Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Gagarin. Russian space words in English.

Read the Russian version here.

There are numerous video and sound clips on the internet about Gagarin.
Firstly, there is a huge song and sound resource at sovmusic.ru. I highly recommend it to researchers and students of Russia. They have a sound recording of the radio exchange between the flight control and Gagarin that includes his famous exclamation "Поехали!"(Poyekhali! - 'Here we go!')

The BBC broadcasted today a revealing radio drama about Gagarin's relationship with his stand-in German Titov who became the second man in space. The web-site space.com  invites to vote for 'the best spacecraft'. The Apollo moon lander is in the lead now, but I voted for Soyuz as it has proved itself to be the most reliable space work-horse. To go to the voting options click here.
Apart from Soyuz (Russian for Union) quite a few Russian space words have entered English, the most famous one being of course sputnik.
Here is a selection of some others, in alphabetic order (based on the Oxford English Dictionary). Let me know if you spot more.

Baikonur or Baykonur (Байконур)
a mining town in central Kazakhstan. The world's first satellite (1957) and the first manned space flight (1961) were launched from the former Soviet space centre nearby.
Launches are still mostly conducted from there, but the northern cosmodrome Plesetsk is becoming increasingly important and recently an agreement was announced to have Soyuz launched from the French Guiana space centre, its location close to the Equator allowing for larger loads to supply the International Space Station.

cosmodrome |ˈkäzməˌdrōm| (космодром)
(in the countries of the former USSR) a launching site for spacecraft.
ORIGIN 1950s: from cosmo- + -drome , on the pattern of aerodrome.

cosmonaut |ˈkäzməˌnôt; -ˌnät| осмонавт)
a Russian astronaut.
ORIGIN 1950s: from cosmos 1, on the pattern of astronaut and Russian kosmonavt.

Gagarin |gəˈgärin| (Гагарин)
Gagarin, Yury (Alekseyevich)(1934–68), Russian cosmonaut. In 1961, he made the first manned space flight, completing a single orbit of the earth in 108 minutes.
Among the many assignations of the word Gagarin in English is the name of the font with a techno look (image below right). To download the font go here

Gagarin font

Luna |ˈloōnə| (Луна")
a series of Soviet moon probes launched in 1959–76. They made the first hard and soft landings on the moon (1959 and 1966).

Mir |ˈmi(ə)r| ("Мир")
a Soviet space station, launched in 1986 and designed to be permanently manned.
Owing largely to its financial demands on an impoverished Russian government, the Mir program was terminated in March 2001, when the space station made its fiery reentry into the earth's atmosphere, splashing down in the South Pacific. During its 14 years in space, Mir (which means ‘world’ and ‘peace’ in Russian) housed a total of 104 astronauts from various nations.
I have English-Welsh friends who named their youngest daughter Mir after the station. The name is pronounced Mee-ah. 
Salyut |ˈsalˌyoōt| ("Салют")
a series of seven Soviet manned orbiting space stations, launched between 1971 and 1982.
ORIGIN Russian, used as a greeting; compare with French salut .
Some OED definitions can be weird.  Salyut is not just used as a greeting, as in French, it means a greeting as in English salute – salute an officer, salute with a gun salvo and it also means a festive fireworks.

Soyuz |ˈsôˌyoōz| ("Союз") 
a series of manned Soviet orbiting spacecraft, used to investigate the operation of orbiting space stations.
ORIGIN from Russian Soyúz, literally ‘union.’
It is also a reference to the 'union' part in the Soviet Union.

Sputnik |ˈspətnik; ˈspoŏt-|  (Спутник)
each of a series of Soviet artificial satellites, the first of which (launched on October 4, 1957) was the first satellite to be placed in orbit.
ORIGIN Russian, literally ‘fellow-traveler.’
Again, OED goes a bit off the mark. Sputnik does have as the original meaning fellow-traveller and is used in that sense, but the English word also has an unpleasant political meaning of a temporary political ally for expedient purposes. That meaning corresponds to the Russian word попутчик (poputchik), not спутник. When Russian engineers chose the name for the first object to go into orbit they had in mind a satellite, also sputnik in Russian. In fact the full name was "Простейший спутник-1"(prosteishiy sputnik – PS-1) – Simplest Satellite-1.
Sputnik gave English-language punsters a field day. When the televised U.S. attempt to launch their first satellite ended with the rocket crumbling and exploding, the press called it a flopnik. 
Vostok |ˈväsˌtäk; ˌvəˈstôk| ("Восток" )
a series of six manned Soviet orbiting spacecraft, the first of which, launched in April 1961, carried the first man in space (Yuri Gagarin).
OED doesn't include some other space words with high search hits. Here are some:
Korolev - Королев  (wikipedia)
Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, the legendary Constructor General of Russian rockets. Over 1.3 million hits with 'space' identifier.
Voskhod - "Восход" (wikipedia)
Voskhod means sunrise, the name of the second generation of Soviet spacecraft, roughly corresponding to American Gemini. Over 375,000 search results.  Alexei Leonov made the first spacewalk out of a Voskhod.
Plesetsk - Плесецк  (wikipedia)
The name of the Northern Russian space centre and launch pad in Archangel region. Over 6.5 mln hits with space identifier. 
Cosmos - "Космос"  (wikipedia)
Name of the ongoing series of Soviet and Russian satellites, many of them military. Over 27 mln hits with space identifier. The extremely high hit rate is because of the number of launches and numerous controversies surrounding some of the launches and the satellites' disintegration in the atmosphere.

Russian space dogs are well-known in English.

Laika – Лайка
The first living creature in space, died in orbit.  18.4 mln internet search results. Everybody wanted to know her breed, but she was just a stray with traces of a terrier. So they called her a muttnik.

Belka и Strelka – Белка и Стрелка 
The first animals to go up and return safely along with a rabbit, a few rats and bees. 850 thousand hits. There is an animation film about them and a dedicated web-site. Strelka, the female, had off-spring when she was back on Earth. I saw them in the Moscow Zoo where they constructed a special 'space' enclosure for them. One of the puppies, Fluffy - Pushinka was given as a present to President Kennedy's daughter Caroline. Fluffy and Caroline's dog Charlie got along well and produced more puppies. JFK referred to them as pupniks. 

Star City - Звёздный городок or Звёздный
The gated settlement to the North-East of Moscow where the cosmonaut training centre is located. Many cosmonauts and their families live there. Over 14 mln hits in Google with 'space' identifier.
Among the many Russian space words this stands apart, because its name is translated, not used in the original Russian as Zvezdny. I couldn't understand what it was about when I first heard it in English. That usage is probably because the settlement stayed secret for a long time and officially only had coded names though Russian press did call it Звёздный. So, in the West the press translated it, the name stuck – and it sounded great. The Russian wikipedia article says that the name is written down in the official documents handed to the mayor of Star City in August 2010, but the English version insists there is still no official recognition of the name as of 2011. It's not in OED.

Of the Gagarin books I'd recommend Stephen Blanchard's Gagarin and I. It is a coming of age story about an English boy who grows up in a poor working class family with strong pro-Soviet, leftist sympathies. He isn't very interested in political discussions, but Gagarin to him is the shining star – the dream of better future to come.

Matthew Brzezinski wrote Red Moon Rising, a rapid-fire history of the space race, beginning with Wernher von Braun's rockets bombarding England and the American and Soviet snatch teams hunting for the German rocket scientists and technology. The book is full of little known anecdotes and reads like a thriller. It shows how rivalry between the Army and the Navy ruined American chances of getting first into space. Eisenhower's indifference is also blamed. After the Sputnik launch the White House was called 'the tomb of a well-known soldier'. Details of a horrible explosion at the Russian space centre which killed top engineers, military commanders and cosmonauts explain why the Soviets became overcautious and eventually lost the Moon race to America.

Gagarin's photo is from here.

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