Cities and Cosmonauts 3

Buran on launchpad at Baikonour

Liam Young and Kate Davies, lecturers at the Architectural Association, are leading a study visit to Chernobyl and Baikonour next July, as part of their Unknown Fields nomadic studio.

"This year, on the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first manned space flight, we will pack our Geiger counters and spacesuits as we chart a course from the atomic to the cosmic to investigate the unknown fields between the exclusion zone of the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor in the Ukraine and Gagarin’s launchpad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Beginning in the shadows of nuclear disaster we will survey the irradiated wilderness and bear witness to a sobering apocalyptic vision. We will skirt the retreating tide of the Aral Sea and mine the ‘black gold’ in the Caspian oilfields and caviar factories. We will wander through the cotton fields of Kazakhstan and tread the ancient silk road before reaching the shores of the cosmic ocean bathed in the white light of satellites blasting into tomorrow’s sky. In these shifting fields of nature and artifice we will re-examine our preservationist and conservationist attitudes toward the natural world and document a cross-section through a haunting landscape of the ecologically fragile and the technologically obsolete."

I'm glad that others have recognised the spatial and architectonic qualities of Baikonour. There are of course the hauntological aspects, the disused and abandoned launchpads, and the tragedy of the collapse of the hangar in 2002 where the last Buran was stored, crushing with it the dream of resurrecting the Soviet shuttle program that was hinted at by Leonid Gurushkin's announcement of 2001. "We have been dreaming of this time," said Gurushkin.

But it is too easy to regard Baikonour as a monument to failed dreams, and forget that it is still a working spaceport. It is a truly disurbanist settlement, to a much greater degree than the compromised linear city plan for Magnitogorsk or the other Sotsgorod. It is a town whose locus is off-world, the earthly counterpart to a true Kosmograd yet to be built.

Buran on launchpad at Baikonour

If, like me, you maintain that the Soviet Space program enabled the secret continuation of the Constructivist project after the rise of Stalin, then Baikonour is a site of key architectural importance.

This is another in a series of posts on Kosmograd sponsored by Portakabin:

Prefabricated buildings from Portakabin.


Previously:

Cities and Cosmonauts 2

Jeremy Geddes paintings/

Jeremy Geddes paintings

The theme of the Lost Cosmonaut has been a continuing inspiration for the artist Jeremy Geddes.

In a series of paintings, Geddes explores the romance and the desolation of the cosmonaut, floating in space, or crashed to Earth. The figure of the Cosmonaut is often placed in a deserted urban setting.

Jeremy Geddes paintings

There's a line from the Silver Jews song People which goes:

"People send people up to the moon, when they return well there isn't much, people be careful not to crest too soon.".

Many astronauts, most well documented being the Apollo astronauts who went to the moon, could never reconcile their lives afterwards and depression and alcoholism were commonplace, and Neil Armstrong became a recluse. Many Soviet cosmonauts experienced similar post-mission trauma, including Yuri Gagarin.

![Jeremy Geddes painting] (http://www.kosmograd.com/newsfeed/images/geddes/jpg/05.jpg)

If cosmonaut art is your thing you should also check out this series by Justin Van Genderen, beautiful montages inspired by the Soviet space program.

This is another in a series of posts on Kosmograd sponsored by Portakabin:

Prefabricated buildings from Portakabin.


Previously:

Cities and Cosmonauts

cosmonaut

The Cosmonaut is crowd-sourced and crowd-funded film from the Riot Cinema collective based in Spain.

They hope to create a feature length film with support from private funding. On the website there is currently a trailer, plus a host of supporting material, including a full script, and a full business plan. There's also an "aesthetic dossier" - a collection of related imagery from the Soviet space program, adding background and context to the project.

cosmonaut

The theme of the film, of a lost cosmonaut returning to earth to find everything changed, is a familiar enough theme, and there are also aspects of the script which reminded me of fictional works such of Omon Ra by Victor Pelevin, Gibson and Sterling's Red Star, Winter Orbit, Solaris, even Capricorn 1 or the eternal triangle of Jules et Jim; and real events from Soviet space history such as the death of Komarov, At its heart is the romance of the Soviet space program, a consensual hallucination, the belief that when you dream something hard enough you can make it happen.

cosmonaut

Much of the film is set in Star City, the cosmonaut training facility just outside Moscow, and the filmmakers, who have describe it as a like a movie set, hope to be able to film on location there.

The motif of The Cosmonaut film is a hummingbird, Kolibri, a fictional name given to Brezhnev's plan to land a Soviet on the Moon by 1970. As described here:

"Back came the ritual reply - a Soviet manned lunar landing must be achieved by the 100th Anniversary of the Birth of Lenin (April 22, 1970). On that date a Soviet man would plant the Red Banner and unveil a bust of Lenin on the lunar surface. Unlike the US President, Brezhnev would never get to see a manned launch to the moon."

cosmonaut

In the shop you can purchase merchandise and also make a donation to be a producer on the film, earning a mention in the credits. Currently they have about 2400 producers and 19% of the funding they require, so why not show your support of this exciting venture.

This is another in a series of posts on Kosmograd sponsored by Portakabin:

Prefabricated buildings from Portakabin.

Launch tower typologies

Soyuz TMA-01 launch

Soyuz TMA-01 launch

Soyuz TMA-01 launch

For anyone who might doubt that rocket launch towers represent the purest continuation of the Constructivist aesthetic, I give you these pictures of the recent launch of the Soyuz TMA-01M. This launch was also attended by saucy spy minx Anna Chapman, for that added dash of James Bond-esque colour, and the frisson of returning Cold War tensions.

More pictures here. A deeper enquiry into the typologies of Soviet rocket launch towers is underway.

Proton, Unity, Energy, Blizzard

Proton, Unity, Energy, Blizzard

Earlier this year at the Gagosain gallery in London, there was a rather dissonant exhibition, Crash, of artworks notionally inspired or reflective of the work of JG Ballard. A highlight for me was the installation 'Proton, Unity, Energy, Blizzard' by Jane and Louise Wilson, which induced an attack of hyperkulturemia.

Proton, Unity, Energy, Blizzard

Proton, Unity, Energy, Blizzard

The installation, first shown in 2001, consists of 2 double video screens, mounted in opposite corners of a darkened space, so that they faced each other across a rectangular space. Footage from the Soviet space program, of the Blizzard1 shuttle craft ('Buran'), the Energy ('Energia') rocket module, the Proton rocket, and the Unity rocket ('Soyuz'), gives the installation its title. The camera dollies slowly across the exterior length of the enormous rockets, both inside the assembly facility and also on the launch site at Baikonur.

As obsessed as I am with the dream of the Soviet space programme, the architectonic qualities of launch towers, Constructivist visions made solid, a technological will to power made manifest, this was an unexpected sight, which totally caught me by surprise. I stood transfixed in the middle of the room slowly twisting from screen to screen.

Slowly it becomes apparent that the facing screens are not simply showing identical footage. Sometimes the footage is slightly out of sync, or taken from a slightly different angle, at other times the direction of panning is reversed on one screen pair. The effect of this, and also the fact that the space is not square - they screens do face each other directly - creates a very unsettling experience. For me, the presentation and the subject matter created such a overwhelming experience that I felt myself becoming dizzy, my knees starting to wobble. This was the strongest visceral reaction to a piece of art that I have ever felt, a form of Stendhal Syndrome.

Proton, Unity, Energy, Blizzard

Proton, Unity, Energy, Blizzard

This is what Space Place had to say:

"The installation Proton, Unity, Energy, Blizzard is a pure exploration of architecture. Proton, Unity, Energy, Blizzard, shows the Cosmodrome of Baikonur in the south of Kazakstan. It was from Baikonur that in 1961 Yuri Gagarin became the first man to be launched into space. The title of the work refers to the three launch sites that appear in the film. Proton, a military site, Unity (Soyuz), the site for manned missions to space, and Energy (Energiya), which was designed to carry the Russian space shuttle Blizzard (Buran). The opening shots show the launch site of Energy and Blizzard, now abandoned for over ten years. The film then changes to the operational Proton launch site. The sequence, which includes interior shots of the assembly factory, culminates in the transport of a Proton rocket to the launch site at dawn. After a series of pictures from Korkytu-ata, a Muslim memorial site of comparative architectural significance near Baikonur, the film returns to the launch sites of Unity, which remains almost unchanged since the times of Gagarin, and Proton, with its vast arms reaching out into the desert. In the final sequence, with the Energia/Buran site in the distance and camels grazing in the foreground, it seems as if the desert is reclaiming its land."

Proton, Unity, Energy, Blizzard is a companion to an earlier piece by the Wilson sisters. Star City , which uses the same 4-screen device, described here:

"Viewers are caught up between juxtaposed shots of the same scene and images sliding across the four screens of the installation as the camera pans across the rooms and their contents. Feelings of discomfort and paranoia develop as the viewers positioned in the open cube of the screens are forced to be “on constant alert … lest they miss something”(12). The endless loops of the roller coaster mystery tour through Star City create a 'sense of going somewhere and nowhere at once'"

Elsewhere, the Wilson's work is described thus:

"Like Leni Riefenstahl, the British twins Jane and Louise Wilson create works that estheticize power, but to obviously different ends. Unlike Hitler's favorite filmmaker, their film installations are more funereal than triumphant.

For their newest odes to eroded power and faded glory, a pair of videos called Star City and Proton, Unity, Energy, Blizzard, the Wilsons were granted access to high-security sites of the financially stricken and scaled-back Russian space program. The videos were shot, respectively, at Star City, the main training center for Russian cosmonauts just outside Moscow, and the Baikonur cosmodrome, the massive base of the space program located in modern-day Kazakhstan (though the program is still operated by Russia). These sites, once beacons of Soviet power, are now in such a state of decline that it is sometimes difficult to tell which facilities are still in use and which are abandoned. This sense of desolation is heightened by the near-total absence of people in their footage."

Quite what all this had to do with JG Ballard I'm not sure, except some forlorn sense of humans not being entirely in control of the technologies they create, and that visions of the future are often crushed by the realities of the present. Baikonur, the original Kosmograd, represents the genius-loci of lost future dreams, one of the most mythically charged places on the Earth.


  1. 'Buran' is more often translated as 'Snowstorm' but here the Wilson twins have chosen to interpret it as 'Blizzard'. In the book Energiya-Buran by Bart Hendrickx and Bert Vis it is more precisely defined a a snowstorm that is unique to the steppes of Kazakhstan.

Why 2010 wont be like '2010'

2010

In 1984, during the third quarter of Superbowl XVIII, Apple aired its infamous advert, directed by Ridley Scott, to launch the Apple Macintosh, and proclaimed that "1984 won't be like '1984'".

2010

Fast forward 26 years, and it's clear that 2010 won't be like '2010'.

Written by Arthur C Clarke in 1982, and made into a film in 1984 by Peter Hyams, '2010' is the sequel to '2001', and follows Dr Heywood Floyd (Roy Schieder), as he travels onboard the Soviet spacecraft Alexei Leonov to retrieve USS Discovery and try and revive HAL. The story is set against a backdrop of escalating nuclear tension between the two superpowers.

2010
2010
2010

Visually, while not as intoxicating or sensuous as Kubrick's masterful '2001' (about which I've written previously), '2010' is still a great film. I love the interior shots of the Leonov, aglow with thousands of brightly-lit buttons and instrument panels. The computers aboard the Leonov are tactile, push-button, and display crude (but charming) simple vectorised graphics.

2010
![2010] (http://www.kosmograd.com/newsfeed/images/2010/2010_07.jpg)
2010

But it's not just the Cold War that has faded in the interim, or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. I was watching a video of '2010' on an iPhone when I was suddenly struck by the dichotomy between the future presented on the screen and the future as it turned out, with the iPhone representing perhaps the definitive piece of technology of the current decade.

2010

Computers have become personalised, miniaturised, portals into another space - cyberspace. Released, like the film of '2010', in 1984, William Gibson's novel Neuromancer has been a far more potent vision of the future than Clarke's 'hard' sci-fi vision. Neuromancer represents a phase shift rather than simply a projection of contemporary technologies into the future. In many ways, Neuromancer helped define the future.

2010
2010

Unlike the computers of 2010, the computers in '2010' do not create space. The computers of the Leonov, and even HAL 9000 on the Discovery, are little more than tools or automatons, tactile and solid. Whereas HAL looked out into our world, today we look into the world created within the computer.

2010
2010

We've replaced the dreams of visiting other planets with the inner space of computer devices. Our focus has shifted from exploring outer space to the computer generated world of cyberspace.

As I write, the tech-press is building itself into a frenzied state of excitement speculating what the new Apple tablet, iSlate, or whatever is revealed at the launch event on Thursday 27th January 2010, might do to create a new paradigm for Human Computer Interface, the next evolution of personal computing technology. The horizon of our vision for technology is no longer interplanetary travel but multi-touch user interface designs.

Our ambition seems to have shrunk to the size of a touchscreen tablet. Expect a monolith of a very different kind.

Klushantsev

Without Pavel Klushantsev, Kubrick might never have made 2001.

Road to the Stars vs 2001

In 1954, Klushantsev, pioneering Soviet sci-fi film director, began working on a short film, part-documentary, part-visionary projection, about the Soviet conquest of space. The film follows a young man as he learns the basic principles of space flight, before the final parts of the film depict the launch of the first Soviet man in space, life on an orbiting space station, the first man to set foot on the moon, and concludes with the possibilities of colonising Mars.

You can watch the film online here.

Road to the Stars vs 2001

Road to the Stars vs 2001

In 1957 Sergei Korolev, the 'father' of the Soviet space program, proclaimed "the road to the stars is open" following the historic flight of Sputnik 1. Klushantsev quickly shot footage to represent this momentous occasion, and the film was released a month later.

Road to the Stars vs 2001

Road to the Stars is a delirious film, stunning in its prescience about many aspects of space exploration that would unfold over the next 40 years.The similarities between Road to the Stars and Kubrick's 2001 are obvious, and Kubrick was known to have been inspired by Klushantsev's film. Indeed, parts of 2001 can be considered a homage, or as this article states, a shot-for-shot copy.


[Slightly related, here's an article I wrote called Road to the Stars for Kino Fist about Baikonour and a space station called Kosmograd from the short story Red Star, Winter Orbit, by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling.]

Komarov

Vladimir Komarov

Vladimir Mikhaylovich Komarov was the first man to die in space.

The Russian cosmonaut died aboard Soyuz 1 on April 24th, 1967, which crashed on its return to earth due to failure of the parachute mechanism.

Soyuz 1

Soyuz 1 was the first step in the Soviet's race to put a man on the moon. The plan was to launch Soyuz 1, then launch Soyuz 2 a day later with a three man crew, and complete a spacewalk of two cosmonauts from Soyuz 2 to Soyuz 1.

Soyuz 1

The problems with Soyuz 1 began shortly after it achieved orbit. One of the solar panels failed to open, depriving the ship of half of its planned solar power. Komarov repeatedly attempted maneouvres to orient the spacecraft to the sun, without success. Ground control decided to bring Komarov back to Earth earlier than planned. A series of poor decisions by ground control, and additional equipment failures meant that Komarov made 19 revolutions before able to attempt a manual orientation with retrofire to bring the vessel into a descent.

On an early orbit, Komarov makes a strident radio broadcast:

'for (or in the benefit) of the peoples of our fatherland along the for the whole humanity famous way to communism. Pilot-cosmonaut Komarov.'

Realising he was aboard a stricken craft, Komarov's radio communiques became increasingly agitated. Several persons claimed to have picked up radio communications from Soyuz-1, either as dedicated amateur radio enthusiasts, or officials working at military listening posts. This analysis of the flight of Soyuz-1 tries to piece together what happened to Soyuz-1 from the mass of often conflicting data.

Soyuz 1 - orbit path

Soyuz 1 - orbit path

Soyuz 1 - orbit path

According to one recording made by a NSA listening station in Istanbul, Komorov's radio communications became increasingly fraught, and knew that he was doomed:

"He understood that there was trouble with "stabilization" and that Komarov replied to commands from the ground by saying "I'm doing it...it still isn't working..." He kept asking "How long till re-entry?".

Some reports have Komarov allegedly cursing Brezhnev, the spacecraft designers and flight controllers, and accusing them of killing him, while other radio intercepts claim that he remained calm and loyal even in his final moments. His last words are thought to be "the parachute is wrong" and "heat is rising in the capsule".

The capsule crashed near the village of Karabulak in the Orenburg Region of Orsk, (now part of Kazakhstan). Komarov's badly burnt body was recovered from the capsule and flown to Moscow for a post-mortem. Komarov's ashes were interned in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis on the Red Square in Moscow. A memorial was created on cosmonauts alley in Moscow.

In 1969, Neil Armstrong placed a small memorial on the moon, to Komarov and the three American astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, who died during a training mission Apollo 1 in January 1967.

The track Komarov by the artist Regis appeared on the compilation Merge 7, and samples some of Komarov's radio communications.

Download komarov.mp3 (5Mb)

Kondratyuk

Lunar surface

This page on the BBC web site, reminds us that today is the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 10 mission, the penultimate mission before a lunar landing would be attempted.

"In May 1969, with only seven months to go before the end of the decade, the first Lunar Module to fly in orbit around the Moon was powered up and readied for undocking from the Command Module.

Astronauts Tom Stafford, John Young and Gene Cernan were about to test out a technique for lunar landing which had first been proposed in 1916 by a Russian mechanic called Yuri Kondratyuk.

Kondratyuk's thesis described how a small landing craft could leave a mothership in lunar orbit to ferry its crew to the surface and back - a technique later referred to as Lunar Orbit Rendezvous or LOR."

Kondratyuk had a fascinating life, as the biography on Wikipedia reveals. Born Oleksandr Gnatovich Shargei, and having already escaped death once, he took the name and identity of the deceased Yuri Vasilievich Kondratyuk, following the Russian Revolution, to avoid being arrested as an enemy of the people.

His pioneering ideas on spaceflight had to be self-published after no publisher would accept them. Foregoing the chance to work with rocketry pioneer Sergei Korolev for fear of his real identity being discovered, Kondratyuk pioneered work on wind turbines, and died in 1941 while serving in the Soviet army. Fortuitously, his notes on space travel eventually found their way to the United States when a neighbour took them with him when escaping the Soviet Union after World War II.

The history of the Soviet space program is littered with fecund stories of human invention; paranoia, power and corruption; missed opportunities; epic failures; lost dreams and bitter tragedy. But it is also my hypothesis that it harbored the secret continuation of the Constructivist 'project' after Stalin's Socialist Realism became the only acceptable form of artistic expression. More to follow.

Kittinger

Joe Kittinger

Joe Kittinger was the man who fell to earth.

In 1960, Kittinger, USAF test pilot, ascended to an altitude of 30Km, in a high-altitude helium balloon, before stepping into the void. Kittinger fell at speeds off 990Km/h, freefalling for 4 and a half minutes before deploying a chute at a height of 5.5Km, and floating to the ground. While it took 1 and a half hours to ascend, the descent totalled just 13 minutes and 45 seconds.

This was the last of 3 jumps Kittinger undertook, having previously jumped from altitudes of approximately 23 Km.

The video footage, taken from a fixed camera attached to the balloon, and one mounted on Kittinger's helmet, is stunning. As Kittinger spins violently round (in one of the earlier jumps he lost consciousness after spinning at 120rpm), the earth flashes round against the blackness of space, sudden blinding bursts of sunlight scatter hexagon lens flares. Viewed from the balloon, the figure of Kittinger against the white expanse of clouds seems helpless, one man against nature.

In 2008, two attempts were scheduled by two teams, one British, one French, to try and exceed the altitude record that Kittinger achieved. Neither attempt took place, due to technical reasons. The British parachutist Steve Truglia, is a 43-year old ex-SAS soldier and stuntman, while Michel Fournier is a 65-year old French retired French army officer.

Fournier was featured in an article in Wired back in 2002, while his website shows he has been planning this mission for over 17 years. In 2003 the attempt was aborted when the balloon tore on launching. No explanation is given why the 2008 attempt did not take place, though it looks like he might have run out of funds.

Truglia's site has a great history of Kittinger and Project Excelsior. There's little indication why his 2008 jump was cancelled, though funding could well be an issue.

We should also note the awesome video by Boards of Canada for Dayvan Cowboy, where footage of Kittinger's insane escapade is segued into beautiful sequences of surfer Laird Hamilton.

Space suit