Where did these photos of Soviet space programs come from?
October 12, 2013 10:28 AM   Subscribe

I found these two mini-portfolios of two (Mir and Buran) Soviet space programs at a thrift store, but I'm having a little trouble figuring out where they're from. On the front they both have Russian words, but inside, the list of photographs is in English. Who was the audience? Are they souvenirs? If so, why English when it seems highly unlikely that english-speakers were touring Soviet space complexes in the Eighties? If you can tell me what the covers say, that might help clarify what these are. Propaganda, souvenirs, spy stuff?

I found them in a thrift store in Pennsylvania. The photos are 18mm x 12mm and appear to be actual photographic prints. Each is numbered in pencil, by hand, on the back to correspond with the portfolio lists. Any context you could provide would be appreciated.
posted by Toekneesan to Science & Nature (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly, they look like publicity photos or a media kit for internal Soviet use or for foreign journalists. I recall the Buran launch and landing making the news in the '80s and the Soviets were clearly proud of their ability with it and Mir. So a publicity kit makes sense.

I *think* the cover of the Mir one says "operational communications (Mir)"
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:43 AM on October 12, 2013

"Orbital Complex" MIR
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 12:05 PM on October 12, 2013

Maybe just leftover material from an exhibition or a display from a museum or a university?
posted by pipeski at 12:21 PM on October 12, 2013

My guess would be 'home-made souveniers' Amateur/home darkrooms were VERY popular back in late soviet times...the small size (to save paper...or did you mean cm?) and separate catalog list (probably available in a few languages, though english would probably have been most common) would support this. I saw a lot of this kind of stuff over there in '89.
posted by sexyrobot at 1:02 PM on October 12, 2013

Response by poster: Yes, I meant cm, or about 5 x 7 inches.
posted by Toekneesan at 1:08 PM on October 12, 2013

If so, why English when it seems highly unlikely that english-speakers were touring Soviet space complexes in the Eighties?

Keep in mind that both the US and USSR maintained their space programs as exemplars of technological progress and national pride.

While the secrecy surrounding many aspects of the Soviet space program is well-documented (James Oberg made a career out of ferreting stuff out), they definitely promoted their successes and were justifiably proud of their Buran program. However much it looks like a Shuttle clone, it had (and ours did not) independent robotic flight capability including return to earth and runway landing.

My expectation is that these may have been handed out at an air show; the typewritten explanation in English may have been included in multiple languages as a handout. Buran was displayed at the Paris Air Show in 1989.

The USENET group sci.space (and subgroups; perhaps sci.space.history would be even better) tends to have a very knowledgeable population and I'm sure they would be fascinated to see these. If you post them there, I think there's a good chance you'll find a collector who knows specifically where and when these were published.
posted by dhartung at 5:43 PM on October 12, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks, dhartung. I've posted there, too.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:13 PM on October 12, 2013

Response by poster: Also, small detail but worth noting, it's not typed. If you look close you'll see the captions were printed using a dot matrix printer. Also, the only obvious typo I found was "Photoes." in the last paragraph of the Mir captions.

The portfolios are constructed out of a single piece of cardboard which wraps around the set and has a flap. The cover and captions seem glued onto the cardboard, captions on the inside, and the back of the portfolios are reinforced with a glossy white piece of paper.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:26 PM on October 12, 2013

Response by poster: Heh, speaking of typos, I called this site AskMetafiler on the sci.space.history forum.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:28 PM on October 12, 2013

I will say on closer investigation it isn't nearly as active as when I last checked. USENET is dying off even among the graybeard ARPANET crowd....

After some poking, NASASpaceflight.com has some pretty active web forums, but at least part of them do require a subscription to use. Here's the Russian Launchers forum; here's Historical Spaceflight.
posted by dhartung at 12:40 AM on October 13, 2013

In the 90's there was a big exhibit of the Soviet Space program at a museum in Dallas. Perhaps this exhibit travelled around the country. Maybe this was a souvenir or part of a press packet?
posted by chillmost at 6:26 AM on October 13, 2013

Collectspace.com has active forums, all of which are free. Quora has several people who have worked on Apollo, Shuttle or the ISS and they might chime in.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:10 AM on October 13, 2013

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