NASA spies on USSR hardware

By Phil Plait | March 23, 2010 8:00 am

I freely admit my headline is misleading, but I had to throw in a little Cold War propaganda given the pictures below. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has spotted Soviet lunar robots on the Moon, relics from the original Space Race.

LRO_USSR_landers

On the left is the LRO image of the Luna 17 lander, which touched down on the Moon’s surface in late 1970, delivering the Lunakhod 1 rover (which eventually traveled over 10 km (6 miles) across the Moon’s surface). The image on the right is of Luna 21, which set the Lunakhod 2 rover down in 1973. Note the higher scale, which clearly shows the tracks of the rover as it moved around its base station.

That is so cool! And if you go to those links, there are closeups from the Soviet landers showing what the view looked like from the surface of the Moon all those decades ago.

And for an added bit of coolness, Universe Today’s Nancy Atkinson dug up the story that both rovers were used by the Soviets to celebrate International Women’s Day. I’m old enough to remember how the Soviets were vilified by the American government… and while some of it may have been deserved, they were not the monsters they were portrayed as. I think Nancy’s story is an important one. We may have been opponents in the race to the Moon, and deadly enemies back on Earth, but we’re also all humans. At least in that respect, nothing has changed.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: LRO, Luna landers, Lunakhod, USSR

Comments (73)

  1. I’m old enough to remember how the Soviets were vilified by the American government… and while some of it may have been deserved, they were not the monsters they were portrayed as.

    20 million or so killed in pogroms. Yeah, pretty monstrous.

    I mean, heck, American imperialism in the last half-century prolly only killed a tenth of that.

    Bitchin’ pix, tho.

  2. Ray

    “I’m old enough to remember how the Soviets were vilified by the American government… and while some of it may have been deserved, they were not the monsters they were portrayed as. ”

    I think you should ask Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn for his opinion. He actually lived it.

  3. I think Phil meant russians, as in the people, who span the range of free loving liberals to hardcore conservatives…you know just like here. You are referring to the specific acts particular government at the time, which were indeed monstrous at times (many times), just like many people around the world think about us and some of our acts regardless of numbers.

    Cool pics though. Have ANY moon hoaxers, come out and said “oops, perhaps I was wrong” after all these awesome LRO pictures?

  4. John Keller

    The moon hoaxers will love this. It proves that robots can go to the moon and do stuff which is what some believe NASA did.

  5. Mike C.

    Regarding your comment about the Soviets not being “the monsters they were portrayed as,” I beg to differ. Lenin and Stalin were truly monstrous, and though he wasn’t in their league, Brezhnev wasn’t the most pleasant-looking house on the block either.

    Off topic, the NY Times has an article you might be interested in, about how the Christian Science church is attempting to change their image, which includes this paragraph:

    “Perhaps more significantly, they have begun a public campaign to redefine their methods as a form of care that the broader public should consider as a supplement rather than a substitute for conventional treatment, like biofeedback, chiropractic or homeopathic care. ”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/24/nyregion/24heal.html?hp

  6. QuietDesperation

    You are referring to the specific acts particular government at the time,

    Which is what the term “Soviets” generally means these days. If he meant “the Russian people” he should say that. As for the *Soviets* not being monsters, I leave that discussion to the Chechens, Taters, Kalmyks, Polish, Estonians, Lithuanians and many others, as well as the unnamed and forgotten thousands (if not millions) who vanished into the gulag system over the decades.

    You’ll have to excuse the West if the Stalin/Malenkov/Khrushchev wonder years were a bit hard for the Soviets to live down until Gorbachev came along. The short reign of Andropov the Wacky Conspiracy Theorist didn’t help, either.

    You still gotta love Konstantin “Oh, he’s dead?” Chernenko, though.

  7. I’m old enough to remember how the Soviets were vilified by the American government… and while some of it may have been deserved, they were not the monsters they were portrayed as.

    Some of it may have been deserved?! Start walking that sentence back.

  8. sputnik

    Very cool image. I was born in the Soviet Union, and came to the US with my family after the collapse (not for economic reasons but because an ethnic war broke out, and contrary to a lot of the propaganda, life wasn’t at all as bad between the decades after Stalin and before the collapse), and honestly, it was pretty shocking to discover just how bad the Soviets were demonized in American books, movies, and popular culture in general.

  9. Messier Tidy Upper

    I’m old enough to remember being terrified of the prospect of nuclear war & an almost inevitable – or so it seemed – Soviet Union-American World War III wiping Humanity and most of the other species on Earth out.

    My childhood memories include a high school drama play I saw which blew me away with its emotional impact regarding a hypothetical nuclear apocalypse story (Unfortunately I was next act up witha silly comic skit & still stunned by that last act did a hopeless job!) and imagining and having nightmares of the mushroom clouds ending our world. Gorbachev & Reagun were leading their respective nations at the time.

    We came dreadfully close to the edge of war and using nukes en masse in anger a few times – Cuban missile crisis the best known but also quite a few more. I still worry about this today in fact although not as much as I used to. Nuclear war and its horrendous possibilities is still a potential mass extinction event for us & everything else. I don’t think we can ever be too complacent about it.

    Also I vividly remember the day(s) the Communist Empire collapsed and the Berlin Wall fell and the world changed so quickly & dramatically for the better. It seemed so hopefuland promising back then, the “end of history” and the start of a great new age of co-operation and peace. Pity none of that turned out quite as planned.

    (We were also “supposed” to have a joint Russian-American human mission to Mars as part of that dream – arriving on the red planet sometime in the 1990’s or early 2000’s as well. What could’ve been. Sigh.)

    This is an interesting bit of history – quite poignant.

    Russians, Americans, Australians, East & West Germans, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Pakistani, Iranian, Iraqi – all of us are human.

    And, as such, capable of great good & great evil, intense love and hate and sacrifice and fear and wonder and compassion and all those other aspects of the human condition.

    Prick us & we bleed.
    Actually don’t prick us – it hurts! ;-)

    Cool to see these relics – congrats to the LRO team. :-)

  10. Gary Ansorge

    In any conflict between states, each side demonizes the other. This is the only way (normal) humans have ever been motivated to murder their fellow humans en masse.

    On Oct. 4th, 1957, I was 14 years old. My grandmother was very upset that the Soviets had orbited Sputnik 1. She was certain we were all doomed and claimed I “just didn’t understand” the ramifications of Sputnik, when I happily responded with the news of Sputnik with”Now, the race begins. ”

    I never cared about the political situation between the US and Russia. Even at that age I understood politics was about control of our perceptions, not about the reality of people just trying to live a reasonable life.

    One of our major political problems today is our (managed) perception of Iran as a demonic nation. It isn’t. It’s just the old power center politics again. Iran is in love with their old ideal of a Persian empire. Saudi Arabia understands Iran is a long term problem for peaceful existence in the Middle East. All WE can really do is attempt to manage this state and that management will come from Iranian perception of us as stronger than them. Israel would just like to cut them down a notch or two. That’s not a viable solution. Iranians are no more demons than are we. We just have conflicting goals. Same as we had with Russia.

    All nations have done terrible things in their history(remember, WE nearly committed genocide on 20 million native Americans, so the 20 million Stalin murdered is no different). Like individuals, nations compete to survive but, like individuals, co-operative give and take is a better solution. Hey, so far, it’s working with China.

    Gary 7
    Cool pics. Where are the moon landing “skeptics”?

  11. Messier Tidy Upper

    Oh & BA don’t let the historical revisionists warped attempts to convince you otherwise work – the Soviet Union was a very nasty, brutal, repressive and, yes, I’d have to say evil regime.

    The rocket scientists and cosmonauts, OTOH, such as Sergei Korolev (who was famously imprisoned in a gulag and forbidden from being named), Alexei Leonov, Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova were brave and good people – and the average miserably repressed, long-suffering Russian civilians were too by & large. However, the govt & its regime – well appalling is putting it too kindly.

    @ 8. Gary Ansorge Says:

    One of our major political problems today is our (managed) perception of Iran as a demonic nation. It isn’t. It’s just the old power center politics again. Iran is in love with their old ideal of a Persian empire. Saudi Arabia understands Iran is a long term problem for peaceful existence in the Middle East. All WE can really do is attempt to manage this state and that management will come from Iranian perception of us as stronger than them. Israel would just like to cut them down a notch or two. That’s not a viable solution. Iranians are no more demons than are we. We just have conflicting goals. Same as we had with Russia.

    Iran may not be “demonic” but playing down the murderously insane goals of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who is a Holocaust Denier openly boasting about his hopes of exterminating the Jewish state*, who has a secret program to develop nuclear weapons and believes in bringing on a Muslim version of Armageddon for the “twelfth imam” or suchlike rubbish *is* of real concern. I wouldn’t downplay this or ignore it.

    Yes, the average Iranians – like the average Soviet citizens – are a reasonable human beings who just want to live therir lives in peace. But their leadership is otherwise & their leadership controls the nation.

    Israel may well be given no choice other than either :

    a) attacking Iran and taking out the existential threat they pose to it with or without US support.

    Or

    b) Accepting the crazy Muslim dictatorship of Iran becoming a nuclear ppower and either allowing themselves to be exterminated or evacuating their nation from the region forever.

    If its a choice of Iran (or at least its current regime) or Israel, the worlds one & only Jewish nation, vanishing from the globe which do you support?

    More importantly which one do you think the a majority of Westerners and the Israelis themselves will permit?

    At some stage – much as I hope it is averted – I think Iran on its current course will cause a major regional war that they will lose. Possibly sooner than we think.

  12. amphiox

    Phil said “I’m old enough to remember how the Soviets were vilified by the American government… and while some of it may have been deserved, they were not the monsters they were portrayed as.”

    Some of what the American government vilified the Soviets for was true. Some of it was false and made up by the Americans. Some of it was true but not actually worthy of vilification. Thus some of it was deserved, and some of it was not.

    The American portrayal of the Soviets is therefore partly false. Some of them were monsters. Some of them were monsters some of the time. Some of them were not. But they were not “the monsters they were portrayed as”.

    Phil’s statement is 100% correct.

  13. Messier Tidy Upper

    At some stage – much as I hope it is averted – I think Iran on its current course will cause a major regional war that they will lose. Possibly sooner than we think.

    Note please that I am NOT saying this is a good thing or that the consequences won’t be catastrophic for the the region and that a large number of people, most innocent, will die.
    When (more likely than *if*) Iran causes this hypothetical war by refusing to back down on its nuclear ambitions it will kill many innocent people and see widespread carnage and suffering. Whole cities and even nations may well disappear in the course of such conflict.

    But the alternative of a nuclear Iran and losing Israel and having an anti-American dictator with views like “exterminate Israel, deny the Holocaust, no gays in my nation” Ahmadinejad armed with nuclear WMDs and in position to bully the whole Middle Eastern region is by far the greater of the two evils.

    Israel has a population of about 6 million Jewish people if I recall right.
    The Holocaust wiped out 5 million Jewish lives in Europe.
    I don’t think the Jewish people are going to allow it to happen again – & I don’t think we have any right to stop the Israelis taking whatever action they need to take to see that it doesn’t happen again.

    I could well be wrong, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of a pre-emptive Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities any day.

  14. Christopher Ambler

    At least in that respect, nothing has changed.

    Speak for yourself. I, for one, have evolved.

  15. John Powell

    I always loved the steam-punky look of the Lunukhod rovers.

  16. I’m no cheerleader for Soviet Socialism, but the USSR made concerted propaganda efforts to say to the individuals and the demographic groups within it’s population, “you are important.” That’s something the U.S. Corpratocracy could learn from.

  17. Al

    The “20 million” figure was actually derived from the estimated population shortfall in the post-war census compared to projections from the last pre-war census. It was used by the Soviet government as a propaganda tool to emphasise the price paid by the USSR in resisting & defeating the Nazi invasion. While it’s almost certain that “there weren’t 20 million and they weren’t all war dead” it is equally erroneous to say they were all victims of Stalin.

  18. RL

    Putting aside comments on Phil’s history revisionism, (others have already challenged that), I do have a question about the photos.

    How do we know what they really are? All I see are some fuzzy dots. How do people know for a fact, what is in the photo?

  19. Gary Ansorge

    9. Messier Tidy Upper:

    “the murderously insane goals of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ”

    He is a figure head for the Ayatollahs. Just a talking head whose power is as insignificant as Kati Courics, when she reads the teleprompter.

    It’s all about perception. Ahmadinejad has to look/sound strong, because that’s the cultural requirement for leadership in the middle east. Which is the same reason Saddam Hussain couldn’t back down when confronted by the Bush administration; it would have been an admission of weakness, which would have been fatal for his administration. It was better, from his and his supporters POV, to go down in flames than to just surrender.

    GAry 7

  20. A friend and colleague of mine spent seven years in the Gulag. Five for expressing a desire to emigrate to Israel and another two for owning two abstract paintings. The Soviet regime was evil to the core. The West had its own hangups and did very bad things especially in the Third World conflict zone, but the internal regimes, even at McCarthy’s peak were not to be compared. The people of the USSR were both victims and collaborators and by and large vicious antisemites besides. Please do not romanticize them.

  21. Ferris Valyn

    Phil,

    Shouldn’t you refer to it as Richard Garriott’s hardware, since he owns it?

    :D

  22. Jamey

    Good question, RL! While I’d have to say I wouldn’t convict OJ based on those photos, it’s really pretty reasonable.

    1) The locations match what we know.

    2) The spots where the landers are, are significantly brigher than the rest – which is symptomatic of mirror-like reflections.

    3) The shadows stretching from the objects, scaled to the known location of the sunlight in the images, matches the size of the landers.

    4) The track marks are *VERY* convincing to me – those markings don’t match the expected markings from anything that would naturally be up there, but *DO* match our common experience of trails left by vehicles – especially how they parallel each other and turn together in a coordinated manner. Especially as these tracks can be matched to craters and other features in images sent back by the rovers.

    Admitted, these images *COULD* be completely computer generated – but does it really seem likely? Probably only if you’re a flat-earther fighting to keep your world-view the same.

    We’re rapidly approaching an age where *NOTHING* recorded via devices can be guaranteed 100% unfakeable. Audio waveforms and digital images can be generated with enough resolution that any analog media recording them will smooth out the variations for us – resulting in images that, barring mistakes in composition such as incorrect reflections that should (or shouldn’t) be there, will be undetectable.

  23. ND

    kuhnigget said: “I mean, heck, American imperialism in the last half-century prolly only killed a tenth of that.”

    I like how you put this in perspective.

  24. Gary Ansorge

    18. Aharon Eviatar:

    No government can survive if the vast majority (say, two thirds) of their population resist them and that doesn’t happen as long as the population at large are satisfied with their circumstances. Under the Communist regime, everyone (except the minority who desired more personal freedom and tried to attain it) were taken care of. According to CIA analyses, after the fall of the old Soviet regime, the average life span in Russia declined by 20 years, due to a lack of jobs and free medical care. Try to imagine the human price paid by that collapse.

    Were the leaders evil? From our POV, yes. Were they evil enough to inspire revolution? Apparently not. It was decisions by Gorbachev in response to their economic collapse that resulted in that political rearrangement. Many of the people of Russia, especially the older ones, remember the “good old days”, when everyone had a job, a place to live,(barely) enough food to eat and half way decent medical care. THAT’S why there was no popular revolution in Russia. I guess they weren’t near as evil as we thought.

    ,,,but I certainly wouldn’t want to have lived there.

    19. Ferris Valyn:

    “Richard Garriott’s hardware, since he owns it?

    Maybe some day he’ll sell it back to the Russians, for a profit.(It’s an historical treasure, right?)

    GAry 7

  25. Jeff

    I’m glad Phil is admitting that there was propaganda during the cold war, in fact, even though I’m an astronomy prof, I really was a moon hoaxer until 2009 after arguing with his BAUT forum scientists over it. They did convince me we went to moon, for a lot of reasons, and the LRO images confirm it. But I believe the whole cold war was bunk and I initially suspected they lied about going to the moon because of this. But the evidence doesn’t hold up , for example, how could they fake the moon videos?

    I still am perplexed and troubled by the astronaut’s behavoir, those guys are quiet for 50 years as church mice. If I went to the moon, you’d see me on TV every month and I’d be shouting from the rooftops the glory of my mission there. But silly Neil Armstrong once gave about a 100 page transcript of an interview, and I see he only talked in LUKEWARM terms for ONE page about his time on moon. He then talks for a hour to a group of students and gives such stupid cryptic statements like “your generation will have to remove one of truth’s protective layers”, what a stupid thing to say because it feeds the HBers, why isn’t he aware of this problem and when he talks , state things in plain English instead of cryptic ways? Given this dumb-dumb behavoir, I can see why the HBers thrive!!!

  26. sputnik

    @ 10 “Oh & BA don’t let the historical revisionists warped attempts to convince you otherwise work – the Soviet Union was a very nasty, brutal, repressive and, yes, I’d have to say evil regime. […] and the average miserably repressed, long-suffering Russian civilians were too by & large. However, the govt & its regime – well appalling is putting it too kindly.”

    Well, I lived in the Soviet Union, and so did my average family. We honestly didn’t consider ourselves to be “miserably repressed,” and in fact, life was fine (free housing, health care, schools, social/economic stability, and people took pride in achievements relating to social equality, science/space exploration, and athletics). That’s not to say that everyone felt this way (no one in my family was politically involved, so that probably had a lot to do with it). Still, I think many erroneously equate Stalin’s years with the decades that followed. Ironically, in my family’s case, life became miserable and dangerous when the Soviet Union began to collapse…as old ethnic conflicts / nasty nationalism took over. That’s when my family had no choice but to leave.

  27. JohnW

    I’m old enough [not really!] to remember how the Nazis were vilified by the American government… and while some of it may have been deserved, they were not the monsters they were portrayed as.

  28. ND

    Gary Ansorge,

    There is however a darker side to the SU in that it was another form of an empire. Many who are nostalgic about the “good old days” are not just thinking of the free health care but also the territory they governed. This means the former soviet republics. Small countries such as Lithuania, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan could be at the receiving end of heavy-handed Russian foreign policy that would like to regain what they had under the SU. We already saw the small war in Georgia. A country like land-locked Armenia is between a rock and a hard place, where she depends on Russia but is also next to Turkey. The latter also looks back at its past history as an empire with nostalgia and something positive she lost.

    There was definitely fearmongering and deamonization towards the SU during the cold war. That doesn’t mean the SU was a good and desirable system to live under either. Also, there was the SU and then there was Stalin. I think Stalin was a system onto himself.

  29. ND

    Jeff,

    “I’m glad Phil is admitting that there was propaganda during the cold war, in fact, even though I’m an astronomy prof, I really was a moon hoaxer until 2009… ”

    Tell me you’re kidding!!!!

  30. Gary Ansorge

    24. JohnW

    You forgot your smiley face,,,

    GAry 7

  31. ND

    Here’s some of the story behind the Lunokhod rovers.

    http://www.airspacemag.com/space-exploration/other-moon.html

  32. Lawrence

    Jeff, you should read “Flags of Our Fathers” to get an idea of what it is liked to be held up by an entire nation as “heroes” – and the expectations and problems that result from it.

    I don’t blame the Apollo astronauts in keeping a low profile.

  33. jasonB

    I’m old enough to remember how the Soviets were vilified by the American government… and while some of it may have been deserved, they were not the monsters they were portrayed as.

    I’m with Phil on this one! If I might, I’m also going to borrow parts of this epic sentence of tolerance and use it to start mending fences with some other “misunderstood” peoples of history.

    I’m ‘almost’ old enough to remember how the Nazis were vilified by the American government… and while some of it may have been deserved, they were not the monsters they were portrayed as.

    I’m old enough to remember how the Khmer Rouge were vilified by the American government… and while some of it may have been deserved, they were not the monsters they were portrayed as.

    Unless you lived there I guess. Or were not one of the “important” people in charge.

  34. Gary Ansorge

    25. ND

    Karl Mark was an idealist ( he apparently felt really bad about how down trodden the surfs were) who hoped to design a system that would enable the vast majority of society to be fair and supportive. He expected that when a central government was no longer required to get things started, it would disappear. Like many idealists, he really didn’t understand human acquisitive instincts. Tom Jefferson did. Which is why we allow rampant capitalistic greed with minimal government control. Which is why we have a tripartite government, to allow the good, the bad and the ugly to duke it out. Generally, no part of our government has the upper hand all the time. Power constantly shifts between the executive, legislative and judicial branches and while those power seekers are fighting over who gets to do what, with which, to whom, the rest of us can live our lives and speak our minds.

    It ain’t perfect but it works for us.

    Too bad Karl wasn’t as brilliant as Tom.

    GAry 7

  35. ND

    Gary Ansorge,

    I agree with you on Karl, but the SU was implemented by others.

    Any system can be hacked or broken or subverted. It’s all about minimizing the bad since it can’t be eliminated. I agree systems like the US fair better and are preferable than many others.

    “Which is why we allow rampant capitalistic greed with minimal government control”
    I think in the past 2 years we saw the results of reducing the minimal gov controls that already existed.

  36. Gary Ansorge

    32. ND :


    I think in the past 2 years we saw the results of reducing the minimal gov controls that already existed.”

    I agree. The pendulum has swung too far to the right(greed is good). Now, I expect it will swing back.
    ,,,but you can bet it won’t occur w/o a lot of infighting.

    GAry 7

  37. Nemo

    Lunokhod is poorly remembered in the wake of Apollo, but it led directly to Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity.

  38. Pathfinder's Airbag

    Well, there’s nothing like fighting Cold War political battles all over again, but I do loves me my li’l space-bots.

  39. gopher65

    Gary Ansorge: Karl Marx was well aware that communism wouldn’t work. From his perspective it was nothing more than a thought experiment intended to point out the flaws in the then current economic systems. Neither feudalism nor capitalism was doing a particularly good job of making sure people could just “live and let live”, and instead both were simply making the rich richer and the poor poorer.

    It was a valid argument, but the proposed replacement for the two systems was obviously an impossibility, built on flawed foundations. It assumed that humans weren’t like other lifeforms, and that we won’t attempt to utilize all available resources in an exponential pattern of growth (ie, “humans aren’t inherently greedy”). That’s just stupid. All life does that, and we’re no different.

  40. RL

    @ Jamey, Thanks for the answer.

  41. Gary Ansorge

    36. gopher65:

    “Karl Marx was well aware that communism wouldn’t work. From his perspective it was nothing more than a thought experiment”

    Cool! Another data point to add to my collection.

    Tanks.

    Gary 7

  42. Jamey

    @RL – You’re welcome. How do we know is almost as important as what we know. Sometimes, the “how we know” doesn’t get explained very well. For example, I’m still fuzzy on how we know that a blink in the guidance sensor of the Hubble is a kuiper belt object, and not a smaller asteroid in the Asteroid Belt, or an even smaller piece of junk in Earth orbit. And I wonder why it’s of concern that a pair of white dwarfs that triggered an over-bright Type 1a supernova are bigger than the Chandrasekhar limit, as said limit seems to be of very limited value, as it only applies to non-rotation white dwarfs, of which I expect even in a Universe as vast as ours is, there are very few.

  43. Hang on, the Russians celebrated International Women’s Day by drawing boobs on the moon? How did we miss this? This changes everything.

  44. ND

    BMurray,

    I think we can beat this by developing a powerful laser and drawing the classic Venus in the shell on the moon. I feel like shouting ‘Spoooooon!’ and I don’t know why.

  45. I approve of this new space race.

  46. Bruce of Canuckistan

    Re the vilification of the soviet union, I think what’s glossed over far too often is what the nuclear brinkmanship of the cold war actually meant. Both sides were threatening to kill upwards of a billion regular people like you and me and everyone you love, via massive city-wide fires, flaying your skin off with burns and radiation, and flying glass. And those would have been the lucky ones, dying in only minutes or hours of the worst torture you could imagine. Billions more would have died of famine, disease, and global anarchy. We’ve forgotten that the risk was real – and we forget that the machine is still out there, a sleeping monster.

    The primary escalator to the hair-trigger almost-happened level was Ronald Reagan’s regime. Note that the evidence since has shown the USSR was already collapsing by that time, so he didn’t end the USSR – the risk was taken for no reason.

    It’s an interesting moral question. If you risk horrific death for half the world’s population in the name of your ideology, deliberately using terrorism on a grand scale, and get away with it, are you a criminal? I’d say yes. The potential outcome was not even in principle worth the stakes involved, never mind that it wasn’t in fact. I’d apply the risk of the worst outcome, to the cost of the outcome. So let’s say the risk was 10%, and apply that to 2 billion lives. Then the “insurance cost” of Reagan’s pointless gamble with our world was 200 million lives.

    It’s as if a couple are involved in a custody dispute, both threatening to kill their children if they don’t get their way, and when the one with the loudest voice and bigger gun wins, we take them as the hero? It’s only a sort of weird political correctness that makes that so. We can’t see the truth looking us in the face.

    We’re looking back at the cold war within living memory of the people who bought into it, similar to the way many in Spain still defend Franco. In another generation, history will judge differently. Reagan will be judged to be the most dangerous, immoral, and above all foolish terrorist the world has ever known, a doddering old man who threatened to burn the world alive to defeat an already faltering ideological opponent.

  47. As long as you’re enjoying some amazing gray-scale goodness from off-planet, this one just showed up in my inbox:

    Daily Mail – “Mars as you’ve never seen it before: The colossal ice walls…”
    http://tinyurl.com/ylg5xks

  48. “In Soviet Russia, lunar robots find you!”

  49. Al

    I am appalled by some comments comparing Soviets and Nazis. Contrary to the myth of US saving Europeans from ghastly Hitler, it was the sacrifice of 24 MILLION of Soviet people (please note, these were not Russians or Ukrainians or Kazakhs just as no one would divide american casualties into irish-americans or italian americans) that defeated Nazi Germany. Just to remind you that the Holocaust Remembrance Day on the 27th January marks the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops. Many Jews, including my grandparents, survived Holocaust because they were evacuated by Soviets to Central Asia during WW2.
    Now that’s not to say that the political system, gulags and purges were monstrous. My own great-grandfather was arrested and charged with being a “British spy”. But Soviet people were definitely not as monstrous as they were painted in the US.

  50. vince charles

    Jeff (#23),

    Neil Armstrong is very shy… almost pathologically shy. Other astronauts and space officials have openly wondered about him. If you’re holding him up as an example for the entire Apollo Program, you’re holding your own strawman.

    Look into Alan Bean, for one. As Buzz Aldrin hints (and Ellie in “Contact”), the experience of another world affects people in ways to0 profound to really be put into words.

  51. Mike from Tribeca

    Lenin and Stalin were monsters.

  52. Alaskana

    Very cool! It was great being able to see the tracks of the rover, really makes history come alive.

    I know I’m going to get flak for this, but I’ve always been fascinated by the rumors of a 5 mile tower on the dark side of the moon. I’m not a believer yet, but there is a very interesting site that gives the ‘evidence’ gained thus far:

    http://www.hallofthegods.org/2009/08/moon-anomalies-giant-lunar-towers.html

    I don’t know if this has been debunked before, but if it hasn’t, I’d love to hear Phil’s take on it.

  53. Joanne Mullen

    How exactly did Ronald Reagan take the world to the brink of nuclear war, Bruce? I think you’ll find that was John F. Kennedy. The vast loss of life in the Soviet Union in the Second World War was appalling, but let’s remember that Stalin was allied to Nazi Germany until Hitler launched his invasion and invaded Poland, Finland and the Baltic States to extend their own empire before being attacked themselves.

    The Soviet forces took such losses partly because Stalin’s purges had decimated the officer corps and the politically sound commanders which succeeded them cared nothing for the lives of their men.

    Six million died in Nazi camps but tens of millions of people in the Soviet Empire were murdered through famine and the gulag. Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were two sides of the same coin and to pretend that the Americans were somehow cruelly vilifying them is absurd.

    In the end communism was thrown off by the occupied people of Eastern Europe the day they thought they’d not be machine gunned in the streets for taking back their countries and their lives.

  54. Emery

    I love how the rover made two circular tracks to celebrate women’s day. I know when I celebrate women, I think “Boobs in dirt!”

    As for Phil’s point about the Russians, Yeah, he’s right.

    The propaganda we were all filled with through the cold war was about keeping us fearful so they could build up their wasteful war machine. fact is, their government did the same thing and sure, they were a totalitarian dictatorship that ruled with an iron fist but you know what? Sting may have said it best…
    We share the same biology
    Regardless of ideology
    What might save us, me, and you
    Is if the Russians love their children too

    Turns out, they do.

    While you go flinging old world hate at Russia, remember, we not only dropped the only Atomic weapon on a people in the history of mankind, we can also somehow find ways to justify it.

    I’m pretty sure the Japanese have a very hard time making sense out of Truman/American thinking.

  55. complex field

    “Gulag Archipeligo” by Alexander Solzhenitsen

  56. Steve

    I remember having drills in school in case of thermo nuclear war (we hid under our desks) – now my children have drills in case someone invades the school with a weapon (they lock the door and hide in a part of the room unseen by windows). We now fear ourselves instead of the Soviets. At least in the US more school children have been killed by school invaders than by thermo nuclear war, I’m not sure how the worldwide statistics stack up on this.

  57. jasonB

    @ Emery

    Mr. Emery, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

    Regards to Billy Madison

  58. JohnW

    @Bruce of Canuckistan: I think you have it completely backwards. The weaknesses exhibited by the US in the 1970s, which was reversed by Reagan’s defense buildup and economic program, were much more dangerous to the stability of the world. When one nuclear armed superpower acts weak and feeble, the other becomes more inclined to push the issue. Expecially when their core ideology demands they spread that ideology throughout the world. Hence, we had communism advancing in Asia, Africa, South and Central America, an arms imbalance (both conventional and strategic), etc. Things were unbalanced, trending towards the point where the Soviets might have felt confident about winning a war against the West, and Regan restored the balance. Simple as that.

  59. Cheyenne

    @JasonB – I award you 50 points. That was pretty funny.

    I think we should all be careful of any type of revisionist historical thinking. We have it from the conservative right (Texas school books) and from the left (that nutjob Howard Zinn). Er, I don’t think the Bad Astronomer was really doing that in his post above like some are saying. But it was a weird sentence to throw in there. Stalin was straight up evil. No doubt about that.

  60. Jeff

    Hey ND: I’m afraid it’s so, I’m a bona fide astronomy prof. ex-moon HB!!!! Anyway, I give Phil’s excellent BAUT forum for “curing” me.

    The way I operate is, I conduct my life like I conduct my class. Each and every subject has to be debated rigorously and all sides viewpoints, and then a final conclusion made. I argued with his BAUT scientists for a full week, and probably a thousand people read that thread, and it was a heavyweight battle, which I lost. But I lost it because they had better evidence than I did, and I fessed up.

  61. “I’m old enough to remember how the Soviets were vilified by the American government…” – I’m old enough to remember everyday live in Soviet empire and it was live in late empire and very free area like Poland…

    Not without reason the people lived in communist are called sometime “Homo Sovieticus”. I guess we need 40, maybe more, years to be cure from communism experience.

    Just one example the joy of leaving in USSR which is in the scope of your blog
    “Lysenko himself spent much time denouncing academic scientists and geneticists, claiming that their isolated laboratory work was not helping the Soviet people. […] Lysenko served this purpose by causing the expulsion, imprisonment, and death of hundreds of scientists and eliminating all study and research involving Mendelian genetics throughout the Soviet Union. “[1]

    I think you would like to spend some time on Siberia only because you think that Genetics is true, wouldn’t you…

    [1] Based on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trofim_Lysenko

  62. Dunc

    20 million or so killed in pogroms. Yeah, pretty monstrous.

    I mean, heck, American imperialism in the last half-century prolly only killed a tenth of that.

    Actually, American imperialism killed more than “a tenth of that” in the Vietnam war alone. Lets be consistent in our demands for historical accuracy.

  63. Bruce of Canuckistan

    @55 “How exactly did Ronald Reagan take the world to the brink of nuclear war, Bruce?”

    By winding up a first-strike machine, talking up the idea of a “winnable” nuclear war, and its inevitability, and internally downplaying the casualties involved. The integrated risk for the period was at least as high as the Bay of Pigs, but with an ICBM based system that would escalate much faster. In particular larger MIRV ICBM’s that created a temptation to launch first. Reagan’s regime believed nuclear war was inevitable, “winnable”, and would kill “no more than 20%” of the USA’s population.

    “Yes, there could be a limited nuclear war in Europe.”
    – President Reagan, 1981

    “We have contingency plans to fire a warning shot at the Soviet Union, warning of U.S. intentions to begin a nuclear war.”
    – Secretary of State Haig, 1981

    “The probability of nuclear war is 40 percent…and our strategy is winnable nuclear war.”
    – Richard Pipes, one of Reagan’s advisors

    However at least in rhetoric, later on Reagan stepped down from the crazy talk. My point is that the internal evils of the USSR, and the USA’s small wars and adventures in south and central america, are a small thing when placed next to the gigantic sin of the nuclear buildup and risk of global holocaust. We just don’t have the distance yet to see the scale of the crime in context. IE, judge not lest ye be judged.

  64. ND

    Jeff: ” But I lost it because they had better evidence than I did, and I fessed up.”

    But the evidence had been there for decades and you only came to understand it in 2009? I would have to find and read that BUAT thread to understand where you were coming from.

  65. QuietDesperation

    Each and every subject has to be debated rigorously and all sides viewpoints, and then a final conclusion made.

    Even that can lead to problems. Many times, especially with societal issues, there is no one solution that solves the problem everywhere. Different situations may call for radically different approaches, but you can’t adapt because you argued yourself down to one viewpoint. This is the primary flaw of the concept of political parties.

  66. Scott

    “I’m old enough to remember how the Soviets were vilified by the American government… and while some of it may have been deserved, they were not the monsters they were portrayed as. ”

    Phil, on this one I believe you are completely wrong. The Soviet Union was as evil a regime as humanity has ever suffered through. They slaughtered their own people by the millions, perhaps even the tens of millions and then spread their monstrous ideology as far as they could. The only questions are just how many 10 of millions did they kill and are they or the Chinese Communist’s the world’s leading practitioners of democide.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »