It's hard for an American to realize the devastation that fell upon the Soviet states in the wake of Perestroika. "I was making five hundred dollars a month, which was good money then," a friend told told me. "Then I woke up one morning to discover I was making fifty." Literally overnight, one of the world's great nations was thrown into near-universal abject poverty.
For a couple of years there, it seemed like almost everything in Russia was up for sale. Sevruga caviar, tsarist silver . . . and big chunks of Soviet space history. You could buy historically significant space suits, capsules, you name it. It was a painful period in their history. Also one of the few times I've ever wished I were filthy rich.
Now I'm getting that feeling for a second time. Because Sotheby's is offering up one of the most historically significant artifacts of the Age of Space ever to come on the open market, the Vostok 3KA-2 Space Capsule.
This was the capsule that went up immediately before the launch that made Yuri Gagarin the first human being in space. It carried an astronaut mannequin and a living dog, Zvezdochka ("Little Star"). This was the launch that convinced Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, the Great Engineer, that it was safe enough to risk one of his kosmonauts.
Sotheby's is estimating it will bring somewhere from two to ten million dollars. I can imagine it going for much more.
Probably it will go to some fabulously wealthy entrepreneur and God bless him or her for knowing what to value. But if it can't be in Russia (which still does have the absolute best items), then I wish somebody would buy it for the Smithsonian. Some time back I took a Russian friend to the Uvdar-Hazy Center, the other half of their Air and Space Museum, and afterward he commented on how little there was about the Soviet Union's part in the history of space travel. "It's as if it never happened," he said sadly.
You can read about the auction here.
Or you can go straight to Sotheby's detailed catalogue entry here.
And for those who fight shadows . . .
The estimable Gregory Frost got deep into the lore and history of shadow puppets when he was writing the fantasy classic Shadowbridge. So is it any wonder he forwarded me the link to the following video with the note, "A performance after my own heart"?
No it is not. Enjoy.
Hmmm. The right hand side seems to be cropped. You can find the uncropped version here.
And, holy cow, were you watching the Oscars . . . ?
The short animation award, whatever its official title might be, went to . . . Shaun Tan for The Lost Thing! Quite frankly, I was expecting Madagascar to win. It was visually innovative, flagrantly brilliant, and had a positive moral message.
But our guy won. I'm delighted. In spite of the fact that this award means that we can no longer claim him as one of ours. He belongs to the world now.
I hope they treat him with the same love as we did.