Soviet space propaganda: rocket porn from the past

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Space will be ours. Long live the first woman astronaut!
Space will be ours. Long live the first woman astronaut!

The Cold War and that whole mutual assured destruction thing sure made the space race fun.

Every astronaut strapped into a rocket and sent toward the stars was an ideological finger in the chest of the other side, each mission asserting who had the better technology or, more importantly, the most firepower.

The United States took its licks as the Soviet Union was first to launch a satellite, put a man in space (and then a woman) and execute the first spacewalk. Only after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon could the Americans begin to perceive they were finally winning the race.

But the Reds were absolutely unmatched when it came to using talented illustrators to make the average citizen believe their country would conquer the cosmic frontier.

From 1958 through 1963, when the Soviets were definitely in the lead, artists produced vibrantly colored, pride-swelling posters celebrating the country’s space conquests. Yesterday’s propaganda is high art today.

Nearly every poster featured some sort of ennobled figure (a favorite was Yuri Gagarin, the first in space) plus soaring rockets and the iconic hammer and sickle, symbol of communist Russia. The posters delivered bold slogans, like “Fatherland! You lighted the star of progress and peace. Glory to the science, glory to the labor! Glory to the Soviet regime!”

Under that particular poster, rockets rise up from the Earth, the sphere filled in by one big, red land mass — Mother Russia.

Fatherland! You lighted the star of progress and peace. Glory to the science, glory to the labor! Glory to the Soviet regime!
Fatherland! You lighted the star of progress and peace. Glory to the science, glory to the labor! Glory to the Soviet regime!

Some of these posters have fetched as much as $1,500 at auction.

But just how effective the posters were winning the hearts and minds of the Soviet citizenry is difficult to measure, said Trevor Rockwell, a history professor at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, who researches space propaganda.

“Fundamentally this was about having pride in the Soviet system,” Rockwell said. “If your government prints off millions of these posters and puts them in all sorts of public places, does that make them popular?

“There is a lot of evidence that Soviet people (like Americans) thought that their governments were wasting valuable resources on space exploration. Imagine you are standing in line for some public service or good that you feel your government is failing to adequately deliver. You look up and see one of these posters. You may feel proud, but do you agree that your national resources should be spent on exploring space or international prestige?”

A Cold War of sorts has resurfaced, but it is doubtful that we’ll see new art spring up. Today, U.S. astronauts hitch a ride on Russian rockets and then work side-by-side them at the International Space Station. If either country engages in one-upmanship, Twitter, Instagram or some other social media platform will be the likely vehicle.[avocado-gallery ids=”314192,314193,314194,314195,314196,314197,314198,314199,314200,314201,314202,314203″]