First published in the Soviet Union in 1959, the authors compiled accounts from 29 Soviet scientists on what life might be like in 2007. It is unlikely that such a volume would have been translated and published in the West ten years previously, but the Soviet launch of Sputnik, the first satellite sent into earth orbit, stunned the world in October 1957. The Soviets followed this with further satellite launches, and then sending the first man into space, Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who orbited the world on 12 April 1961. Previously regarded as a country barely emerged from peasantry, the Soviet Union now seemed to be at the forefront of scientific discovery and development, and hence became the focus of intense interest.
This volume was published by Penguin as number 195 in their Penguin Specials series in 1961.
The book takes the form a gentle meander by the authors through the studies. lecture halls and laboratories of Soviet scientists. (Whether this actually happened, or whether it is just a literary conceit and the chapters were written by the scientists themselves, or indeed a Committee we have no way of knowing.)
The first chapter “Learn to Dream” begins with a vist to the study of Alexander Nikolaievich Nessmayanov. “On a huge desk stood a bronze Atlas bearing on his shoulders a gleaming globe. Portraits of Russian scientists hung on the walls. In one corner a wooden bust of lenin, smiling , the work of the well-known sculptor S. T. Konienkov…”
Nessmayanov (1899 – 1980) was President of the Academy of Sciences in the USSR from 1951 to 1961.He was twice awarded the title of Hero of Socialist Labour.
He tells the authors, “We do not always care to dream, nor are we always capable of dreaming, but it is essential to do so. Without dreams prospects do not exist, without dreams man, the scientist included, is inevitably halted in his progress. Creation is not consistent with kicking one’s heels.”
Subsequent chapters encompass a range of predictions. In the future it is suggested that
- electricty production will be vastly increased and transmitted for huge distances;
- mining will be carried out without digging
- bloodless surgery will be possible
- the hours spent in sleep could be greatly shortened
- large scale underwater mining will be possible
- submarines will be used to carry passengers under the oceans like liners
- trains will have atomic engines;
- private cars will be banned from cities
- moving pavements will transport people around cities (an idea that Isaac Asimov had already used in his novel The Caves of Steel (1953), by the way)
From the viewpoint of this blog the three chapter on space exploration are most interesting. Our guide to the future in chapter 26 “Space Travel” is the scientist U. S. Hlebsevitch. He suggests that radio controlled unmannned space craft will be best way of conducting the space explorations of the future, thereby eliminating the need to send vast stores of food and fuel into space to feed and sustain the Cosmonauts.
In the next few years we shall approach the Moon, Mars, and Venus without waiting for an artificial satellite capable of carrying human occupants. The first guided rockets will soon explore the Moon and in the following five or perhaps ten years there will be a permanent scientific observatory on the Moon. Return flights to the Moon will become a commonplace by the end of the century. At the beginning of the twenty-first century the Moon will become the seventh Continent of our Planet. and, strange though may sound now, we shall be in a position to exploit its natural wealth…
He goes on to posit that the Moon will initially be explored by an unmanned rocket carrying an exploratory vehicle which will examine the soil, temperature and surface and send back the results by television and radio. He does not rule out other life in the solar system:
Today we are planning on the assumption that neither Mars nor Venus are inhabited. But suppose we find this to be untrue? Then we shall try to build space ships which can enter into radiotelephonic or television contact with the inhabitants of those planets. Only then shall we tackle the most difficult problem of how to land on them.
He envisages using the Moon as a broadcasting platform:
The Moon, for example, will become a radio-telescope for the purpose of retransmission. Transmissions from the Moscow televison centre, for example, will be received on the Moon, reinforced and retransmitted back to the earth. These picturs will be seen by the inhabitants of half the terrestrial globe.
Hlebsevitch suggests an earth observation station will be established on the Moon toprovide very accurate weath forecasts for the whole planet, and that satellites will give advance warning of harmful cosmic radiation and meteors
Finally, he sums up in true Soviet style:
All I have said , all my forecasts can only be realised provided the peoples of the world remain at peace. The combined forces of science and the human brain must be utilised, not for an armaments race, but for the solution of those grandoise problems, the only problems worthy of man. If the endeavour and money spent on missiles with war-heads were used in preparation for interplanetary flight our forecasts would be proved very much sooner.
In Chapter 28 “In The Lunar City” Nicholas Alexandrovitch Varvarov describes what a Soviet permament base on the Moon might look like:
The aluminium was mined on the moon, the glass and the plastic materials were made in lunar factories. The water comes from the depths of the satellite and gives the neccessary humidity for the cultivation of the soil. Oxgen and nitrogen are obtained from lunar materials. The lamps which burn during the long night, which lasts almost a month, are fed from batteries which, at the same time heat the city and supply the power for the factories. All this has been set in motion and the whole work is designed to utilise the energy of local and solar atomic power stations.
The lunar city is not only self-supporting but is also working, one might say, for export. For example, synthetic fuel for rocket servicing is prepared for rockets departing for the earth; plans are ready for the construction of a wharf for cosmic ships. Soon rockets, built in lunar factories, will depart on long-distance journeys. The lunar cosmodrome will soon see the launching of an enormous rocket bound for Mercury, having on board the first expedition of earth’s scientists.
Finally, in chapter 29 “Through Interstellar Space” Kiril Petrovich Stayukovitch imagines photon engines which, by combining matter and anti-matter, will propel the rockets to the speed of light:
…, the course of time on it would be much slower than on earth. On the basis of the meaurement of time on earth a hundred years could elapse. In this time the space ship would travel a distance …corresponding to a hundred light years. But in reality, aboard the space ship only two or three years would elapse and the men on board would only age to this extent. They would visit planets and stars at a great distance from our sun and the return journey to the earth, acording to their time, would be in two or three years. Nevertheless, on their return to earth the astronauts would not find a single person they knew still alive. Because on earth, during the same period , two hundred years would have elapsed.
All contributions in life in the twenty-first century display boundless faith in the ability of science to solve all problems. But as we now know the Soviet plans for interplanetary travel, devised by Sergei Korolev, encountered many problems and were cancelled. The Soviet Union itself dissolved on 26 December 1991.
I have not been able to find anything about the authors, Mikhail Vassiliev and Sergei Gouschev. I did discover that a character called Mikhail Vassiliev appears in Philip Pullman’s short story, Once Upon a Time in the North (2008)
This is a list of all contributors was carried as an appendix in the book.