The US-Russia Space Race: An exercise in Cold War brinkmanship (More Key Events)

The US-Russia Space Race: An exercise in Cold War brinkmanship

October 4, 1957: The Soviet Union launches the world’s first satellite, Sputnik 1, stunning the United States November 3, 1957: The Soviet Union puts the first animal in space, a dog called Laika who orbits the Earth but dies in the process.

January 1, 1958: America successfully launches its first Earth satellite.

October 1, 1958: America sets up the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA.

September 12, 1959: The Soviet Union launches the first spacecraft, Luna 2, to reach the surface of the Moon.

August 19, 1960: The Soviet Union launches a spacecraft carrying two dogs, Belka and Strelka. The two dogs survive the mission and return to Earth, paving the way for the first manned space flight.

April 12, 1961: Yuri Gagarin becomes the first human to journey into outer space orbiting the Earth once in a flight that lasted 108 minutes.

May 5, 1961: America’s Alan Shepard completes a suborbital journey into space.

February 20, 1962: America’s John Glenn orbits the Earth three times.

June 16, 1963: Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova becomes the first woman to travel into space.

January 27, 1967: America’s Apollo 1 Moon mission ends in tragedy as it catches fire during a launch test killing three crew members.

July 16, 1969: America’s historic Apollo 11 mission lands on the Moon.

July 20, 1969: America’s Neil Armstrong becomes the first human to walk on the Moon.

November 17, 1970: The Soviet Union lands a remote-controlled robot on the Moon in another world first. America does the same the following year.

April 19,1971: The Soviet Union launches the first space station, Salyut 1.

April 12, 1981: America launches its first Space Shuttle in orbit.

1986: The Soviet Union launches what will become the first permanently-manned space station. Mir. It is permanently manned from 1989-1999 but decommissioned in 2001 by Russia which is struggling to fund what is left of the Soviet space programme.


Russia groans under the weight of its rubbish

Russia groans under the weight of its rubbish

Landfill areas in Russia are bigger than some countries and authorities call for more recycling and tougher action against pollution.

With more than 2,000 square km of rubbish and solid waste rotting across Russia, the total area is six times the size of Malta.

Only 30 per cent of Russia’s waste is recycled properly, leading to 80 billion tons being dumped across the country.

The volume increases by 7 billion tons each year, the Federation Council’s first vice-speaker Alexander Torshin said at a national ecological forum, Moskovsky Komsomolets reported.

Vladimir Putin has also warned that the authorities need to act if they want to change the ecological situation in the country.

The Prime Minister said that about 15 per cent of Russian territory is in poor ecological condition, Interfax reported.

“In almost all of the country’s regions air and water pollution remain high,” Putin said at a meeting devoted to improving Russia’s ecology.

Federation Council first vice-speaker Alexander Torshin suggests that in the coming years we will begin mining trash piles for secondary resources (he continues to suggest that this could rival Gas/Oil as a source of resources/wealth)


(Via Johnson’s Russia List)

Medvedev sets sights on cleaner public procurement with new Russian laws

Medvedev sets sights on cleaner public procurement with new Russian laws

As three government departments set about drawing up a new Public Procurement Law, President Medvedev reiterated the need for more openness in the procurement system last week, calling for tougher anti-corruption measures.

“I repeat that we need clear, transparent and effective rules in the state procurement system, especially as concerns planning state procurement needs, setting the initial purchase prices for goods and services, and managing and monitoring the way contracts are performed,” he said at a meeting to discuss the execution of presidential instructions.

The Federal Anti-Monopoly Service, the Finance Ministry and Economic Development Ministry are drawing up new legislation that better regulates the state procurement process.

Kickbacks in state procurement programs have been a serious problem in Russia, with Konstantin Chuichenko, head of the presidential oversight administration, estimating last November that they amount to one trillion rubles ($32.5 billion) a year.

(Via Modern Russia)

Russia employs Arctic brigade to defend oil and gas reserves

Russia employs Arctic brigade to defend oil and gas reserves

The move follows a muscular series of comments from the deputy head of Russia’s Border Service Colonel-General Vycheslav Dorokhin who said the Kremlin planned to build up its forces in the region to better patrol its Arctic territorial waters.

The troops will be based in the far northern town of Pechenga on Russia’s Kola Peninsula close to the Norwegian and Finnish borders and will be combat-ready later this year.

Russian military planners said they had studied the way Arctic troops in Norway and Finland operated and had ordered in the necessary winterised clothing and arms for the new brigade which could number up to 8,000 troops.

In particular, he said Russia wanted to step up patrols of the strategically important North East shipping passage.

“Our potential there will be built up. We won’t let anyone feel themselves free (to move about as they please) in the Arctic.”

Russia, the United States, Canada, Denmark and Norway are all locked in a race to grab a slice of the northern wilderness after US researchers predicted that global warming might leave the area ice-free, and therefore more easily navigable and explored, as early as 2030.

Experts say the region potentially contains one fifth of the world’s oil and gas reserves and that the swath of Arctic territory claimed specifically by Russia could be home to oil supplies double the size of Saudi Arabia’s proven reserves.

(Via The Telegraph; by the interesting journalist Andrew Osborn)

Fighting terrorism with tourism

Fighting terrorism with tourism

The drive from Vladikavkaz airport into the North Ossetian capital passes through the village of Beslan and by the monument to 33 4 victims, – more than half of them children – of the 2004 school siege that won the region global notoriety. “A horrific tragedy; several of my relatives are buried here,” says Oleg Karsanov, the republic’s tourism minister, as we pass by the graves, the nearby mountains obscured by overcast skies.

Mr Karsanov is determined to rebrand his native North Ossetia and turn the mountainous republic into a magnet for tourists. After holding several posts in local government, he was tasked with nurturing regional tourism; he had developed a solid bank of targets four years before the federal model appeared. Oleg Karsanov’s plan is two-pronged: to build up basic infrastructure such as roads, plumbing and electricity via state grants, and to provide incentives for investors to open hotels and other amenities. The minister initially hopes for the support of the large North Ossetian diaspora in Russia and abroad, which includes such names as the former national football coach Valery Gazzaev and the conductor Valery Gergiev.

Rostislav Khortiev, 50, a businessman, has already taken the plunge, returning from Siberia three years ago to build a £1.7m hotel project 75 miles from Vladikavkaz. Employing 35 people, the hotel hosts groups from across Russia on skiing and fishing packages. “It’s a great place to make an ethnic village for tourists,” Mr Karsanov gleams.

The most ambitious element of the plan revolves around Mamison, a $1bn (£615m) ski resort under construction two hours’ journey south-west of Vladikavkaz. “Unfortunately, there are still few – if any – world-class ski resorts in Russia. Mamison will offer our countrymen the opportunity to experience world-class skiing without leaving the country,” Mr Karsanov says.

There is stiff competition across the North Caucasus for a piece of the federal funding pie. The Sochi Olympic Winter Games in 2014 will help, Mr Karsanov believes.

(don’t miss the Photo slideshow and Audio documentary on the page in the link!  [Via Russia and India Today])

Flying into history in 108 minutes

Flying into history in 108 minutes

Fifty years ago on April 12, with a stirring cry of “Let’s Go!” (Poekhali), cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin raced on a Soviet rocket to become the first human to go into outer space. Launching in the Vostok spacecraft from Kazakhstan at 9.06 a.m. that radiant sunny day in 1961, the 27-year-old son of a carpenter circled the Earth once on a 108-minute space flight before parachuting safely to the ground in the Saratovregion of the U.S.S.R.

This short but epic foray into outer space inspired millions of people around the globe, and ignited a Cold War race between the superpowers for technological superiority.

Space exploration has, however, become increasingly cooperative since the end of the Cold War, especially with the ongoing assembly of the 18-country International Space Station (ISS). Amid the unfolding competition, one thing has not changed: on April 12, Russians everywhere honour the space odyssey legacy embodied by Gagarin. “Space will always remain a priority of ours. Russia is a world leader in the commercial satellite launch market, which helps to propel its space industry.

(Via Russia and India Today)

Alcohol blamed for half of Russia’s premature deaths

Alcohol blamed for half of Russia’s premature deaths

Excessive drinking causes nearly half of all deaths among Russian men of working age, researchers have found. British researchers who investigated drinking habits in one town in the Urals found men were imbibing colognes, medical tinctures and cleaning agents containing up 97 per cent alcohol.

Past studies have suggested that Russian men drink more than 15 litres of pure alcohol a year on average – equivalent to a 70cl bottle of spirits a week.

Professor David Leon and colleagues from the LSHTM and the Social Technologies Institute in Izhevsk say earlier research has neglected the “vast area of manufactured alcohol” and the significant contribution it makes to the death rate.

“We only came across it when we were sitting round a table with our colleagues in Izhevsk and asking what could men be drinking,” said Professor Leon. “They mentioned tinctures and eau de colognes. We had no idea this was going on.”

A 100ml bottle of Hawthorn tincture is more than 90 per cent alcohol and costs 15 roubles (35p), compared with the cheapest vodka which is 70 roubles for a standard bottle (700ml) and only 40 per cent alcohol. “Not only is it cheaper unit for unit of alcohol, but because it comes in smaller bottles it is cheaper to buy,” said Professor Leon. “We have pictures of eau de colognes – shelves and shelves of them displayed like a drinks counter in a supermarket rather than an aftershave counter. In Omsk we visited a shop where the top shelf carried a row of eau de colognes, the next one bottles of anti-freeze and the one below that cleaning fluids. They all contained ethanol – the way they were displayed was testimony to the fact that they were being sold for their ethanol.”

Professor Leon said men who turned to these products had entered a downward spiral that accelerated as their drinking increased.

(Via The Independent)

A Day That Shook The World: Chernobyl disaster

A Day That Shook The World: Chernobyl disaster

On 27 April 1986, the Chernobyl atomic power plant near Kiev in the USSR exploded in the world’s worst ever nuclear disaster.

The ensuing crisis was totally mismanaged by Soviet authorities, and spread radioactive material halfway around the world, causing untold harm – and the deaths of many of the workers battling to contain the meltdown.

The disaster would put the whole future of nuclear power in doubt across the world.

Watch original British footage from the disaster after the link.

(Via The Independent.Co.Uk

Fallout from Chernobyl in Poland

Fallout from Chernobyl in Poland


It is not uncommon today to read, or hear that the effects of the Chernobyl accident “have been greatly exaggerated” and that “only” 31 people died immediately when the disaster occurred (particularly as people rushed to minimize the dangers posed by Japanese Reactors following the recent earthquakes).

Naturally, the former Soviet republics of Belarus and Ukraine come to mind quickly. But what about other countries?

Poland was the third country profoundly affected by Chernobyl.

It was a glorious late-spring time, sunny, warm, blue sky, light breeze. On Sunday evening, April 27th, the wind became very strong and changed direction.  Many people had similar feelings of sleeping badly that night, waking several times and sweating. “It must be that hot eastern wind”, people commented.

The sister of the journalist, aged 40 at the time, a scientist in the field of fishery and hydrobiology, spent the day working on lakes in north-east Poland, about 40 miles from the former USSR border. On April 29th, the evening news on Polish TV was interrupted by a special communiqué from Moscow. “There was an accident in Ukraine nuclear power-station. “Shortage of tincture of iodine, all sold out” – a perplexed, tired looking lady chemist announced. (Iodine tablets did not exist in Poland).

My parents had a small bottle of iodine tincture at home. Ten million Polish children continued their normal school routine getting plenty of “fresh air” in their usual sport and outdoor exercise activities.

March 18th 2011 marked the 10th anniversary of her death.

(via The Irish Times)