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Let’s get acquainted with one of the main monuments of Soviet modernism, where you can see Belka and Strelka, models of the first satellites of the Earth and paintings by cosmonaut Alexei Leonov.

The 110-meter titanium monument to the Conquerors of Space, dedicated to the launch of the world’s first Soviet artificial Earth satellite, is one of the most famous and tallest monuments in Russia. Read about how it was built and how the Museum of Cosmonautics was opened in its stylobate in this article.

“The people are creators”

October 4, 1957. The first artificial Earth satellite, Sputnik-1, successfully entered orbit, marking the beginning of the human space era. The sensational news was discussed all over the world, the satellite signal was caught by radio amateurs in different countries.

During 92 days of its stay in orbit, the satellite made 1440 revolutions around the Earth, having covered about 60 million kilometers. Gradually, it began to lose speed, and when it entered the dense layers of the atmosphere, it burned out due to friction against the air. This happened in January 1958.

Already in March, an all-Union open competition for the best design of the obelisk dedicated to the launch of the satellite was announced. By the summer, the participants had sent about a thousand diagrams, drawings and layouts. Works for the competition came not only from different cities of the USSR, but also from other countries. 365 of the best were shown at the Manezh Central Exhibition Hall.

The winning project “People – Creator” – a rocket soaring skyward with a smoke plume – was approved in October of the same year. It was submitted to the competition by architects Alexander Kolchin, Mikhail Barshch and sculptor Andrey Faydysh-Krandievsky. The latter two were already very famous: Barshch designed the building of the Moscow Planetarium, and the sculptural bas-reliefs of Faydysh-Krandievsky had received the Stalin Prize of the 1st degree a few years earlier.

Refresh project

While the architects and the sculptor were working on the project of the future obelisk, another event of global significance happened in the space industry: on April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin went into orbit in a manned spacecraft. In this regard, it was decided to change the name of the monument to a more specific one – “Conquerors of Space”.

The location of the future monument also had to be changed. Initially, they wanted to build it on the observation deck of the Vorobyovy (then – Lenin) Hills, next to Moscow State University. But this idea was quickly abandoned – a huge monument would have been lost in this space, already saturated with architectural dominants. As a result, the choice fell on a vacant lot near the main entrance of VDNKh.

It was decided to install the 110-meter obelisk on a stylobate (pedestal) faced with granite. On the facade of the stylobate – to immortalize the poetic lines of Nikolai Gribachev:

And our efforts are rewarded with the same,

What, overcoming lawlessness and darkness,

We have forged fiery wings

To your country and your century!

On its side walls there are bronze high reliefs (a kind of relief). They depict everyone who paved the way into space, except for … Sergei Korolev. His participation in the launch of the satellite was classified at that time. A monument to the Queen nevertheless appeared nearby – on the alley of the Heroes of Space. This happened after the death of the scientist.

The monument became one of the first monuments of Soviet modernism (this term appeared later, already in our time). Distinctive features of the style that prevailed in Soviet architecture from 1955 to 1991 are the use of facing materials such as granite, marble or shell rock, massive glazing of the surface, as well as decorativeness – the presence of monumental mosaic panels, bas-reliefs, high-reliefs.

Titanium giant

Changes were made to the appearance of the monument. Frosted glass, from which they first wanted to make a rocket train, was replaced with polished titanium plates. This idea, by the way, was submitted by Korolyov himself: such plates, he said, will beautifully reflect the sky, and besides, they are more practical. It was quite difficult to get this material in the right quantity, but Sergey Pavlovich was able to get the delivery. The process of erection of the monument took place before his eyes, he visited the construction site almost every day. In addition, she was visible from his window – Korolyov lived on 1st Ostankinskaya Street.

The most difficult stage of the work was the installation – a huge steel monument weighing 250 tons was assembled by hand, and then raised with the help of special cranes. The 110-meter-high structure, which goes up, appeared in all its grandeur on October 4, 1964, seven years after the launch of the first artificial Earth satellite. The gigantic monument is the second highest in Russia. Now it is second only to the Victory Monument on Poklonnaya Hill, built in 1994-1995.

“… We examined the monument from all sides – it is simple, majestic and beautiful,” Nikolai Kamanin, Air Force Colonel General, Assistant to the Air Force Commander-in-Chief for Space, wrote in his diary on the opening day.

The Memorial Alley of the Heroes of Space, where the Korolev monument was subsequently erected, opened in front of the monument in 1967. Here you can also see the monument to Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (installed in 1964), who developed the idea of ​​an artificial Earth satellite and was the founder of theoretical cosmonautics, busts of Yuri Gagarin, Valentina Tereshkova and many other famous cosmonauts. New monuments appear in our days. For example, in 2016, four were opened – to Alexander Alexandrov, Valentina Lebedev, Svetlana Savitskaya and Vladimir Solovyov.

The monument becomes a museum

Sergei Korolev suggested placing the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics (now the Museum of Cosmonautics) in the stylobate of the monument at the stage of work on the architectural project. He insisted that astronautics should be popularized. But the museum appeared only in April 1981 – its opening was timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s space flight. The interiors of the museum were designed by the artist Oleg Lomako, who created the illusion of being in outer space inside. When decorating the premises, they used the most modern materials at that time; in the main hall, a sculpture of an astronaut was installed against the background of a bright stained-glass panel.

The collection of the museum began to form back in 1969. Today it contains more than 100 thousand items, divided into 12 thematic funds. These are documents, photographs, equipment, models, archival periodicals, audio and video recordings, works of art. Among the latter, an important place is occupied by the works of the legendary cosmonaut and artist Alexei Leonov.

The permanent exhibition consists of the sections “History of the Universe”, “Morning of the Space Age” (reflects the early period of space exploration), “Creators of the Space Age” (dedicated to Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Sergei Korolev and other personalities), “International Space Park”, “Exploration of the Moon and planets of the Solar System ”,“ Cosmonautics for Humanity ”(talks about the applied use of satellites),“ International Cooperation in Space ”,“ International Space Park ”,“ Space House in Orbit ”(introduces the life of astronauts).

In 2006-2009, the museum underwent a large-scale restoration. The design work was supervised by the People’s Artist of Russia Salavat Shcherbakov, the author of famous monumental works, including a monument to Prince Vladimir on Borovitskaya Square. He decorated the walls of the premises with plaster bas-reliefs in the form of constellations, on the ceilings he depicted a map of the starry sky and the planet. The reconstruction project received the Grand Prix of the International Union of Architects.

Today, meetings with cosmonauts, conferences, lectures, discussions are held here, there is a library, a cafe, a storage facility and a cinema hall, similar to the cockpit of a starship.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and or sentence structure not be perfect.

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