UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Pop Culture Materials Highlight Soviet Commitment to Manned Lunar Flight, Provide Hints of Actual Plans

A relatively unexamined subject by space historians in regards to the Moon race is the topic of propaganda materials.  I think that, along with official documents, news reports and speeches, these materials help to provide---when included--a more appropriately encompassing, as well as accurate basis for the examination of Soviet intent.  Keeping in mind that all publications of any form during the Soviet era were issuing from official printing presses, and that all materials had to be officially approved for dissemination prior to their printing, it is remarkable at what these materials reveal.

Pop culture items that deal with Soviet aspirations in regards to manned lunar flight include actual agitprop posters, New Year's as well as October Revolution cards, postage stamps, matchbox (for tobacco use) collector's labels, nonfiction as well as fiction books of the time frame, and even songs.  For our purposes, a small, select number of these items will be highlighted not only in the discussion here, but also in the illustrations that appear herein, with descriptive captions.

I have found a number of books issued by the Soviets from the mid- and late 1960s that deal with manned lunar themes.  One book, published in early 1966 entitled Nas Zheduit Luna ("The Moon is Awaiting Us,") contains surprise material in regards to explicit Soviet statements about lunar aims.[67]  In the introduction by Gherman Titov, the cosmonaut writes:

"Cosmonauts do dream, of course.  We have a lot of work, but in our spare time we like to talk about we may see someday on the Moon or Mars or Venus.  As for myself, I dream of flying round the Moon.. Today we can dream in more specific terms than we could before the time of space flights.  We can speak in matter-of-fact terms, although it might be hard to say just what a lunar spaceship will look like and what the first lunar flight program will include.  Flight to the Moon will evidently be preceded by a flight around it.  It may be necessary to solve such problems as placing extra-heavy satellites in orbit round the Earth, setting up manned interplanetary stations, etc., before a Moon launching is undertaken.  In any case, I suppose that today's cosmonauts have a good chance of getting a close view of the Moon."[68]

Additionally, in a discussion of Moonwalking suits, the authors write that "The suit in which the first Soviet cosmonaut will alight on the Moon will be an advanced modification of the design tested by Alexei Leonov when he left the spaceship Voskhod 2 for man's first jaunt in outer space."[69]

Pokoreniye Kosmosa ("The Conquest of Space") published in September 1969, is another book that that provides interesting materials.[70]  Part coffee-table book, the volume has the first accurate renditions of the Zond circumlunar series spacecraft, as well as a partial image of the Luna 15 soil-sample return craft. 

In discussions with retired US intelligence personnel, I had learned that all Soviet-issued books were "vacuumed up" and examined State-side by analysts at the time of their publication release.  Pokoreniye Kosmosa's illustrations (which included the publication of the first color pictures in a Russian venue of any Zond imagery) aided US intelligence in refining their assessments of the configuration of Soviet lunar spacecraft, their capabilities, as well as linked elements in regards to estimating Soviet manned lunar efforts.[12]  A picture excerpt of the Zond spacecraft from this book appears with this article.

Besides books, recently uncovered Soviet posters of the era show a keen interest in lunar exploration, and its explicit tie-in with cosmonauts.  This now can be highlighted with some substantiveness, and some examples are published here with this article.  Apparently from early on-with at least one extant poster from 1961 that has been found--the Soviet government wanted the public to link cosmonauts with exploration to other places in the solar system, especially the Moon.

Furthermore, in an examination of popular culture themes via Russian New Year's, as well as October Revolution cards of the 1960s, the notion of lunar conquest as well as manned activities there have been common themes.  Indeed, there are several that I have identified that deal with cosmonauts and the Moon, and also others that relate to circumlunar flight from the appropriate time frames.  A number of these cards are depicted here with this article. 

Card from 1961 shows cosmonauts upon the Moon Indeed, one of the cards dated 1961 shows cosmonauts upon the Moon.  Additionally, an October Revolution celebratory card from 1967 shows a Soviet Flag planted in an agitprop allusion to not only being first to send spacecraft there, but that the USSR "owned" the territory.

Card from 1967 shows a Soviet Flag planted upon the Moon

Of special note is that I have been able to locate three 1968-vintage (of which two are certain to have been issued in very late 1968) New Year's cards that show circumlunar spaceflights as their theme.  These are among the illustrations seen here with this article.

Adherents of the hobby of phillumeny (the collecting of matchboxes and matchcovers, and matchbooks) are no strangers to Soviet efforts of enclosed propaganda materials such as labels with these tobacco-related products.  In 1961, and again in 1963, the notion of landing on the Moon and cosmonauts engaging in exploration there were highlighted with such items.  Two examples of these labels with lunar landing themes appear in the illustrations with this article.

Music also provided a vehicle for linking Soviet glory and space exploration.  One song with a surprise lunar ending is the famous "My Vasya" sung by Nina Dorda, a pop singer who had hits both in the late 1950s and early 1960s in the USSR.  With a musical arrangement very similar to a Broadway show or Las Vegas revue (echoing the Bobby Darin hit "Across the Sea"), the girl tells her boyfriend he is better than any actor, singer, soccer player, or person of note.  And in the last stanza, she exclaims:

                        "With you it is good to be in Moonlight

To dream of a near, clear day.

When travel on the rockets will begin,

Then you will be the first on the Moon,

My Vasya.

Then you will be the first on the Moon."[71]

While books, posters, cards, matchbox labels and songs echo the desire to send cosmonauts to the Moon, the accumulated materials presently do not specifically pin-point a time frame in which the plans would be made concrete (outside of sometime in the 1960s).  However, an examination of postage stamp and postal envelope issuances may be able to provide such clues, particularly for a Soviet manned circumlunar space shot.

Presently, there is no "smoking gun" in pinpointing such a planned launch via postage stamps and postal envelopes, but there is the situation of notable happenstances.  There is a timeframe coincidence of the issuing of two special postal stationery envelopes for the Zond 5 mission, which were officially released on December 9, 1968, at an apropos time for the launching of a manned circumlunar mission from Tyuratam.[72]  A further peculiarity is that specific philatelic-related commemorations (a stamp, and a souvenir stamp sheet respectively) for the missions of Zonds 5 and  6 did not appear until April 12, 1969, and December 26, 1969-seven months, and well over a year later sequentially. 

In contrast, a stamp set for the Voskhod 1 mission appeared between October 17 and 19 1964, four days after mission completion; an issuance for Voskhod 2 came six days after on March 23, 1965; for Luna 9, an overprinted stamp was issued on February 5, 1966, just five days after its successful soft-landing; and an additional example is that a souvenir stamp sheet was issued for the successful Soyuz 4/5 mission on January 22, 1969-less than a week after the two space ships returned to Earth.[73]  These are indications that designs were already "pre-set" to be released in anticipation of a successful conclusion. 

Our Russia-based colleagues need to search out former USSR Communications, Posts and Telegraphs officials to learn if there had been any planned-yet cancelled-philatelic issuances for the Zonds 5 and 6 missions slated to be released in late 1968, and also whether there may have been a cancelled design commemorating a Soviet manned circumlunar mission from this same timeframe.  Considering that Henry Shapiro was informed of sealed envelopes crossing desks of Moscow-based editorships in late November 1968, there should be an effort made to see if there was further coincident activities via this postal avenue.

If readers feel that the accumulation of the evidence presented so far might perhaps indicate "something strange was going on," allow me to further amplify the strangeness. 

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list