Russian Space Patches
If you were alive in America when the Soviets launched Sputnik on Oct. 4, 1957 (I was 7), you may recall a mix of terror and excitement. The world’s first man-made satellite was about the size of a beach ball (22.8 inches in diameter), weighed only 183.9 pounds, and took about 98 minutes to orbit the Earth on its elliptical path. That launched the space race and ushered in new political, military, technological and scientific discoveries that forever altered our global consciousness. The sky was falling in on America, where we brought over large numbers of de-Nazified scientists and engineers, like Wernher von Braun, to find the key to space travel and gain control of the heavens before the Russians. Americans feared that the Soviets’ ability to launch satellites suggested a capability to launch ballistic missiles that could carry nuclear weapons. Then the Soviets struck again: On Nov. 3, they launched Sputnik II, carrying a much heavier payload, including a space dog named Laika.
In the ensuing years, the world was treated to the introduction of American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts. The Russians have a long history of human spaceflight. They put the first human, Yuri Gagarin, into space and hold the record for longest time in space for an individual, both mission and career cumulative. They also hold the record for a person with the most number of spacewalks. Americans, meanwhile, were the first to put men on the moon.
While there had long been a rivalry for the domination of space, it has also provided a stage for the meeting of the world’s nations. Although the race to create ballistic missile weaponry still exists, space is somewhat neutral ground, and astronauts from 19 different nations have cohabited the International Space Station (ISS).
The first ISS component was launched in 1998, and the first long-term residents arrived in November 2000. The station has since been occupied for 19 years, the longest continuous human presence in low Earth orbit, having surpassed the previous record of nine years and 357 days held by the Soviet Mir. The latest major ISS module was fitted in 2011, with an experimental inflatable space habitat added in 2016. Development and assembly of the station continues, with several major new Russian elements scheduled to launch this year. The ISS consists of habitation modules, structural trusses, solar arrays, radiators, docking ports, experiment bays and robotic arms, with modules launched by Russian Proton and Soyuz rockets and U.S. Space Shuttles.
Special patches and emblems have been designed since 1963 for each of these ISS flights, as well as other exploratory missions (by all space agencies). The ones below come from the book Design for Space: Soviet and Russian Mission Patches by Alexander Glushko. The volume includes around 250 mission patches worn by Soviet and Russian cosmonauts, and retraces the formation and development of Soviet and Russian symbolism in space travel. As it brings the history of cosmic heraldry to life, what’s also fascinating are the joint missions that commemorate brief periods of friendship between two sometime foes both sharing the beautiful expanse of space.
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About Steven Heller
Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →