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The Space Race

Onetime rivals are now partners. A new exhibition and an IMAX film, Mission to Mir, tell the story

 

  • A Russian spacesuit with a small dagger for fighting off bears and wolves, since the Soviets, having decided against ocean landings, needed to equip their cosmonauts for rural landings in the U.S.S.R.

     

  • A mannequin named Ivan Ivanovich (John Doe), sent up to test the resistance of Vostok life-support systems to the 10-G impact of landing. It is so lifelike that someone felt compelled to write "Model" on its forehead lest a peasant try to revive it. This dummy might have been what those excited Russian voices in the ham radio rumor were shouting about. The operator had probably heard Soviet flight controllers.

     

  • Yuri Gagarin's ID card as Cosmonaut No. 01, and his training suit, alongside John Glenn's actual spacesuit. The suits are the same size — though Gagarin was about 5 feet 4 and Glenn 5 feet 10 1/2 — because the Russians used natural rubber and we used synthetic rubber, which has stiffened too much to fit around a Glenn-size mannequin.

     

  • The training air lock and spacesuit that Aleksei Leonov used in preparation for the first space walk in 1965. "In the vacuum of space, the suit expanded more than expected," Lewis explains, "so he had to vent some oxygen to fit back through the air lock. The situation was almost catastrophic because he was a few minutes from the cutoff point over Kamchatka where the control people would lose him, and he had no flashlight for when he went out of the sun's light. It was hairy."

     

  • A Soviet moon suit, complete with a built-in life-support backpack.

     

  • A beautiful softball-size navigation globe, a miniature planetarium.

     

  • A doll autographed by an early cosmonaut, optimistically dated the day he expected to return from space. His capsule accidentally depressurized, killing him and two others.

Another part of "Space Race" features our Corona satellite, a secret space camera that was declassified just two years ago. This camera, with its three-inch-wide film, took 800,000 stereoscopic photographs from space, the film canisters ejected and snatched from the air at 60,000 feet to avoid capture.

A video depicts Oklahoman Thomas Stafford and Leonov reminiscing about the first joint American-Soviet spaceflight, Apollo-Soyuz, in 1975. The Soviets had watched our progress for years, Leonov said, and the cosmonauts actually cheered when we landed on the moon. On the mission they co-commanded, Stafford and Leonov jested that they spoke three languages: Russian, English . . . and Oklahoman.

Mission to Mir briefly reviews the Cold War years. After that chilling era came back to me during the movie, it was especially heartwarming to then watch Americans and Russians working and laughing together aboard Mir, especially Shannon Lucid and her cosomaut colleagues, both named Yuri, her little science-fiction library, her warm Oklahoma twang and her great smile. I see that President Boris Yeltsin recently gave her the Russian Order of Friendship. Just right. Wasn't John Glenn's Mercury capsule, back there in the hostile days of 1962, named Friendship 7?

By Michael Kernan

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