3: The Vostok Orbiter

YaAZ 200 soviet truck

YaAZ 200 soviet truck

For some of us, words and pictures are not enough, we like to see things in three dimensions. Few of us though, have the space or the cash to collect real aircraft, rockets, statues, buildings and vehicles. Instead, we turn to models. In this series of posts, we look at some of the kits and ready made models that re-create Yuri’s world in miniature:

Last spring, in happier times than the present, the spectacular Winter Olympic opening ceremony in Sochi included a procession of Soviet-era cars and limousines.

This made me wonder how many of the motors that feature in Yuri’s story might be available today in model form.

An obvious vehicle to start with is the truck on which Sergei Korolyov hitched a lift when summoned back to Moscow from the Kolyma labour camp. I don’t have details, but it seemed a fair guess that it would be a Gaz AA (two axle) or AAA (three axle truck), a widely used Soviet vehicle based on American Ford designs. Nowadays it is possible to get models of almost any piece of WW2 hardware from tanks and planes to seatbelts and bully-beef tins, and the Gaz trucks are no exception – but why not go to the source and build the Russian made Zvezda 1:35 plastic kit? They seem to be widely available at the time of writing.

GAZ-AA truck 

GAZ-AA model truck kit

GAZ-AA truck

Next up in historical sequence would be the kinds of truck Yuri’s brother Valentin might have worked with in his job as a driver at the local motor-pool. Again, a certain amount of guesswork is required from where I sit (those with local knowledge, please comment!).

While a few old WW2 era veterans might still have been rolling, it seems likely that most would have been more recent 50s and 60s models. Looking around the web (there are a lot of truck enthusiasts out there!) it seems likely that the pool could have included GAZ 51 series trucks or the later 63 version; the equally, if not more common ZIS 150 and 164 models, and perhaps some of the first Soviet diesel trucks, the very similar YaAZ 200 and MAZ 200, a design inspired by American General Motors products.

As trucks tend to be used by the military as well as civilians, many truck types can be found as military models, which could easily be adapted back to civilian versions. Sure enough, the GAZ 51 and 63 can be found in kit form at 1:72nd scale from Ukrainian manufacturer Model Wheels, in their Military Wheels series. These short production run kits, according to web reviewers do tend to require a degree of skill to achieve best results.

Czech manufacturer ZZ Model have a plastic kit of the Zis 150 truck, a stylish, old-school split-window rig with long bonnet and sweeping fenders, similar to an American International Harvester design.

Russian maker StartScaleModels (SSM) have the MAZ 200 covered in 1:43 scale.

Many of these model manufacturers are rather specialist, catering for a small group of enthusiasts, and as you can see, assembling a model ‘Collective Motor Pool’ in the same scale is going to involve some ingenuity and research.

Turning to ready-made diecast models, there does seem to be a good range of types from the right time-period, but finding actual examples could be tricky. Soviet trucks are probably always going to be a ‘special interest’ subject for modellers and collectors.

During the Soviet era itself, the ‘Five Year Economic Plans’ governed most aspects of production, and it is perhaps surprising that ‘non-essential’ products such as models were included. Youth and education however, were always a high priority, and many Soviet-era models were of high quality. In the difficult economic climate after the collapse of the USSR, quality tended to suffer.

Today’s scene for collectors covers a bewildering range from original USSR era products to modern specialist manufacturers producing short-run batches and limited editions. Patience and research however, should enable the enthusiast to put together a reasonable truck fleet at one of the popular diecast scales.

Time to move on from trucks to cars. Here things are much more straightforward, especially in the diecast field. The Soviet car industry in the early post-war years struggled to find an equivalent to the cheap ‘people’s cars’ available in the US and Europe, and for a while at least, was most famous for the big GAZ and ZIL saloons and limousines produced for government agencies, VIPs, senior party figures and the emergency services.

Models of these are quite easy to find, so it should not be difficult to represent the range of vehicles that would have figured in the lives of Korolev and the prominent government and industrial figures he dealt with.

The GAZ ‘Chaika’ saloon (which Yuri drove as a Soviet VIP) is also a popular model subject, as are the parade limousines based on it and other models which would have featured in Yuri’s triumphal progress through Moscow.

While most of these are available as original USSR produced models for those willing to seek them out, there has also been a high level of interest in Soviet era cars from todays collectors, resulting in a number of modern manufacturers both in former USSR member countries and beyond producing a wide range of Soviet era cars.

Perhaps the most striking example of the latter is the Italian D’Agostini firm which in 2009 published a collector’s ‘part-work’ magazine on the subject, with a different model car or truck accompanying each issue. These and other more recent productions are keenly traded, and evidence of the continuing – and probably growing – interest in the history of the Soviet Union’s design and technology.

Posted in Making a Graphic Novel, Soviet vehicles, The Book, Yuri's life | Leave a comment

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