21: Space race is ‘neck and neck’

A brief photocall for American astronaut Alan Shephard and his ‘Mercury’ capsule is a reminder that this is a race, and it is neck and neck. Having seen an actual Mercury capsule close up, it looks to the untrained eye, astonishingly cramped and flimsy. The ‘lightbulb’ shape makes maximum use of space in the rocket’s nose-cone, and the flat bottom is a heat-shield, protecting the astronaut from the intense temperatures generated by friction from the atmosphere on re-entry as the Mercury capsule ‘reverses’ back down to earth.Alan Shephard mercury capsule and Baikanur dacha and General Stuchenko
I was delighted to find a number of photos of the Baikonur ‘Dacha’, a traditional Russian summer-house built in the desert of Khazakstan, and therefore useable only for a couple of months in the year! After creating an image of it from photos, I had fun peopling it with celebrating cosmonauts enjoying drinks and piles of fruit.

The CIA spy plane photo of the launch site shows how anxiously each side is watching the other. The same pad that launches a space mission after all, can launch a nuclear missile. Only two years earlier, the American spy plane pilot Gary Powers had been shot down and captured by the Soviets, leading to an incident that further increased the tensions of the Cold War.

If General Stuchenko was already up and dressed in his uniform at five that morning, then I sincerely apologise. I had no photo of him at that or any other time of day, and spent a long time wondering, not what he looked like, but how he might have received that call. I decided to show him in his dressing gown, struggling to come to terms, not just with his sudden orders, but with the astonishing reality of a man in space.

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