1 march

"Closer to reality, comrades!": from the history of the Space Pavilion

The new Cosmonautics and Aviation Centre will be opened soon at VDNH. Just before this event, Yevgeny Lazarev, former deputy director of the Space/Mechanical Engineering Pavilion, tells about the Soviet space exposition — the lunar soil under the police supervision, the rocket destroying the Soviet star, and the absolute cold.

Mechanical Engineering Pavilion — a model of Vostok spacecraft, 1965. Source: photo fund of JSC VDNH.

– When did you start working in the Pavilion?

– I came to the Mechanical Engineering Pavilion in 1966, at first I was just as an engineer. Since the mid-60s there were space exhibits here: they were transferred there from the Pavilion of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. But until 1967, the Space was just one of the sections of the Pavilion, like machines, optics, cars... There were about twelve sections in the Mechanical Engineering Pavilion.

– In those years there seemed to be a conflict with the Academy of Sciences and VDNH did not want to place a permanent space section in this Pavilion?

– Why VDNH didn't want to? The Academy of Sciences is a separate large structure. They had a whole series of their own Pavilions – Chemistry, Physics, Biology... And VDNH was subordinated directly to the Council of Ministers, they have there a master plan for development. Yes, there was a conflict then. Well, they put pressure on the directorate...

– Who?

– The Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of course, who else? After all, by the 50th anniversary of October in 1967, a permanent exposition was placed in the Mechanical Engineering Pavilion. By the way, in the first years the specialists in innovative mechanical engineering were the guides in the space section. And then the specially created directorate started to deal with this.

– How did the exposition look then?

– Well, there were the first satellites. All these Lika-Belka-Strelka... In the 70s, there was the Apollo-Soyuz lander. There was a sample of the lunar soil. It was an expensive exhibit and was guarded by police 24/7. Although it was a very small fragment. So people came and crowded to look out the window...

The Apollo-Soyuz orbital space complex, 1982, editorial department of VDNH, the USSR, TASS photo, by K. Artyukevich

– The Mechanical Engineering exposition was reduced because of the Space exposition?

– No, because the Space is only the "cold" part of the Pavilion, a hangar. And the Mechanical Engineering exposition was in the side halls. The halls were heated and there were engineering tools and machines there. There were also warm rooms on the second floor, exhibiting lighter equipment.

– Were space exhibits updated? If, for example, to compare the 70s and 80s?

– Yes, they were updated a little. In general, it was difficult to cooperate with the Space workers in this matter. Something was forbidden to show, something "worked" for the war... After all, this rocket standing on the street, is a real rocket, just without a filling. Nobody would create such a huge model for VDNH. By the way, I remember how it was installed. There was a swimming pool, it was then filled with earth. A mound was made and rails were laid...

The Mechanical Engineering Pavilion — a lander of Vostok spacecraft, 1965. Source: photo fund of JSC VDNH.

— How did they agree on the delivery of space exhibits?

— There was a thematic and thematic exposition plan of the exhibition. Management of Propaganda, Themes and Methods (GUPTIM) was responsible for it. Of course they were not just ordinary people. There was, for example, Shapochkin, he was practically one of the adjutants of Stalin, a former general... Each exhibit had a censored label, especially if it was the closed production. That is, any ministry gives VDNH its proposals — what they want to show. At the exhibition, they process information, agree with something, ask for some corrections. Then the ministry sent a large list of future exhibits characteristics on three or four pages. And from these characteristics the labels had to be done. Briefly, concisely. This was done by the Pavilion methodologists. Then it was approved by a thematic division. Then they sent the labels to Glavlit. They were approved again and only after this a printing house printed labels.

With the Space it was a little different process. Rather, much easier. They sent a list of exhibits, which they will give and all descriptions — and this was not subject to any corrections. That is, everything has already been approved. Moreover, at VDNH then there was a uniform form of labels, even the stands under the labels were the same. But the Space did everything as they wanted to. Of course, there were no open conflicts, but there were some moments.

— How the exhibits were maintained?

— The guided tours were almost all the maintenance. The Space was visited by many our and foreign tourists. When tourists were brought there, buses were left outside the territory — exceptions were made only for the Intourist line. And so all the groups went from the entrance to the Space on foot. It was ok in summer. But in winter they all weren't dresses warmly, because they were told that the tour will be in the Pavillion. Then they go into the Pavilion and they are completely surprised: "Why is it so cold here?" Hangar part was never heated. And one day our guide replied: "What do you mean "why"? This is space after all! Closer to reality, comrades!". And since then many guides of VDNH have picked up this excuse.

The Space Pavilion, 1976, by Jacques Dupâquier. From the website pastvuu.com

– And why it was not actually heated?

– Here is a story from the late 70s. VDNH was then directed by Konstantin Ivanovich Mikhailov, he came from the Ministry of Defense. He was a tough man. Everyone became silent when he started talking. He could dismiss the director of the pavilion. For what reason? Now there is an adhesive tape, and previously the announcements like "Pavilion closed" were glued with ordinary clerical glue or gum arabic. But because of polymerisation it was then impossible to pull it out. And you can not scrape because you can scratch the glass. And I remember Mikhailov saying: "If it happens again, you are fired". And he did fire someone. In short, everyone then asked this question about the Space: "Why it is impossible to heat the building? To put some blow heater there?". But a blow heater wouldn't help anyway, you must have seen the building area. And after all it is very draughty place.

And at a meeting in Moscow a correspondent of Pravda asks the Deputy Director of VDNH for Capital Construction: "Why couldn't you insulate the Pavilion?". He replied: "Of course we can, but..." — and he started to explain from the position of a specialist builder. In general, according to his answer, it turned out that in terms of costs it's easier to break the Pavilion and build a new one. After that, Mikhailov was called into the Central Committee and asked: "What would you say? Everyone says: "It's impossible to insulate this building," and your deputy made such a controversial statement in Pravda". The director returned to the Exhibition, and reproached his deputy... The latter justified himself: "But it was only in theory!". And Mikhailov replied: "Think before you speak! It is Pravda after all. Or you want to pay for insulation yourself?".

– Did he fire him?

– No, of course he didn't.

– So, there were a lot of people coming to the Pavilion?

– Yes, a lot. It was interesting place representing almost the entire space industry. Satellites, meteorological rockets. A lot of things. There was a star under the dome, but it was removed later.

– Why it was removed?

– They put a two-stage rocket in the middle. The management came and said: "The rocket flies into our star? It could become a political issue". And the second reason – the rocket rested against the arch, and the star was hindering. So they took it off and get a few spare meters. This is, so to speak, an artistic component.

The Space Pavilion: showcase with space food, 1975, by Hans Rudolf Uthoff. From the website pastvuu.com

– You said there were "only the guided tours". And there was no need to take care of the exhibits?

– Well, they were only mock-ups. The only need was a group of technical workers – to wipe the dust and wash the floor. And a person to turn on the electricity in the Pavilion. He switched the backlight, and there were also some bench film projectors. Something like a soda water machine, only with a screen showing the same fragment of 6-7 minutes long.

– And if some exhibits have to be removed or replaced?

– It was done by the staff coming from Podlipok, from the present Korolev. They did everything.

– Where are the exhibits of the old Space now?

– Some were transported to the Cosmonautics and Aviation Museum near the VDNH metro station. Some were taken to Korolev. Some were given to some factories, and those, probably, either placed them in their museums, or simply wrote them off. But the rocket is still here. By the way, previously it was laid horizontally for the night.

Vostok rocket, 1982, editorial department of VDNH, the USSR, TASS photo, by K. Artyukevich

– Why?

– Well, it was believed that it will be better preserved this way. And what if the wind is strong? Now it is welded and stretched out. But previously it was laid down. And there was such a funny incident. In the morning our worker was walking at the Exhibition territory and met a group of tourists. There was a strong fog that day. They asked: "Could you please tell where is the Ostankino tower?" (having in mind the television tower). And he looked at his watch and said: "It has not yet been raised! They lay it down for the night".

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