Design

Soviet Space Art. Posters of Propaganda and Progress

Marta Wiktoria Bryll 26 November 2021 min Read

Here is a small selection of our favorite Soviet space posters together with some tidbits about the beginnings of the Russian space program.

Astronomical motifs first appeared in Russian popular culture at the beginning of the 1950s, slowly gaining more meaning and reaching peak enthusiasm in 1957, with the successful launch of Sputnik-1 into space. That year also marks the beginning of the Space Race – an American-Soviet competition in achieving spaceflight capability. Essentially, until Neil Armstrong’s famous first steps on the moon, the USSR was leading the race with many spectacular missions. For example, they launched the first man-made satellites (1957), sent the first unmanned trips to the Moon (1959), and finally, the sent the first human into Earth orbit (1961).

Just like any official art in the USSR, soviet space posters had a clear purpose: Propaganda. Therefore the genre mainly consists of designed illustrations, rarely displaying individual style or even attributing the author. Illustrations were meant to carry a message, a message of the glory of science and the importance of progress. The posters were accompanied by slogans such as; ‘Space will be ours! Long live the Soviet People’, ‘The Space Pioneers’, or ‘The Road to Space is Soviet’, thus amplifying the message.

The Road Is Open for Humans

Vintage Russian Space Poster Konstantin Ivanov, The road is open for humans, 1960, Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics, Moscow, Russia.
Vintage Russian Space Poster by Konstantin Ivanov, The road is open for humans, 1960, Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics, Moscow, Russia.

This poster designed by Konstantin Ivanov presents a true working-class hero, honoring the poor pups that were involuntarily sent on a trip into space. The brave dogs in the Sputnik-5 spacecraft are Belka (Russian for Squirrel) and Strelka (Little Arrow), who both spent a day in space on the 19th of August 1960. They were also accompanied by a happy crowd of 42 mice, a grey rabbit, two rats, some flies, several plants, and various mushrooms. All of the passengers survived and hence became the first Earth-born creatures to go to space and return.

Statistically, most of the dogs sent into space survived their mission. One notable exception is poor Laika (the Barker), the first living Earth-born creature to be sent into orbit. Laika died around the seventh hour of the Sputnik-2 mission from overheating.

Romanian post stamp with Laika next to a Sputnik-2 spacecraft
Romanian post stamp with Laika next to a Sputnik-2 spacecraft. Wikimedia Commons.

Modern Prometheus

The Fairytale Became Truth poster celebrates the 12th of April 1961, the day when Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. The Soviet hero is portrayed with a star in his hand – like a modern Prometheus, he is bringing light to the nation.

Vintage Russian Space Poster The Fairy Tale Became Truth poster with Yurij Gagarin, 1961, author unknown, Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics, Moscow, Russia.
Vintage Russian Space Poster with Yuri Gagarin, The Fairytale Became Truth, 1961, Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics, Moscow, Russia.

Valentina Tereshkova – The First Space Hero

Vintage Russian Space Poster with Valentina Tereskhova, Glory to The First Woman Cosmonaut, 1963, author unknown.
Vintage Russian Space Poster with Valentina Tereskhova, Glory to The First Woman Cosmonaut, 1963, Science Museum London, London, UK.

Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman in space, where she spent almost three days with a Vostok-6 1963 mission. Furthermore, she remains the only woman to have gone on a solo space mission to this day.

The Road to Space Is Soviet

Can’t get more propaganda than this one! This soviet space poster has everything you could dream of – a metallic Vostok-2 soaring through the atmosphere as well as the USSR hammer and sickle flag in the background.

Vintage Russian Space Poster with the Vostok spacecraft, The Road to Space is Soviet!, poster
Vintage Russian Space Poster with the Vostok spacecraft, The Road to Space is Soviet!, ca. 1960. Russia Trek.

The Extraterrestrial Utopia

One of the most common themes in soviet space posters is a Utopian vision of a better, upgraded life. New territories, new planets, new societies – and all thanks to scientific progress. These visions stem from a philosophical and cultural movement called Russian Cosmism. The movement was developed by Nikolai Federov in the late 19th into the early 20th century, and focused on researching the relations between humanity and outer space. Cosmists believed that modern humans have an ethical obligation not only to prevent, but to try to cease death and resurrect the greatest minds using all possible scientific tools. The movement saw outer space as the territory of immortal life and infinite resources, which ultimately should be populated by immortal humans in order to create a universal utopia.

Vintage Russian Space Poster, Soviet man, be proud - you have opened the road to stars from Earth!,
Vintage Russian Space Poster, Soviet man, be proud – you have opened the road to stars from Earth!, ca. 1960. Russia Trek.

Tekhnika Molodezhi

Aside from politically commissioned posters, space themes were also part of popular culture. One of the most important publications was Tekhnika Molodezhi (Technology of the Youth), in print since 1933. The magazine played a key role in developing the science fiction literary genre in Russia and became extremely popular thanks to its marvelous, futuristic cover illustrations.

Vintage Russian Space Poster, Tekhnika Molodezhi magazine cover
Tekhnika Molodezhi magazine cover, September 1964. Graphic Design Forum.

All Together Now

Boris Berezovsky, Glory of the Space Heroes - Glory of the Soviet People!, 1963, Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics, Moscow, Russia.
Vintage Russian Space Poster by Boris Berezovsky, Glory of the Space Heroes – Glory of the Soviet People!, 1963, Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics, Moscow, Russia.

One of the propaganda ideas hidden in these posters is the equality of all union workers. Although the astronaut is leading, his achievements progressed through the work of many other professions – therefore all Soviet people become Space Heroes.

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