I was taking a walk through the Seattle Centre today when I was surprised to see three Russian sailors sightseeing in full navy uniform (very distinctive especially their caps)! Upon further investigation it turns out that the Russian Federal Agency for Fisheries sailing training ship Pallada was in town. I had heard nothing about this and given that Fleet Week had just ended it sounded like an interesting diversion, so off I went down to the waterfront to check the ship out.
Although Pallada looks like a classic sailing ship from years gone by, she is relatively new. Built in 1989 in the Gdansk (Poland) shipyards for the then USSR (communist era Soviet Union), she is the world’s fastest sailing ship achieving a speed of 18.8 knots.
The ship was open for tours so I went and had a look around. She is impressively maintained and all the ropes (extensive ropes!), masts and sails are kept orderly and in A1 condition. It is quite a large vessel aswell at almost 100 metres long with a crew of 51.
The Pallada has spent 22 years sailing at sea and covered approximately 837,000km including two round the world voyages (1992 and 2007-2008). In 1997 the ship spent 311 days at sea! The ship is used to provide sailing training for navy cadets; and students and apprentices from Russian marine and fisheries colleges and universities.
So why was Pallada suddenly in Seattle? The ship set sail on a goodwill tour to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becoming the first man into space (orbited Earth on April 12th, 1961 aboard Vostok 1) and the 270th anniversary of Russian America exploration by Russian seafarers. Imperial Russia used to own Alaska, known then as Russian America, but sold it to the US in 1867 for $7.2 million (they also had small settlements in California and Hawaii).
There was also a prominent statue bust of Yuri Gagarin and Sergey Korolyov the architect of the Soviet space program (lead engineer and designer for the Soyuz rockets and spacecraft such as Sputnik, Luna and Vostok during the US vs USSR space race of the 1950’s and 1960’s, he died in 1966 and luckily for him never got to see the US finally win that race to the moon). It is interesting that he was always only referred to as Chief Designer and no-one outside of the program and the Soviet Politburo knew his real name until well after his death (a state secret)….good old Cold War cloak and dagger intrigue!
Yuri Gagarin on the other handbecame an international sensation and was the Communist poster boy, sent overseas to promote Soviet space success etc. After this he was in the backup crew for Soyuz 1 (which actually crashed killing the Cosmonaut onboard, Vladimir Komorov a good friend of Yuri’s), due to this crash he never went into outer space again, they did not want to lose a Soviet hero. From there he worked as a training director at the Cosmonaut school “Star City“. He sadly died in a Mig-15UTI training jet crash in 1968 at the age of only 34. He was probably lucky to have returned alive from his space flight in 1961 – he had to eject and parachute from a height of 7km(!) as the Soviet Vostok capsules did not land in the sea like their US counterparts, they crash landed somewhere in Siberia! A book titled “Starman” is an interesting read on the life of Yuri Gagarin.
The Space Race
The Soviet attempts to reach the moon first is an interesting tale. In 1958 they sent 3 probes towards the moon, all failed. In 1959 Luna 1 was meant to impact on the moon’s surface but missed by 6,000km! Then finally Luna 2 smashed into the moon surface in September 1959 and became the first man-made object to “land” on the moon, this was closely followed by Luna 3 which orbited and took the first photos of the dark side of the moon in October 1959 (the Soviets were starting to win the race). From there the plan was to land Cosmonauts on the moon before US Astronauts.
In 1965 Korolyov started work on the massive N1 rocket to take the Cosmonauts to the moon. Apparently the project was not funded or tested adequately, this fact plus the complex and fragile fuel system and Korolyov’s unexpected death in 1966 derailed it’s success. After 4 failed attempts to reach orbit (i.e. most of them blew up! One explosion in 1969 was apparently the largest in the history of rocketry and similar to a small nuclear bomb!) the program was eventually cancelled in 1974 (the first last launch attempt was 1969 and the last in 1971). Note: all the failed launches were unmanned.
The US had success with the Saturn V rockets (which were slightly larger than the N1) and were already well ahead of the Soviets by 1965 , ultimately landing man on the moon of course on July 20th, 1969 (Saturn V rockets were used from 1967 to 1973, also used to launch space station Skylab). The space race had a victor, the United States of America. The Soviets went on to focus on earth orbital craft and space stations and had Mir in orbit from 1986 to 2001. Interestingly a version of the Soyuz rocket from the 1960’s is still in use by the Russians today and is used to resupply the International Space Station and launch satellites (after the failure of the N1 they decided to stick with a good thing).
The whole Soviet moon landing program was kept secret until 1990 when information was released under Glasnost (the fall of the USSR was in 1991). The Soviets broke up the remaining N1 rocket boosters to hide their failures (although I do remember reading in a book about the Space Race that US spy satellites or spyplanes did detect a massive explosion at the Baikonur Cosmodrome rocket launching base in Kazakhstan during that period so they probably had some idea what was going on).
All rockets used by the Soviets and the US were ultimately developments from the GermanV2 rockets of WW2. At the end of the war as many German scientists and rocket parts were captured as possible by the US, British and Soviets. The Russians got the wrong ones! The Saturn V rocket was designed under the direction of GermansWernher von Braun and Arthur Rudolph (both instrumental in the design of the V2), in part based off designs von Braun was working on in Germany during WW2.
As you may have gathered I am somewhat enthusiastic about the history of the Space Race! I have a number of Soviet era mementos in regards to their space program including a complete set of postcards made to celebrate Yuri Gagarin (picked up in a market in Moscow, I nearly bought a Cosmonaut helmet at this market but heard too many stories of Russian customs confiscating these artifacts at the airport, so I decided to save my money). I have also seen and been inside the Soviet space shuttle Buran (another cancelled project with the fall of the USSR), and seen many Soyuz rockets and space capsules throughout Russia and Eastern Europe. My dream is to one day go to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan (expensive and remote to get to) and hopefully see a rocket launch from there.
On the US side I have been to Cape Kennedy space centre a couple of times, the sheer size of the Saturn V rocket is something you have to see to believe – massive! Also I have seen Space Shuttle Enterprise (prototype shuttle) at the Smithsonian Institute in Virginia (Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center – an excellent air and space museum collection), shuttle Discovery (sitting on the launch pad a few days before it returned Mercury program astronaut John Glenn to space in 1998 to become the oldest man to fly in space, he was the first American to orbit the earth in 1962) and a launch of the shuttle Atlantis in 2010, along with many rockets and capsules etc used during their space program in various museums (including those used at Woomera in the South Australian outback). Museums seem to have a lot of V2 rockets too!
So that was quite a ramble emanating from one visit to a Russian sailing ship, but hey, I hope you found it interesting?!