Henry Kissinger was the sole purveyor of American foreign policy, with the exception of presidents Nixon and Ford. While he was National Security Advisor, he essentially made the department of state irrelevant by taking over many of the tasks, like communicating with foreign officials and heading foreign policy task groups, typically reserved to the secretary of state. By Nixon’s second term, he was serving concurrently as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, and had pushed out most other foreign policy advisors from the policymaking process.
Kissinger was involved in Nixon’s conduct of the Vietnam War, the opening of China (essentially the establishment of relations with Mao was not a great triumph for human rights, but another triumph of realpolitik), the coup that brought Pinochet to power, etc. The human rights perspective of Kissinger’s detractors, everything Kissinger did was terrible. He was not bothered by this at all, as he was a firm member of the realist school of foreign policy, which holds that in the anarchic system of international relations, only power matters. Realists believe that international institutions such as the United Nations or international norms such as the concept of human rights are irrelevant. (In the Cold War, this became especially acute as Kissinger allied with brutal regimes, and conspired against democratic ones, in the name of anticommunism.)
Take this quote from Kissinger:
“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy. And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”
Remember that Kissinger is Jewish himself. That’s how much of a realist he is.
While Kissinger was in office, the world was undergoing significant upheaval. There were various international crises originating in the Third World, and there was also domestic unrest in every region of the world. The most important aspect of Kissinger’s foreign policy outlook was his overriding concern of maintaining international stability, particularly by maintaining the Cold War’s bipolar global order. Wars in Vietnam and the Middle East and domestic protests in the U.S. and Europe all threatened to upend the bipolar order. Kissinger believed that wars in the Third World might drag the two superpowers into military conflict or nuclear war, and domestic unrest in Western Europe could open that continent up to greater Soviet influence. Simultaneously, domestic unrest in the U.S., particularly protests against the Vietnam War, had the potential of leading the U.S. away from the global interventionism necessary to maintain its superpower status.
Furthermore, Kissinger was able to elevate himself to an unusual degree of celebrity in the 1973-1976 period because of Watergate and the elevation of the unelected Ford.
Kissinger was the only major public figure of the Nixon Administration to escape Watergate unscathed (because he didn’t know about it, as it was a domestic election thing. To clarify, Kissinger had no connection to Watergate), and Ford, who had no constituency other than the existing Administration, heavily relied on Kissinger. [As Saigon fell, Kissinger’s polling dwarfed Ford’s.]
Because of the unusual circumstances of this presidential term, Kissinger is now a symbol of everything realpolitik. (He’s a lightning rod for criticism from non-realists.) Many people adopted elements of this view of foreign policy, but none personified it like Kissinger.
There are four excellent biographies of Kissinger:
- Jeremi Suri, Henry Kissinger and the American Century (This book provides a more favorable view of Kissinger than most other biographers).
- Jussi Hahnimaki, The Flawed Architect: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy
- Mario del Pero, The Eccentric Realist: Henry Kissinger and the Shaping of American Foreign Policy
- Robert Dallek, Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power
The following are excellent studies of U.S. foreign policy during the Nixon-Ford administrations:
- Daniel Sargent, A Superpower Transformed: The Remaking of American Foreign Relations in the 1970s
- Jeremi Suri, Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Detente
- Barbara Zanchetta, The Transformation of American International Power in the 1970s
- Paul Thomas Chamberlin, The Global Offensive: The United States, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the Making of the Post-Cold War World
- Gary Bass, The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide
Why Stalin allowed Finland to remain independent after WWII:
Stalin overestimated the efficacy of the Finnish Communist Party and underestimated the canniness of Finnish politicians. Starting in leverage high grade military equipment from the Germans which allowed the Finnish forces to stage a fighting retreat from Karelia in 1944. Thus in mid-1944, the Finns and the Soviets were fighting in the same ground as the Winter War. Both the Kremlin and the Red Army’s leadership were much more interested in maintaining the drive into Eastern Europe than refighting what had been a dark chapter in Soviet military history.
Urho Kekkonen, a Finnish parliamentarian and later Prime Minister, said in a 1944 radio broadcast “the Soviet Union must stand to gain a bigger advantage from an independent Finland clinging to life than from a broken Finland doomed to a dependent existence.” The cornerstone of Soviet-Finnish relations was the Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance signed with the USSR in April 1948. The Treaty guaranteed that Finland would aid the Soviets against “Germany or its allies” and fostered a series of networks and political connections between the Soviets and the Finns. The Soviets initially expected the Finnish Communist Party (SKP) to make electoral gains, but the existing Finnish political establishment adroitly managed to sideline them. The Treaty and the Finnish compliance with it did not give the SKP any major issues with which to attack the existing governments. Successive Soviet governments wanted the Treaty to be expanded and pull the Finns closer into the orbit of the Soviet sphere, but the Finns were able to strategically drag their feet. For example, the language “Germany or its allies” meant that Finns were able to justify not wanting to take defense steps against NATO Norway and Denmark. At the same time, the Finns also mastered the art of not appearing to be undermining the larger issue of Soviet security; they would give way over key debates like radar stations its early warning network.
The success of the Finns looks quite intelligent and unexpected from the vantage point of 2014, it’s important to keep in mind that during the Cold War the West was quite apprehensive the Finnish policies of accommodation. “Finlandization” became a pejorative term within Western Cold War discourse and a shorthand for making concessions to gain at best temporary freedoms from the USSR.
Jakobson, Max. Finnish Neutrality; A Study of Finnish Foreign Policy Since the Second World War. New York: Praeger, 1969.
Jussila, Osmo, Seppo Hentilä, and Jukka Nevakivi. From Grand Duchy to a Modern State: a Political History of Finland since 1809. London: Hurst & Company, 1999.
Luostarinen, Heikki. “Finnish Russophobia: The story of an enemy image.” Journal of Peace Research 26, no. 2 (1989): 123-137.
Rentola, Kimmo. “From half-adversary to half-ally: Finland in Soviet policy, 1953-58.” Cold War History 1, no. 1 (2000): 75-102.
Yuri Gagarin – The First Man in Space; April 12, 1961.
Yuri Gagarin was chosen because he had a more Russian sounding name versus his competitor, Titov. Also, Titov was considered smarter so they wanted to have the smarter man live in case something went wrong. There are other factors that played into it as well, such as Gagarin’s ability to show off his “Sovietness,” and his natural PR skills. His physical appearance was far behind on the list of reasons he was chosen.
Source: “The Cosmonaut Who Couldn’t Stop Smiling” – Andrew Jenks
A photographer waited for the ISS to sync up with Gagarin flight at the right place and time of day and recorded the earth then synced it up with the actual audio (NASA has combined Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s audio from his historic flight with 1080p HD video from the ISS to simulate what Yuri experienced):
*After the flight, Yuri Gagarin eventually was banned for life from spaceflight due to his status as a national treasure and died at the age of just 34 in a jet crash in 1968.
The Soviet space program accomplished great things:
- 1957: First satellite, Sputnik 1
- 1957: First animal in Earth orbit, the dog Laika on Sputnik 2
- 1959: First rocket ignition in Earth orbit, first man-made object to escape Earth’s gravity, Luna 1
- 1959: First data communications, or telemetry, to and from outer space, Luna 1.
- 1959: First man-made object to pass near the Moon, first man-made object in Heliocentric orbit, Luna 1
- 1959: First probe to impact the Moon, Luna 2
- 1959: First images of the moon’s far side, Luna 3
- 1960: First animals to safely return from Earth orbit, the dogs Belka and Strelka on Sputnik 5.
- 1961: First probe launched to Venus, Venera 1
- 1961: First person in space (International definition) and in Earth orbit, Yuri Gagarin on Vostok 1, Vostok program
- 1961: First person to spend over 24 hours in space Gherman Titov, Vostok 2 (also first person to sleep in space).
- 1962: First dual manned spaceflight, Vostok 3 and Vostok 4
- 1962: First probe launched to Mars, Mars 1
- 1963: First woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, Vostok 6
- 1964: First multi-person crew (3), Voskhod 1
- 1965: First extra-vehicular activity (EVA), by Aleksei Leonov, Voskhod 2
- 1965: First probe to hit another planet of the Solar system (Venus), Venera 3
- 1966: First probe to make a soft landing on and transmit from the surface of the moon, Luna 9
- 1966: First probe in lunar orbit, Luna 10
- 1967: First unmanned rendezvous and docking, Cosmos 186/Cosmos 188.
- 1968: First living beings to reach the Moon (circumlunar flights) and return unharmed to Earth, Russian tortoises on Zond 5
- 1969: First docking between two manned craft in Earth orbit and exchange of crews, Soyuz 4 and Soyuz 5
- 1970: First soil samples automatically extracted and returned to Earth from another celestial body, Luna 16
- 1970: First robotic space rover, Lunokhod 1 on the Moon.
- 1970: First data received from the surface of another planet of the Solar system (Venus), Venera 7
- 1971: First space station, Salyut 1
- 1971: First probe to impact the surface of Mars, Mars 2
- 1971: First probe to land on Mars, Mars 3
- 1975: First probe to orbit Venus, to make soft landing on Venus, first photos from surface of Venus, Venera 9
- 1980: First Hispanic and Black person in space, Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez on Soyuz 38
- 1984: First woman to walk in space, Svetlana Savitskaya (Salyut 7 space station)
- 1986: First crew to visit two separate space stations (Mir and Salyut 7)
- 1986: First probes to deploy robotic balloons into Venus atmosphere and to return pictures of a comet during close flyby Vega 1, Vega 2
- 1986: First permanently manned space station, Mir, 1986–2001, with permanent presence on board (1989–1999)
- 1987: First crew to spend over one year in space, Vladimir Titov and Musa Manarov on board of Soyuz TM-4 – Mir
The Soviet space program did face major problems in the 1960s. Their chief designer Sergei Korolev died in 1966 if I remember correctly and there was no similar genius to replace him. The Soviet N1 rocket which was supposed to be the equivalent to the Saturn V (the US moon rocket) never worked correctly and was a disaster. Because of the failure of the N1 the Soviets did not develop a rocket capable enough to deliver payloads beyond low orbit fast enough to catch up with the Apollo program. So, after 1969, the Soviets went a different way with their permanent space stations and were quite successful with it, more than the US.
The Soviets continued to send probes that landed on the surface of Mars and Venus. (You should look up the Vega program. They actually floated balloons in the atmosphere of Venus.) The USSR was the only country to operate semi-permanent space stations in near Earth orbit for decades, until the ISS was launched. Even today, they only way to send a person to the ISS is by using a Soviet/Russian designed Soyuz craft.
I highly recommend Starman: The Truth Behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin for more information. There’s also been a wealth of declassified documents released from the former soviet archives in Russia regarding its space program.
Here’s a couple of pages from the book; (the one with Korolev is my favorite.):
And here are some more good sources and links. I find that a lot of Soviet stuff on some select English based media sites have a bad spin on it in their use of word-choices etc so I avoided the sensational sites and went for the more non-biased English ones or space expo ones.
This is a great documentary about lives of Soviet cosmonauts during that era:
A similar instance in USA history would be the Apollo 1.
Like Komarov, the astronauts of Apollo 1 also knew about how bad, unsafe, and grim their chances were. One of the photos down the page show them half-jokingly praying to a model of the Apollo 1. However, unlike Komarov, the Apollo 1 never made it past the atmosphere . It blew up due to cabin fire during a rehersal.
These were brave men. No matter ideology, nation, or time. They were men who dreamed about humanity amongst the stars. They went where no man set foot – some only in dream – and sprung humanity to the edges of our world. They were representatives, human representatives, of our pale blue dot.
May these brave representatives of our planet, rest in peace.
(While some Soviet space posters are outright political propaganda (socialism is our launchpad, sons of the revolution, etc.), most of them seem to be projecting a pride in the very real achievements of their space program and in/for the workers who built it, and to raise excitement about the space program. Most of the posters also don’t explicitly strike a contrast between the USSR and its rivals.)
*The United States also used propaganda to justify going to the moon… JFK basically told the american public that those dirty communists would use space to launch weapons at the US, so the US had to get there first.
“Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. ” – JFK
Propaganda posters of Soviet space program 1958-1963:
V. Viktorov, Moscow, 1957.
Nikita Khrushchev and Richard Nixon debate the merits of communism versus capitalism at the American National Exhibition, Moscow; ca.1959.
Here’s the debate:
US Marines watch F4U Corsairs drop napalm on Chinese positions near the Chosin Reservoir; December 26th, 1950
There is a great documentary called “Chosin”. It’s on Netflix and has a lot of interviews with survivors that are unbelievable.
One that has stuck with me was the man who was wounded, then the truck carrying him to an aid station was captured by the Chinese/North Koreans. They set the truck on fire to kill the wounded, but this guy managed to get out only to be shot in the head. He survived that, crawled down a trench only to be discovered by a chinese patrol who tried to beat him to death with their rifles. Survived that too and almost died of hypothermia before finally being discovered by a American patrol. It really gives you a sense of how horrendous that campaign really was…
Here’s the trailer:
Alfred J. Eggers, Jr. stands beside the Atmosphere Entry Simulator he invented in 1958 as a laboratory means of studying the problems of aerodynamic heating and thermal stresses during re-entry.
The tubular tank in the foreground held air under high pressure. When a valve was opened, the air flowed through the test section (the dark area under the high-voltage signs) into the chimney-like vacuum tank. As the airstream moved, a high-velocity gun fired a test model through the chamber in a left-to-right direction.” (More info)
RB-36H Peacemaker of the 72nd Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, Heavy (51-13741) flying over San Francisco Bay; ca.1954
The original concept was intended to bomb Germany from bases in North America because the US thought that Britain would fall to the Nazis. (Source)
A Convair B-36H sitting next to a B-29 Superfortress, for scale:
Senator Joseph McCarthy, was arguably, one of the most successful conspiracy theorist in American history. McCarthy was able to meticulously manipulate the Red Scare hysteria with the help of the media, the encouragement from the Republican Party, and this enabled him to pursue his agenda of combating the supposed red infestation in the State Department. Communist witch-hunts had become synonymous with the rhetoric of the period.
McCarthyism, was indeed, an opportunity for Soviet propagandists to exploit. McCarthy gave Europeans, who resented American power, a respectable reason for expressing their hostility. You just have to look at the sheer extent of the anxiety and hysteria that developed in American society. The level of blacklisting, denial of civil liberties, the witch-hunts, persecution of American citizens and the recklessness of McCarthy and his demagoguing. Many began to doubt if the country of McCarthy was a safe guardian of nuclear weapons.
He targeted the state department and the army (to his own detriment) and the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) targeted Hollywood and business organizations in an attempt to root out communists. His methods were largely counter-productive and very destructive. Anybody that pled the Fifth Amendment were immediately interpreted as an admission of guilt. I think it was similar to that folklore hysteria you hear about – reporting your hated neighbor to the police for communist activities or suspicion, and a swat team storms in and grabs them.
McCarthy did not uncover any real Soviet spies, and he was not successful in his efforts – quite the opposite. He went on an anti-communist crusade, which led to the loss of jobs for countless hundreds, destroying businesses, exacerbated Red Scare fears and left an aftermath of uncertainty and anxiety in American society.
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, executed for espionage 61 years ago today; June 19, 1953
They actually gave the Soviets the proximity fuse (which is a huge leap in anti air). Through Venona we were reading their codes and knew of them. Their handler has since written a book on it confirming they were spies. The atomic component they gave the Soviets was rather minor but still, used to make the atomic bomb. After Venona was declassified it is difficult to say they were innocent because, well, you can read the messages from their handler with their confirmed code names.
* The trial judge agreed on the death penalty before the trial began. An eternal blot on American justice.
The “Nixon Madman Theory”
Essentially, a key tenet of Nixon’s foreign policy was to make the leaders of communist countries think that he was unstable and prone to use nuclear force. What ensued in his first year in office in 1969 is one of the most fascinating episodes of the Cold War because it really highlights the growing split between the USSR and China and how Nixon tried to drive a wedge between them in order to strengthen the United States’ relative power and influence.
During the buildup to the Vietnam war after the Cuban missile crisis, and prior to Nixon taking office in 1969, leaders in the US and USSR would generally not explicitly threaten each other for fear of stoking another nuclear crisis. Nixon believed that the only way to end the war in Vietnam was to get North Vietnam and China to back down in the face of nuclear extinction, as the threat of nuclear escalation is what brought about a ceasefire during the Korean War. After secret peace talks in Paris to end the war stalled in the first few months of his presidency, Nixon went full ape. If Teddy Roosevelt believed that the United States should speak softly and carry a big stick, Nixon believed the United States should yell incoherently and flail its stick around.
In October 1969, Nixon issued a secret high level alert to his top military brass. He told them to be on standby to use nuclear force against North Vietnam and possibly the USSR and to scramble planes equipped with nuclear bombs to fly near Soviet airspace. This was kept secret from the American public, but was made loud enough so Soviet intelligence would pick up on it. At the time, Nixon wanted to escalate the war in Vietnam by expanding the bombing campaign into the North, which was not popular with the American public and would have likely resulted in fully-fledged war with China. So Nixon wanted the North Vietnamese, the Chinese and the Soviets to think that he would do anything to win the war in Vietnam without actually having to do anything. It was a huge gamble.
But let’s not forget that in the immediate months prior to Nixon’s secret order, the USSR and China were in an undeclared military conflict with each other over a border dispute. Relations between the two communist powers had soured since 1960, which Nixon sought to capitalize on.
Prior to Nixon issuing the nuclear alert, the USSR was considering a preemptive, possibly nuclear attack on China’s nuclear arsenal. The USSR worried that if the United States escalated the Vietnam war with nuclear force and if China responded with nuclear force too, then they would get dragged into a nuclear war with them as well. When a KGB officer approached an American diplomat about the possibility of the USSR striking China’s arsenal and how the US would respond – and allegedly even asked if the US would collaborate with the USSR to weaken China – Nixon made it very clear that the US would not tolerate an attack on its enemy by its other enemy.
But while Nixon intended the nuclear alert to influence events in Vietnam in his favor, some evidence from recently declassified Cold War documents suggest that the USSR mistakenly believed that the alert was meant to warn the USSR against attacking China’s nuclear arsenal.
Nixon did want to exploit the soured relations between the USSR and China in order to have leverage over the Soviets, and the nuclear alert had the unintentional effect of hinting that the US would side with China should a nuclear conflict arise between them and the USSR. This also unintentionally played into Nixon’s policy of opening up to China. By opening up to China, the US would no longer be dealing with one communist power, but rather two competing communist powers that were at odds with each other.
The nuclear alert issued in October 1969 did nothing to improve the situation in Vietnam (and arguably made things worse). While it did frighten the Soviets, they did ultimately interpret it as a bluff. Still, it indicated to the Chinese that Nixon would give them leverage over the USSR. It set the stage for rapprochement with China, which culminated in Nixon’s monumental 1972 visit to the communist country and the subsequent improvement of Sino-American relations. And of course, the visit laid the foundation for the deepening of economic ties between the two nations.
Effect of 35th atomic bomb test on house built 1 mile from point of detonation. Yucca Flats, Nevada; ca. March 1953
B-57B observing a nuclear test during Operation Redwing, Bikini Atoll; ca. July 12th 1958
Here is a video of the shot. It was the fifth largest nuclear shot by the US ever, at 9.3 megatons. It really does look like a sunrise/set (only at 1000x speed).
(I recently read Command and Control, would recommend it, covers a lot of the insanity regarding nuclear weapons. Apparently, up until the 80’s they were surprisingly easy to to set off, none of the PAL stuff you see in movies these days. Right after World War Twi they were still trying to figure out how to work nuclear war into scenario planning, it leads to a lot of crazy phrases like “limited nuclear war” or “progressive escalation” in terms of how to use the weapons not just against the soviets but also against weaker world powers. I think the USA did get a bit of a God complex for a bit, but once the cold war started it balanced it out to a more muted insanity and paranoia as they realized that just about any major power could drop a nuke and it might just set off the rest of the world, intentional or not…)
Children practice the “Duck and Cover” drill, to protect themselves against the effects of a nuclear explosion, 1950s
Duck and Cover is a method of personal protection against the effects of a nuclear explosion, which the United States government taught to generations of United States school children from the early 1950s until the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s. It was intended to protect them in the event of both an unexpected nuclear attack, which, they were told, might come at any time without warning and in the event sufficient warning is given.
Under the conditions of a surprise attack, immediately after they saw a flash they had to stop what they were doing and get on the ground under some cover—such as a table, or at least next to a wall—and assume a prone like position, lying face-down and covering their exposed skin and back of their heads with their clothes, or if no excess clothes such as a coat was available, to cover the back of their heads with their hands. Similar instructions were given in 1964 in the United Kingdom by Civil Defence Information Bulletin No. 5. and, in the 1980s, by the Protect and Survive series. Under the conditions where sufficient warning is given, they were told to find the nearest Civil Defense shelter, or if one could not be found, any well built building to stay and shelter in. From Wikipedia
The Nedelin Catastrophe
In late October of 1960, nearly 200 families around the Soviet Union got letters notifying them that a loved one had died in a plane crash. It took thirty years for the public to be informed of what actually happened. It’s known as the Nedelin Catastrophe, and it’s one of the most chilling accidents of the nuclear age.
“On August 3, 1957, the Soviet Russian R-7 Semyorka missile, called “Little Seven” by the men who worked around it, flew a simulated nuclear strike trajectory, then became a space launcher just two months later, on October 4, by launching Sputnik. A great international triumph, then, but in missile terms, not necessarily the military advantage that Russia wanted.
The Semyorka used kerosene and LOX. Who in their right mind wants a nuclear missile that takes three or four hours to prime with LOX before you can launch it? Not the Soviet Red Army, for sure. So they commissioned an even more secret missile, the R-16, which, in theory, could be fueled and primed several days, or even weeks, before it was needed, with no loss of oxidizer, because its engineers had abandoned super-cold LOX and kerosene in favor of nitric acid and hydrazine: hypergolic fuels… a fuel and oxidizer combination that can be stored indefinitely at normal pressures and temperatures.
Hypergolic chemicals are efficient too. They ignite spontaneously on contact with each other and deliver a pretty good bang for your buck. Of course there’s a downside. Hypergolics are among the nastiest and most toxic substances in the rocket business. Did we mention that they can be stored? Well, sort of. They are so corrosive they will play havoc with any part of your rocket (or your people) that they come into contact with that they shouldn’t….
In October 1960, the R-16 was hoisted upright for launch at Baikonur, Russia’s ultrasecret equivalent of Cape Kennedy, based deep in the deserts of Kazakhstan. And so began the single greatest rocket disaster in history.
The R-16’s “storable” fuels wouldn’t store. They were viciously corrosive and leaky as hell, oozing from dozens of pipe joints and tank seams. On October 23, the surrounding launch gantries were crowded with young technicians trying to fix a dozen different problems. As zero hour approached, the rocket began to drip nitric acid from its base. At this point, launch director Mitrofan Nedelin should have ordered the entire gantry to be evacuated, but he didn’t seem to care about the risks. He sent yet more ground staff into the pad area straightaway, to see if they could tighten up some valves and stop the leaks and get the rocket up in the air.
Suddenly, the rocket exploded, instantly killing everyone on the gantry. With nothing to support it, the upper stage crashed to the ground, spilling fuel and flame. The new tarmac aprons and roadways around the gantry melted in the heat, then caught fire. Ground staff fleeing for their lives were trapped in the viscous tar as it burned all around them. The conflagration spread for thousands of yards, a wave of fire engulfing everything and everyone in its path. More than 190 people were killed, including Nedelin, perched on his chair near the gantry as a surge of blazing chemicals swept toward him.” (From Piers Bizony’s How To Build Your Own Spaceship)
- The deadliest launch pad accident in history.
Victims of government pressure.
Its the same kind of pressure that pushed NASA to go for a Challenger launch in near zero degree weather even though the engineers said the o-rings in the boosters would shrink, causing a burn-through and explosion.
Laika (c. 1954 – November 3, 1957) was a Soviet space dog who became one of the first animals in space, and the first animal to orbit the Earth.
Laika was a stray dog, originally named Kudryavka (Russian: Кудрявка Little Curly); she underwent training with two other dogs, and was eventually chosen as the occupant of the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik 2 that was launched into outer space on November 3, 1957, (becoming the first dog in space, to orbit the Earth, and was also the first animal to die in space.) The Soviets designed the spacecraft knowing she would not survive. One Soviet scientist took her home to play with his children because he said “I wanted to do something nice for her. She had so little time left to live.” Laika likely died within hours after launch from overheating, possibly caused by a failure of the central R-7 sustainer to separate from the payload. The true cause and time of her death was not made public until 2002; instead, it was widely reported that she died when her oxygen ran out on day six, or as Soviet government initially claimed, she was euthanized prior to oxygen depletion.
As a kid who was very into rockets and airplanes I remember being told about her (mind you, I wasn’t born until the cold war was ending), but in my childish innocence I assumed she came back okay.
Here’s a statement made by Oleg Gazenko, one of the Sputnik scientists:
“Work with animals is a source of suffering to all of us. We treat them like babies who cannot speak. The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We shouldn’t have done it… We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog.”
You know what makes me (sorta) happy? They built her a window. Despite the challenges and costs of building a secure window in a pressurized capsule, they did it so the dying dog could look out.
Gazenko speaks of the bond that grew between the dog and him as they worked toward her mission, leading us in unembroidered prose through a brief tale of preparation, hours of readiness on the launch pad, and the launch itself. But the heart of the article for me, and the part to which nothing I’ve found since makes reference, is this: Gazenko tells us that as engineers rushed against deadlines to complete the capsule that would carry the dog into space, outfitting it with equipment to record the details of her death, he took on a battle in Laika’s behalf. Against heavy objections from the decision-makers, he insisted upon the installation of a window. A window in a space capsule, where such a luxury would cause complications and expenses that I can barely imagine. A window for the dog whose monitored demise had been this man’s objective in all the interactions that had bonded her to him with the eager devotion of every well-trained working canine.
Yet Gazenko persisted and prevailed.
Roof In Peace.
“Personnel inside the data processing center for COBRA DANE, an intelligence-gathering phased-array system specially constructed to monitor Soviet ballistic missile testing on Siberia’s Kamchatka Peninsula”, 1977
Soviet Paratrooper over Leningrad.
“The important thing to remember about this photo is that the Cold War was, by its very nature, a war of technological advances and propaganda. Literally, this was about who could spend more money to out-bullshit the other. Everything was about bullshit. Who could spin bigger bullshit, grander bullshit, in what ways could we trip up the other side? This is why, for a while, there were SEAL Teams 1, 2, and 6. Its the old Greased Pig Senior Prank, done with lethal commandos. The reason the Stealth was labelled as a Fighter, and not a Bomber. Misdirection, chaos, confusion. Not only can our soldiers jump out of planes over urban areas, but they can do it while maintaining a perfect salute, without losing their beret. Lets see those capitalist pigs out-do that!” – My friend Mikhail