In the Museum: My Vostok Is Bigger Than Your Mercury
Launching two very different capsules—and a space race.
- By Rebecca Maksel
- Air & Space magazine, August 2011
(Page 2 of 2)
The Vostok model originally came to the Museum many years ago on long-term loan from the Tsiolkovsky Museum in Kaluga, Russia, says Cathleen Lewis, a space history curator at the Museum. “The Museum had, in turn, loaned the Tsiolkovsky Museum two models, one of the Saturn V and one of Skylab.”
The Mercury model is borrowed from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “The remarkable thing,” says Lewis, “is that both the Vostok and the Mercury models are meant to light up on the inside. The Vostok has a generator, wiring, and light bulbs, and the Mercury model has a plug and has flashing lights.” (Unfortunately, the Museum’s display won’t incorporate these design elements. “The wiring—done 40 or 50 years ago—is not that good,” says Lewis.)
While the space race started as a competition between the superpowers, a short 14 years later the countries collaborated on the first international manned spaceflight, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, which lasted from July 15 to 24, 1975. The mission was designed to test the rendezvous and docking systems for U.S. and Soviet spacecraft, as well as to open the way for joint manned flights.
It took the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 for those flights to actually happen. Two years later, the United States entered into an agreement (“phase one”) with Russia to fly cosmonauts on the space shuttle, and send Americans to the Russian space station Mir. This was followed by phase two, the construction of the International Space Station.
In November 2000, a Soyuz space capsule took the first crew to the International Space Station. And now, with the space shuttles retiring, U.S. astronauts will hitch rides to the International Space Station aboard the Soyuz until at least 2016.