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From the start, the Soviet human space program had an identity crisis. Were cosmonauts heroic pilots steering their craft through the dangers of space, or were they mere passengers riding safely aboard fully automated machines? Tensions between Soviet cosmonauts and space engineers were reflected not only in the internal development of the space program but also in Soviet propaganda that wavered between praising daring heroes and flawless technologies. Soviet Space Mythologies explores the history of the Soviet human space program within a political and cultural context, giving particular attention to the two professional groups—space engineers and cosmonauts—who secretly built and publicly represented the program. Drawing on recent scholarship on memory and identity formation, this book shows how both the myths of Soviet official history and privately circulating counter-myths have served as instruments of collective memory and professional identity. These practices shaped the evolving cultural image of the space age in popular Soviet imagination. Soviet Space Mythologies provides a valuable resource for scholars and students of space history, history of technology, and Soviet (and post-Soviet) history.
Slava Gerovitch is a lecturer in the history of mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the author of From Newspeak to Cyberspeak: A History of Soviet Cybernetics and Voices of the Soviet Space Program: Cosmonauts, Soldiers, and Engineers Who Took the USSR into Space.
"Based on prodigious research, and framed within interdisciplinary theoretical constructs, Slava Gerovitch has written a fascinating cultural history of Soviet space mythology and technology. This is a work of profound importance in the cultural history of technology. Elegantly written, with cogent analysis of the process of myth-making, this work dramatically deepens our understanding of the Soviet space project writ large."
—The Russian Review
“This very readable book provides a new insight into the Soviet space programme and the way in which it has been presented to the world, both at the time and subsequently. This fascinating book shows how techniques for the careful manipulation of this particular element of Russian cultural heritage have their origins in the Soviet era.”
—British Journal for the History of Science
“A strong example of synthetic history, drawing upon existing histories of the space program and mining them for insight into the cultures of the Soviet space program and the myths that constituted and sustained them.”
"This book is a fascinating history of the triumphs and failures of the soviet space programme in the 1960s, portraying vividly its leading figures-cosmonauts, engineers and military personnel-caught in the identity split between professional roles and public personas, and positioning them within the complicated technological and institutional settings of Soviet cosmonautics."
“Soviet Space Mythologies makes a major contribution to the history of Soviet space flight and culture. It places the story of Russian space conquest into the broader history of space flight—including references to pioneering scholars in the history of NASA. This is also the first book to focus on the professional identity of the cosmonaut and space engineer.”
—Andrew Jenks, California State University, Long Beach
“Gerovitch’s original history is a new synthesis in the history of Soviet spaceflight, expertly bringing together political and cultural strains with the professional identity of the astronauts and the human/machine systems in which they worked.”
—David A. Mindell, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
“Soviet Space Mythologies succeeds in its ambition to place the Soviet space program squarely at the center of twentieth-century Russian history, and it convincingly demonstrates the benefits of using the study of technology as a means to understand broader social and political dynamics.”
—Journal of Modern History