Attention Weightlessness! Cosmonaut Training in the USSR

02 September 2016

Area Studies | Gender and Sexuality | History

Attention Weightlessness, 1964. Image © BFI

Visitors to my desk tend to comment on two things; firstly, the fan incessantly running regardless of the season, and secondly, the postcards propped up under the monitor. Bought from an exhibition gift shop last autumn, the cards feature Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova - respectively the first man and woman in space – against a back drop of hammers, sickles and rockets, staring nobly out into the office from under their helmets.

 

My interest in - or perhaps idolatry of - these famed cosmonauts was sparked by our upcoming video resource, Socialism on Film, which is being produced in conjunction with the British Film Institute. Consisting of documentaries, newsreels and feature films originally produced across the Communist world (which were later rereleased with English narration or subtitles by the London-born distributor, Stanley Forman), this ground-breaking project will be published, from March, in three modules focusing on Cold War propaganda, newsreels, and finally, culture and society. From rare revolutionary scenes in Russia, to agricultural practices in China, Soviet peace marches, Cuban literacy programmes, interviews with American POWs in Hanoi and housing projects in East Germany, the full spectrum of socialist life is captured on film. A 15-minute Soviet documentary called Attention Weightlessness captured my interest early on.


Attention Weightlessness, 1964. Image © BFI

 

This educational short sheds light on the cosmonaut training process, emulating conditions in space and including a child-friendly (or perhaps, 20-something-friendly) animation explaining how weightlessness occurs. While footage of Yuri Gagarin - Hero of the Soviet Union - features in dozens of films throughout the collection, Attention Weightlessness includes clips of other cosmonauts, including Valery Bykovsky, Andriyan Nikolayev and his wife-to-be, Valentina Tereshkova, as they attempt to master moving, drinking, exercising and changing clothes in a zero gravity atmosphere. Tereshkova - who spent three days in space and decades in the upper echelons of Russian politics - pops up in several Soviet documentaries throughout the years, calling for peaceful relations with the West, attending conferences on women’s rights and even video-calling Nikolayev in space from a TV studio, their child perched on her lap. Another young woman is the star of Attention Weightlessness; as she drifts towards the camera, grinning broadly, there is something rather Bolshoi about her movements. It is, the narrator explains, her first time in a weightless environment…

 

Seemingly non-political films such as this one harboured a secondary purpose as propaganda during the Cold War. With tensions between the Superpowers heightened, the Soviet Union aimed to highlight their cultural and technological dominance over the West. The successful flights of Gagarin and Tereshkova were a major coup during the Space Race, and news of their endeavours was shared around the world in films such as these. Nearly fifty years after man first landed on the moon, scenes of early space exploration have lost none of their power to thrill the earth-bound - check out a short clip from Attention Weightlessness below!

 

 

A short clip of cosmonauts training in zero gravity conditions taken from Attention Weightlessness, 1964, © BFI 

The first module of Socialism on Film will be published in March 2017. To find out more about this resource, read the press release here or contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for trial access and price enquiries.

About the Author

Lindsay Gulliver

Lindsay Gulliver

Since joining the editorial team at Adam Matthew, I have worked on a range of resources charting the history of colonial America, popular medicine, World’s Fairs and socialism around the globe. My main academic interests lie in cultural history and Thatcherism, but I enjoy researching all areas of modern history.

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