‘Space jewels’ commemorate Yuri’s day in orbit.

Dynamic design was often a feature of these tiny space-jewels.

The commemorative pin badges produced to celebrate each mission were a highly attractive aspect of the Soviet space programme.  Often little masterpieces of design, they featured all the popular symbols of Soviet society: Hammers, sickles, sheaves of corn, stars – plus of course, the rockets and cosmonauts themselves.

Celebrating the triumphant orbit of Yuri's Vostok, the original badge is just 21mm high.

Often the real craft were not shown, with semi-abstract or fanciful science-fiction spaceships representing the mission. Some have suggested that this was due to Cold War concerns about secrecy, but from the first Sputnik series of satellites, one can find realistic depictions of Soviet space hardware, including Korolev’s R7 rocket. Some badges relate to specific missions, others depict the progress of Soviet space exploration in general. In a historic development, later issues celebrate American-Soviet co-operation in space, in the shape of the Soyuz/Apollo joint missions, and American visits to the Soviet Mir space station.

A rugged hero-cosmonaut contemplates the R7 from within the curve of a Soviet sickle.

Badges were also produced to commemorate the often equally spectacular unmanned missions: The Mars and Venus probes, the Moon rover, and many others. Individual cosmonauts are also represented, sometimes in the form of encapsulated photos, sometimes as sculptured reliefs. Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, was a popular subject, as of course, was the First Cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin himself.

Made in huge numbers, these little badges are often still bright today with their enamel colours and metallic finishes. Traded for pocket money prices, they allow enthusiasts all over the world to own a little memento of the Soviet space programme, and to sample some of the most inventive and lively graphic design produced by the USSR and its allies.

(All photos copyright Andrew J King)

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