5…4…3…2…1… Lift off! (взлёт – vzliot)
The idea of exploring (иссле́довать – issledavat’) or even conquering (завоева́ть – zavayevat’) space has been a dream of mankind for a very long time. This dream was only made possible in the second half of the 20th century, thanks to technological advances (технологи́ческие достиже́ния – tekhnalaguitcheskiyé dastijeniya), mainly from the Soviets and the Americans. In October 1957, the Soviets sent the first human-made object into space, the artificial satellite (иску́сственный спу́тник – iskustveny sputnik) Sputnik 1. This event marked the beginning of space exploration by humans and was a key element of the Cold War (Холо́дная война́ – khalodnaya vaina) between the Soviet Union and the United States of America. The aim of this Space Race (косми́ческая го́нка – kasmitcheskaya gonka) was to demonstrate technological superiority, and beyond that, the superiority of a political system (полити́ческая систе́ма – palititcheskaya sistiema). This is our “Star Wars” (Звёздные войны́ – zviozdniye vainy). While the Americans were only beginning to invest (инвести́ровать – investiravat’) in projects related to space, with the creation of NASA in 1958, Russians continued to multiply the feats (умножа́ть по́двиги – oumnajat’ podvigui):
- Still in 1957, barely a month after sending Sputnik 1, they sent the dog (соба́ка – sabaka) Laïka, the first living being to perform an orbital flight (орбита́льный полёт – orbitalny paliot) in space.
- Less than two years later, in January 1959, the Soviet space probe (косми́ческий зонд – kasmitchesky zond) Luna 1 becomes the first artificial object to fly over the Moon.
- In 1961, the Soviets achieved what will remain their major accomplishment: they sent the first man into space (пе́рвый челове́к в ко́смосе – piervy tchelaviek v kosmossiye).
Let’s go! (Пое́хали! – Païekhali)
Yuri Gagarin was selected in 1959 to participate in the training program of the first Soviet cosmonauts (космона́вт – kasmanavt). All candidates were pilots of the air force (пило́т военно-возду́шных сил – pilot vaeenna vazdouchnikh sil). Indeed, they were used to flying at a very high altitude (на о́чень большо́й высоте́ – na otchen’ balchoy vysote), to undergoing strong accelerations (си́льное ускоре́ние – silnaye ouskarienye) and to making parachute jumps (прыжки́ с парашю́том – pryjki s parachiutam). Of the 3000 candidates who were present at the beginning of the selection process (проце́сс отбо́ра – pratsess atbora), only 20 were chosen. Gagarin would distinguish (отлича́ться – atlitchatsa) himself from the others through his modesty (скро́мность – skromnast’), intelligence (интелле́кт – intiellekt), his incredible memory (па́мять – pamiat’) and his mastery of mathematics. During the training, the apprentice cosmonauts performed parachute jumps, maneuvers in the capsule simulator Vostok (In Russian “Восто́к” which means “East”), sparred in a centrifuge (центрифу́га – tsentrifuga) and learned how rockets (раке́та – rakieta) and spaceships (косми́ческий кора́бль – kasmitchesky karabl’) work. They didn’t have the right, under any circumstances (ни под каки́м предло́гом – ni pod kakim predlogam), to reveal the nature of their training.
Meanwhile, Russian technicians (те́хники – tekhniki) sent ships into space, first empty, then with dogs, to design the perfect ship. After two encouraging (обнадёживающиe – obnadiojivaiuchtchye) flights with animals and a dummy replacing the pilot, the scientists finally validated the model of the spaceship that would be used, which they would name Vostok 1.
Two days before his flight, Gagarin wrote a letter (письмо́ – pis’mo) to his pregnant wife. He mentioned the nature of his flight and estimated the chances of success of about 50%. By accepting to participate in this adventure (приключе́ние – prikliutchenye), Yuri Gagarin was aware that he might die. At the time of takeoff, Gagarin happily exclaimed “Поехали!” (Let’s go!). For 90 minutes, his ship flew in orbit around the Earth. The most impressive phase was the return into the terrestrial atmosphere: the abrupt friction of the air (тре́ние во́здуха – treniye vozdukha) set fire to Gagarin’s ship. Fortunately, the thermal shield (теплозащи́тный экра́н – teplazachtchitny ekran) of the ship held up well. From his porthole, Gagarin could see that he was above the USSR, in a region near the Volga, 700km southeast of Moscow. A few kilometers from the ground, he ejected himself (катапульти́роваeться – katapultiravaietsa) from the capsule and ended his descent in parachute.
Still in his orange suit (костю́м – kastium) and white helmet (шлем – chliem), Gagarin saw an old peasant woman (ста́рая крестья́нка – staraya kriestianka) with her daughter, working in a vegetable garden (огоро́д – agarod). He approached, but they got scared and ran away. Nevertheless, he managed to reassure them by shouting: “Do not be afraid, I am a Soviet like you, I just came back from space and I must call Moscow!”.
Two days later, Gagarin was welcomed as a hero (его встречают как героя – ievo vstretchaiut kak gueroya) in the Red Square, Moscow. News of his exploit was spread around the world and restored the image (восстанови́ть прести́ж – vasstanavit’ priestij) of the Soviet Union, which had beforehand beenperceived as a backward and ravaged country after the serious consequences (тяжёлые после́дствия – tiajoliye pasliedstviya) of the World War II (Втора́я мирова́я война́ – vtaraya miravaya va’ina). This considerable feat led to a reaction by the United States, which did not want to be beaten in the Space Race. On 25th of May 1961, President John Kennedy gave a historical speech (истори́ческая речь – istaritcheskaya rietch), in which he announced that the country would send men to the Moon before the end of the decade.
“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind“
The American program “Apollo” was created by NASA in 1961 with the objective of sending men to the Moon (посла́ть челове́ка на Луну́ – paslat’ tchelavieka na Lunu) before the end of the decade. This mission was launched in a context where, until then, the USSR had demonstrated its technological superiority (техни́ческое превосхо́дство – tekhnitcheskoye prievoskhodstva) by sending the first satellite and the first man in terrestrial orbit into space. The USA thus lost some international prestige, to the benefit of (в по́льзу – v polzu) the Soviet Union.
The crew of Apollo 11, composed of the famous Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, settled into the ship on the 16th of July 1969. After 3 days of trip (путеше́ствие – putechestvye), the ship is put in orbit around the Moon. Armstrong and Aldrin boarded the lunar module (лу́нный мо́дуль – lunny modul’), while Collins stayed in the main ship. Cameras filmed the spacewalk of the two astronauts and the images were broadcast live (в прямо́м эфи́ре – v priamom efirie) on television all over the world. Between 500 and 600 million people watched this event (собы́тие – sabytiye). When Armstrong took his first steps on the Moon, he spoke this famous phrase: “That’s a small step for a man, but a giant leap for humanity”. The astronauts stayed 21 hours on the Moon. They deployed scientific instruments, took pictures and collected samples (образцы́ – abraztsy) from the lunar soil.
Three days later, they finally returned to Earth (Земля́ – zemlia). The ship landed in the Pacific Ocean, and the astronauts were picked up by an American aircraft carrier (авиано́сец – avianossiets) waiting for them there. When returning to American soil in Hawaii, they declared (деклари́ровать – deklariravat’) samples from the Moon to the customs. During the next 3 weeks, the astronauts were quarantined (на каранти́н – na karantin) in case they had been contaminated by extraterrestrial viruses.
The outcome (заверше́ние – zaversheniyé) of the Apollo 11 project allowed the United States not only to catch up, but to overtake the Soviet Union in the race for space. The Russians had indeed developed a lunar space program, but because of many failures (прова́лы – pravaly) and too much cost, were forced to abandon it. The Americans returned to the Moon 5 times between 1969 and 1972. This is the last time men walked on the Moon. From then on, agencies have preferred to send robots to carry out missions (проводи́ть ми́ссии – pravadit’ missii) into space, it is much cheaper!
Other space projects
US and Soviet probes were sent to fly over and photograph other stars and planets, and even to land (приземли́ться – prizemlit’sa) there. The Soviets were the first to send probes to the Moon and Venus, while the American probes reached Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. The probes allowed some great discoveries (вели́кие откры́тия – velikiyé atkrytiya). For example, the American probe Mars Odyssey, launched in 2001, revealed that there were large amounts of water on Mars. Generally, the probes make it possible to collect information (собира́ть информа́цию – sabirat’ infarmatsiou) on the constitution of a planet or a star, with some even bringing back samples to Earth.
Space stations (косми́ческая ста́нция – kasmitcheskaya stantsiya)
The Soviets first had the idea of building a space station. They launched no less than eight stations from 1971, under the name Saliut (“салют” which means “hi” or “fireworks”), before being replaced in 1986 by the space station “Mir” (from the Russian word “Мир” which means peace or world). The goal was to set a large ship in terrestrial orbit to conduct experiments (проведе́ние экспериме́нтов – pravedeniyé experimentov) in biology, physics, astronomy and meteorology. The space stations can accommodate (приня́ть у себя́ – priniat’ u sebia) several crew members for long stays of several weeks or even months. The most important station is the international space station (ISS), which is the result of cooperation (сотру́дничество – satroudnitchestva) between the USA, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada. It is supplied with energy by solar panels (со́лнечные пане́ли – solnetchnye paniéli). The ISS has been continuously inhabited since 2000 and will remain in operation until at least 2028.
Technological advances related to space exploration
We are not always aware of it, but the conquest of space has really revolutionized (революционизи́ровать – riévalioutsiniziravat’) our way of life. Many technologies have been invented thanks to (благодаря́ – blagadaria) the conquest of space.
Modern computers (совреме́нные компью́теры – savremennye kampioutiéry)
The Apollo program used the first integrated circuit computer in 1966. In the aftermath, the computer memory underwent significant development (разви́тие – razvitie), then the industry (промы́шленность – pramychliénnast’) began to mass produce this kind of computer, the cost was reduced, and this resulted in the first modern computers.
The solar panels
The first photovoltaic cells (со́лнечный элеме́нт – solnietchny èlemiènt) were invented in the 60’s to power satellites and space stations. It took many years for these cells to be improved (улу́чшить – ouloutchit’) and to have their cost (сто́имость – stoïmost’) reduced to become profitable.
Satellites are now present in large numbers (в большо́м коли́честве – v bolchom kalitchestvié) around our planet and they are useful in many fields: mobile satellite telephony, weather forecasting (прогно́з пого́ды – pragnoz pagody), navigation systems (навигацио́нная систе́ма – navigatsionnaya sistiéma), satellite TV, emergency beacons (сигна́л бе́дствия – sig’nal biédstviya). Regarding navigation systems, the American GPS (Global Positioning System) is used almost everywhere. To no longer depend on (зави́сеть – zavissiét’) the system controlled by the Americans, the Europeans are setting up their own system, “Galileo”, which will be more precise. Russia has also developed its own system called “GLONASS” which has been operating since 2011.
Medical imaging (медици́нская визуализация – miéditsinskaya vizoualizatsiya)
Technologies such as nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) (магни́тно-резона́нсная томогра́фия (МРТ) – mag’nitna riézonansnaya tamagrafiya) used for diagnosis in the medical field were first developed for spatial imagery.
Fire-resistant clothes (огнесто́йкие оде́жды – ag’niéctoïkiyé adiéjdy)
Fireproof textiles worn by firefighters (пожа́рные – pajarnye) have their origin in the suits worn by astronauts. These jumpsuits were intended to protect (защища́ть – zashishat’) them from sun rays and micrometeorites.
Even if the progress achieved is already enormous, we are only at the beginning (нача́ла – natchala) of space exploration: 99% of the universe is still unexplored. For now, technological and budgetary constraints (ограниче́ния – arganitchéniya) prevent us from taking people farther than the Moon. However, more and more experts around the world admit that if mankind remains on Earth, it will die out. Many reasons support this view: global warming (глоба́льное потепле́ние – glabalnoyé patiépliéniyé), environmental disturbances, demographic explosion, or to a lesser extent, the possibility of being hit by an asteroid or decimated by some more advanced extraterrestrial civilization. Space conquest is not simply an accomplishment (выполне́ние – vypolniéniyé) of humanity’s will to always go further, it is also a primordial step towards its survival (выжива́ние – vyrajéniyé) over the very long term.