Friday, 29 November 2013

Buran: triumph and tragedy of the Russian space shuttle

Another anniversary! It's 25 years since the first and last space flight of the Soviet Space Shuttle, Buran (Russian for snowstorm). An audacious copy of the American Space Shuttle, the Soviet's version of  a"reusable" spacecraft was, in many respects, technically superior and took only 10 years to develop (compared to 15 years for NASA's shuttle).  

It was an example of the triumph of Soviet technical know-how and expertise in the space race.  It was first space shuttle to perform an unmanned flight, including landing in fully automatic mode. The ability to fly the shuttle into space, have it perform two orbits then land it on a runway - meters from its intended destination, all on autopilot, demonstrated the technical brilliance of the scientists employed in the space program. 

This is how the old Soviet new agency TASS (Telegraph Agency Sovietsky Soyuz) announced it:

"November 15, 1988 was marked by the formidable success of the Buran space shuttle flight in Soviet Union. After the departure of the Energia launcher and Buran shuttle, the orbital shuttle was placed on its orbit, made two rotations around the Earth and finally landed on the cosmodrome at Baikonur . . . . . .It is the extraordinary outcome of the technology and science of our nation, opening a new way in the Soviet program for the space studies.  It was the first and until now the only landing in automatic mode of a shuttle in the history of the aerospace. This new and outstanding fact in the space conquest was gained brilliantly by the science and Soviet technology."

The automatic unmanned flight did, however, mask a serious flaw in Buran's design.  Although it was intended to carry as many as ten crew members, including four pilots, there was no room for life support systems on the shuttle, so they had no choice but to fly it in auto-mode.

Perhaps the Soviet electronics industry, driven primarily by military considerations, did not have the commercial impetus towards miniaturisation that their western counterpart did, and so could not shrink all that sophisticated equipment to a size suitable for a manned shuttle flight. 

I vaguely remember an old Russian joke which was a wry comment on the Soviet's obsession with gigantism in their propaganda: The USSR has created a new microchip – it's the biggest in the world!

A full size mock up which resides in Gorky Park, Moscow

The tragedy was that it was not economically viable for commercial use and, thanks to the end of the Cold War, its military role was surplus to requirements. The collapse of the Soviet Union effectively brought an end to the Cold War, but it was the consequent economic dislocation and squeeze on budgets in the new shrunken Russian state, which ultimately put paid to the Soviet space shuttle program. 

Thursday, 21 November 2013

McEwan's Best Scotch - Moscow (1988, UK)

Russia - nice place, shame about the beer!

Can't believe its 25 years since this advert came out.  Some classic lines in there "they've only got propaganda, not propa Geordie brew"

Friday, 15 November 2013

GQ Magazine 25 Years Old

Its 25 years since British men's style magazine "Gentlemen's Quarterly" first hit the news stands in the UK.  Originally a quarterly publication, hence the name, GQ is now a successful monthly publication with worldwide readership.  What is the relevance here, I hear you ask?  Well, apart from the fact that GQ has published a Russian version for a couple of years now, I used to buy GQ back in 1988.  I clearly remember some adverts in that first edition which were advertising clothes by "Sisley", mainly because I cut them out and still have them (loser!), which were  themed "Moscow Tour".  I kept the adverts because I loved the images of Moscow.  Here are two of them.  They are poor scans - as they were done years ago; but I will dig out the originals and re-scan them.

On Manage Square, in front of Moscow Hotel.  On the advert, I'm sure there was some caption "you must be some kind of idiotsky to speed down Prospekt Marx on a motorbike"

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Russia House scene locations "bagged"

I've just returned from a short break with my family in London, originally for four nights, but owing to the storms and the subsequent cancelled trains, we were forced to stop another night - such a hardship!

Anyway, the trip presented an opportunity to "bag" some locations from The Russia House movie. With careful planning of routes, tube maps, I managed to persuade the missus that we could make a couple of diversions to our itinerary. 

 First stop, King Charles Street, Whitehall. After being on the London Eye, we walked across Westminster Bridge to Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. From there, we walked up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square.  En route, we passed King Charles Street which is the first side-street you come to (on the left, heading towards Trafalgar Square) and runs parallel to Downing Street. This street, or at least a room in a building purporting to be on this street was where the secret service discuss the importance of the notebooks passed to them by a disaffected soviet scientist, Danté (Yakov Yefremovich Savelyev, played by Klaus Van Brandauer).

The scene is set with the camera panning past the statue of King Charles,which stand at the top of the steps facing St James's Park, and focusing on a window of a building on the corner of the street.

The second location I visited was the location of the street training scene in which Ned (James Fox) teaches Barley (Sean Connery) how to make contact with a "source" when out in the field."the source is the star of the show and the star decides whether to make the meeting or abort". 

It has taken me years to find this location - an earlier blog post describes how I found it. I always felt that the scene was filmed in an area around Victoria in London; in fact, it was filmed on Symons Street, just off Sloane Square in Knightsbridge, so I wasn't too wide of the mark with my Victoria guess.  It was great to finally walk along this street, but I was a bit disappointed because so much has changed since the film was shot here over twenty years ago.