Posts Tagged ‘Arthur C. Clarke’

The Almaz – The Soviet Union’s Armed Spy Space Station

June 26, 2021

This is another fascinating little video from the military historian Mark Felton. I’ve put up a couple of his videos demolishing the stories about Nazi UFOs and space/time travel. But some real aerospace and military technology comes very close to Science Fiction. In this video, he talks about the Almaz armed spy stations launched by the Soviet Union in the 1970s. They were manned spacecraft, designed to photograph NATO military targets during the tense days of the Cold War. They were launched under the cover of a civilian space programme, Salyut. And to protect them from western attack, each station was armed with a rapid fire aircraft gun. It’s an idea close to the Bond film, Moonraker, in which Bond tackles Hugo Drax and his minions aboard their own space station.

The Almaz, ‘Diamond’, stations consisted of three sections. There was the main, piloted station module, a cargo section for resupply, and a launch and return craft. The stations were launched using a Proton rocket, and carried a two-three man crew, in space for 20 to 30 days before returning to Earth and being replaced by the next crew. They were armed with 25 mm Rikhtor guns, a modified version of the tail canon used on the Tupolev Tu-22 Blinder Russian bomber. The Russians were afraid that vibrations from the canon might damage the spacecraft, and so arranged a test firing. Salyut 3 (Almaz 2) was due to come to the end of its life in July 1974, and so was selected as a suitable test vehicle. After the last crew left on the 19th of that month, the station was remotely operated so that it targeted and shot down a defunct Soviet satellite. The Almaz station, the satellite, and the spent rounds were all burned up when they re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere afterwards. To date, Russia is the only country that has fired a weapon in space, but this may change.

I remember the Salyut space programme. It was always presented as just civilian research into living in space, and people were impressed by the lengths of time the Russians were able successfully to keep crews in orbit. However, these achievements were never as spectacular or interesting as the Moon landings. Now it’s been revealed that they were military spy missions, a fact that has almost certainly been revealed as a consequence of the Fall of Communism and the end of the Cold War.

It’s not just with the Bond film Moonraker that the Almaz stations have a similarity. In Kubrick’s and Clarke’s classic SF film, 2001, the world is on the brink of a nuclear war. After the first section, which shows a group of primitive hominids being led to intelligence by the black monolith on the prehistoric Earth, the film cuts to space, showing various satellites gliding in orbit while the Orion space shuttle makes it complex maneuvres to dock with the wheel-like space station. Although their purpose isn’t obvious, as Kubrick didn’t want people to think his film was repeating the themes of his Cold War nuclear satire, Dr Strangelove, these satellites are actually orbiting nuclear weapons platforms. Real killer satellites like them, but using ‘pop-up’ lasers to destroy nuclear missiles, were designed as part of Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defence Initiative, or ‘Star Wars’ programme. There have been a number of books written about possible future wars in space, such as The Shape of Wars to Come, and a year or so ago former president Donald Trump called for the creation of an American space force. Which I think has provided the subject matter for a comedy on Netflix or one of the other streaming channels.

The arming of the Almaz stations shows how terrifyingly close the threat of war in space is to reality. I hope that for the sake of the world we manage to halt the militarisation of space and keep space exploration and, hopefully, colonisation, peaceful. Although this may be difficult given rising tensions between the West, Russia and China.

Silver Monoliths and the Great UFO Ball Invasion

December 30, 2020

I hope everyone’s having a great Christmas, despite the outbreak of an even more virulent strain of the Coronavirus, the consequent lockdown and Boris’ farcical deal with the EU. I haven’t posted anything over the past few days partly because I wanted to enjoy Christmas, and didn’t feel like dealing with all the misery Johnson’s coterie of thugs and entitled bandits and looters, and partly because I simply don’t find much of the news that’s surfaced over the past few days at all inspiring. I was intending only to publish odd, cheerful or uplifting stuff over the holiday period for a change, more in keeping with Christmas as the season of peace and goodwill. Well, that’s gone out the window, as I do intend to blog about serious issues. But for now here’s something far less grim than the faces and policies of BoJob, Gove, Priti Patel, Starmer and Rayner.

Among the serious news there have been reports over the last few weeks of a mysterious silver monolith appearing around the world. It first appeared in America, then disappeared, only to re-emerge in Britain, on the Isle of Wight or somewhere. It disappeared again and then moved to somewhere else in the globe. It’s a pity that some of the urban folklore magazines of the 1990s aren’t still around, as this is the kind of event they loved. Small press magazines like Dear Mr Thoms/ Letter to Ambrose Merton, Folklore Frontiers and the academic Contemporary Legend used to follow similar stories. Like the stolen garden gnomes that went around the world, sending their former owners postcards from whichever new location they turned up in. This is somewhat like that. But it most closely resembles a British UFO hoax from the early 1980s which was covered, I believed, by that venerable journal of the weird, the Fortean Times. I’ve forgotten quite when it all happened, but sometime in the early 1980s or perhaps the late ’70s, a number of silver spheres appeared around Britain making beeping noises. They were designed to appear like alien objects from a UFO. The silver monolith also looks to me like it’s intended to resemble the alien monoliths from Kubrick and Clarke’s classic SF film, 2001, but with the difference that theirs was pitch black. As far as I know, no-one has claimed responsibility for the supposedly alien spheres, although I think it was suggested they were the work of students. I think it’s highly unlikely that either spheres or the recent monolith are the work of aliens. However, latter did appear at the same time as an unexplained signal was received from Proxima Centauri. This is the nearest star to ours, at about four light years away. Scientists were excited about it because Proxima Centauri is believed to have two planets. One is a Jupiter-sized gas giant, but the other is a rocky planet like Earth. So there have been videos on YouTube asking whether what was picked up was another ‘WOW signal’, like the burst of radio noise from Eta Carinae in the 1970s that astonished radio astronomers. It was so close to what they expected a signal from an alien civilisation to be like, that someone wrote ‘Wow’ next to the printout of it. It’s been a matter of debate since whether it really did come from aliens or was natural. The signal was never repeated, like the recent signal from Proxima Centauri, so I think most scientists believe it’s almost certainly natural. I think the Proxima signal will probably prove natural too. But you never know, and we live in hope.

As for hoaxes and stunts like the silver monolith and beeping spheres, while they aren’t remotely the real UFO landing people hope for, they do no harm and keep people amused. And in these grim times, we definitely need everything we can get to keep our spirits up.