Theory of limits: Space – fiction or fact?

Cosmic Journey posterA recent visit to the Yuri Gagarin statue on the Mall in London led to the discovery of a remarkably prescient Russian movie from 1936. The statue drew me toward British Council building and its backdrop of billboard sized constructivist space posters.

The Council have created an exhibition of early space mission artefacts including an ejector seat of the model used by Gagarin and the first space suit – SK-1. Posters from the Moscow Museum of Cosmonautics and films from Roscosmos showing original footage of the early training programme and the 1961 launch itself. There is  also a model of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite in the world as well as one of the world’s earliest dog space suits.

Many previously unpublished photos are included in a gallery of photographs and a delightful, inspiring 1936 Russian movie ‘Kosmicheskiy reys(Cosmic Voyage). The special effects alone on this film will astound anyone who has seen American SF serials from the same period, such as Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. Glorious miniatures and gigantic futuristic studio sets are lovingly shot and the sense of reality is enhanced by technical advisor, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, the pioneer of Russian rocket science – whose writing would be a major influence on the engineers behind space programmes on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

This 1930s speculation amazes with its accuracy of prediction. Everything from the look of the rocket ships, to the weightlessness scene, weighted boots for moon walks, etc. Even most Hollywood depictions of space travel from the 1950s were not this well produced. This gem deserves the kind of restoration treatment that Fritz Lang’s Metropolis has received.

Anticipating possible developments carried suicidal jeopardy at a time when Stalin was the only one supposed to ‘foresee’ the future.” All fantastic fiction became subject to a “theory of limits” or “theory of nearer aims” which restricted heroes to keeping problems with shorter horizons. Vasili Zhuravlyov put his neck on the line though softened his risk with inclusions of the rockets named after Joseph Stalin and Kliment Voroshilov (Defense Minister and Marshal of the Soviet Union at the time).



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