The Race to Space

Mikhail Khomyakov working on Sputnik I as the lead designer 

The Soviet Union was always up for a challenge and strived for new scientific exploration. They were the first state to set up drifting stations at the North Pole, and now they wanted to beat the United States by being the first ones to send something man-made into space.

During the race into space, the Soviet Union was originally trying to send Object D (Sputnik III) into space first in April 1958. However, the United States planned to launch the first American satellite on July 1, 1957. There’s no way the Soviet Union would let the US beat them into space, so they designed a much more simpler satellite. It was projected that this satellite would be launched in April-May 1957 with only essential equipment on-board.

On 4 October 1957, Sputnik was launched from the Tyuratam launch base in the Kazakh Republic. It weight 184 pounds and circled the Earth every hour and 36 minutes. It was visible with binoculars before sunrise and after sunset, and it transmitted a signal strong enough that amateur radio operators could listen to it. In January 1958, Sputnik’s orbit deteriorated and burned in the atmosphere.

The launch of Sputnik I was a major victory for the Soviet Union in the space, and everyone that worked on the project was praised by the country. The Soviet Union shocked the world, especially the US and the space race with them was ignited.


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Freedom from the Gulags

This photo captures prisoners building living quarters for themselves; one of many jobs they were tasked to do.

After Stalin’s death on March 5, 1953, a lot of changes would soon be occurring in the Soviet Union; one of them being the De-Stalination of the Gulags. On March 27, 1953, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR issued an amnesty to release prisoners that fall under the following: “persons sentenced for up to five years, those convicted of economic and military crimes regardless of their terms of imprisonment, women with children under 10 years of age or who were pregnant, juveniles up to age 18, men over 55 years of age and women over 50 years of age, and convicts suffering from incurable diseases.”

This was a huge step for the De-Stalination of the Soviet Union, because millions of people would be released from the Gulags; 1.5 million being released in the first 3 months of the amnesty. However, many released prisoners would never be integrated back into society, and the horrors of the Gulags would not be exposed until many years later.

Gulag was the acronym for the Main Administration of Corrective Labor Camps. At these camps prisoners were expected to work 14 hours per day and they experienced grueling physical work. Prisoners were only fed enough to keep them alive, but it was not enough to sustain them for the work they were doing. Many prisoners would die of hunger, cold, or from the injuries they would suffer throughout their time there.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

It seems as if the life of the prisoners were kept secret from the rest of the world and when released, prisoners were too scared to speak up. I believe both would be true, until Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn stepped up. After fighting for the Soviet Union in WWII, Aleksandr was arrested for writing a letter that criticized Stalin. He then spent 8 years in a Gulag and 3 years in enforced exile. In 1956, Aleksandr was allowed to settle in Ryazan, located in central Russia. In 1962 Aleksandr released his short novel, Odin Den iz zhizni Ivan Denisovicha (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich), which was about his experiences in the Gulag. This novel inspired many other writers to produce accounts of their imprisonment under Stalin’s regime and inform the world of the true horrors that lie within the Gulags.




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Exploration of the Poles


Setting up of North Pole-1 which was the first ever drifting station


The exploration of the North and South Poles became a race between the Western States and the Soviet Union during the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s. The Soviet Union wanted to establish communities in the polar regions as well as conditions for long-term scientific study; Joseph Stalin stated that scientific exploration and progress would improve human life. On February 1, 1938, the first drifting station was established and named North Pole-1.

Ivan Papanin at North Pole-1

Led by Ivan Papanin, North Pole-1 had a crew of four which included a Oceanographer, Meteorologist, and Radio Operator. The station lasted for 274 days and traveled over 2500 km but came to an end when their drift started to break apart. The crew worked 16 hours each day measuring the ocean depth, gathering bottom soil samples, measuring the water temperatures, took water samples from different levers, and carried out meteorological observations.

North Pole-1 opened up a door of exploration for the Soviet Union. They were able to learn a lot about the North Pole and the Atlantic Ocean, but they also knew there was much more to learn. To this day Russia conducts North Pole expeditions to continue their research on the Arctic.






Image Source:–Soviet-Arctic-explorer-SS2370448.html



Revolution within the Russian Army


Russian soldiers take to the streets to protest in Petrograd in April 1917

By 1917, three years into World War I, Russia had drafted nearly 15 million men to serve in the army; a majority of them being peasants. After years of fighting, soldiers would question why they were even fighting and just wanted to return back home to their families. With Tsar Nicholas II commanding the Russian army, all the blame for their unsuccessful military campaigns would be given to him. It was soon noticed how the Russian military was falling apart.

The revolution within the Russian military played a prominent role in the abdication of the Tsar as well as the Russian Revolution. On 23 February 1917, the Cossack cavalry refused the order given to them to shoot the protesting women workers in Petrograd. Within days, strikes and demonstrations brought the city to a standstill, eventually leading to a mutiny among the troops garrisoning the city. The first regiment to rebel was the Volhynsky. They were disturbed by their ordered to shoot-to-kill, soon after other regiments would follow and joined the protests.

During the first few weeks of the revolution the Russian Army had lost between 100,000 and 150,000 soldiers to desertion. The majority of those deserting were peasants who returned to their homes expecting a division on land would occur. There were even arrests or executions taking place in the military, and they were replaced by more popular leaders.

With a revolution starting to occur and the mutiny of his soldiers, the Tsar had no one who support him or to enforce his rule. On 27 February  70,000 troops along with 400,000 strikers marched in the streets of Petrograd, leading to the arrests of the Tsar’s ministers. On 1 March the Tsar’s remaining loyal soldiers, in Petrograd, surrendered. The Russian Army High Command recommended that the Tsar abdicate in favor of a more popular member of the royal family. On 2 March the Tsar  was forced to abdicate.


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Church of the Resurrection

Russian Church

Located on the banks of the Volga River, the city of Kostroma houses a prime example of 17th century Russian art; the Church of the Resurrection in the Grove. The church is the only surviving building in Kostroma that was built in the 17th century (Church of the Resurrection). It is not only admired by its aesthetically pleasing exterior, but also by the frescoes painted on the interior walls.

The Church of the Resurrection in the Grove was built from 1630 to 1645 and the frescoes were painted on the interior from 1650 to 1652 (Prokudin-Gorskii). Legend has it that the church was erected from the money gathered by merchants and tradesmen of the city. The main contribution came from merchant Kirill Isakov who found a barrel full of gold among his goods, and he hoped to use this money for a good purpose (Resurrection Church on the Debra).

The architects who created the church are unknown, but believed that they arrived from Yaroslavl and Veliky Ustyug; while the paintings were made by Arteli Vasili Zapookrovsky and the frescoes by Gury Nikitin (Revolvy). One of the reasons I believe the church and the frescoes remain dear to the residents of Kostroma, is that Gury Nikitin resided in Kostroma and was well known throughout the Empire.

Eventually the church closed in 1930 and its walls were made into a granary, while the basement became a military warehouse up until 1946 where it eventually re-opened (Revolvy). Over the years it has been restored to what is believed to be its original appearance and it remains one of the most sacred sites in Kostroma.


“Church of the Resurrection.” Church of the Resurrection – Kostroma, Russia,

Prokudin-Gorskii, Sergei Mikhailovich 1863-1944. “Church of the Resurrection in the Grove (From the Other Side). Kostroma.” WDL RSS, Library of Congress, 1 Jan. 1970,

Resurrection Church on the Debra,

Revolvy, LLC. “Church of the Resurrection, Kostroma.” Revolvy,

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Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii. Church of the Resurrection in the Grove, 1910. Digital color rendering. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-03975 (48)