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Julia Shuvalova – Space O

Space O by Julia Shuvalova is a fictional account of David Bowie composing one of his most famous songs, Space Oddity. #bowie75


I wrote the story “Space O” in Russian in late February 2021, upon learning about a literary contest dedicated to the 60th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s flight to space. The contest was organized by Litres.Samizdat, a Russian platform for self-published authors, and Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency. It was shortlisted for the final and was eventually published in a separate collection of novellas by other contestants. Apparently, this collection has recently been delivered to the ISS, too.

space o
A cover of the original Russian story

As I was thinking about the subject for my story, I went through some notebooks but I did not find anything that caught my attention. It had to be a short story or a novella. I began to think “outside the box”. I did not want to delve into too many technical aspects of space flights, nor did I want to populate the story with extraterrestrial characters. I wanted something creative, daring, and utterly humane. Suddenly Space Oddity came to mind…, and I wrote this story overnight.

This is obviously a fictional account of David Bowie’s composing one of his most famous songs, but I did some research for the fictional part. All aspects of the first three chapters fell together almost by themselves, I only had to write it all down. Along the way I realized that I walked the same streets in Soho, I lived in Bromley, accessed from Victoria Station, for 2 weeks in 2004, so I was a regular at Victoria Station, too. The pub I depicted was a beer hole I visited once, but it was probably in Greater Manchester where I lived between 2003 and 2010. And I saw many loaders, like “Major Tom”, in my 7 years in England. After I submitted the story for the contest I decided to check when the first British person went to space. Turned out it was a woman, and her mission was mutually financed by the UK and the USSR, and it took place… on May 19th, 1991. 30 years after the first flight. “Majors” had to wait for a long time.

Space O is a story about dreams – and what breaks them. It is about love and poverty – the topics that Robert Burns was very much aware about. It is about inspiration and thirst for life. And it is about the Earth and space – for “the whole space is about Earth.” And on occasion of David Bowie’s 75th birthday I translated the story into English and share it now on this blog.

More on the topic:

60th Anniversary of the first space flight

Most posts about space

First Space Flight: 60TH Anniversary

First space flight meant more than just overcoming the gravity. Gagarin showed the working class that everyone had a chance in life.

Ten years later I’m writing a post on the 60th anniversary of the first space flight.This year a Russian self-publishing platform, Litres.Samizdat, and Roskosmos, the Russian Space Agency, organised a contest of short stories. They had to be about space exploration, or dreaming about space, and to generally fall into the category of sci-fi stories. My story was short-listed for a book, but it was not about space exploration as such. It was about David Bowie’s composing Space Oddity, although it mentions the first space flight.

The International Space Day

It is a well-known fact that Bowie struggled to break through onto the music scene. I was inspired to use it as a backdrop for my story, which came out to be a reflection on what Yuri Gagarin’s first space flight really meant for mankind. It wasn’t just a flight into space, overcoming the gravity; it was, quite literally, a flight in the face of all conventions and restrictions, especially social and economic. Gagarin, a son of a carpenter and a milkmaid, showed the working class that everyone had a chance for a break-through, no matter the background.

A synopsys:

London, 1969. Psychedelics, hippies and space flights inspire a young musician who can’t compose his first hit song and is suffering from misunderstanding and loneliness. One day, in a pub, he meets a red-haired dockworker who, like him, is living a dream of space. From a single conversation Space Oddity, one of the main “cosmic” songs, is born.

It’s only available in Russian at the moment, so if you know the language, please read it here. If you wish to help me out with the English translation (and be credited for it), please, drop me a line.

The book cover

My previous posts about Space

Jodrell Bank touched the stars and starts into Euro Space Mission

Life in Space: the anniversaries of satellites and search engines

Poekhali by Yuri Gagarin to become a trademark

Georgy Beregovoy – Space Begins on Earth

Yuri Gagarin’s First Orbit – A Film

The 50th anniversary of the first manned orbit

Poekhali by Yuri Gagarin To Become a Trademark

Poekhali (Let’s Go) by Yuri Gagarin to become a trademark, the press office of Roskosmos reports. Other historic signs have also been claimed.

Roscosmos has initiated the registration of several historic and seminal signs as trademarks “to protect the state corporation from unfair competition”. Poekhali by Yuri Gagarin is to become a trademark – the world-famous word he said on his first flight to space, which means “let’s go”.

Poekhali by Yuri Gagarin is known all over the world as the first words of a man in space. It is set to become a trademark if registered by Pospatent. Image credit: fortuna-2014.livejournal.com

As we’re waiting to hear about further details, here’s a song about Yuri Gagarin, Do You Know What Man He Was, sung by Yuri Gulyaev. The video is a collage of Gagarin’s photos.

Nine years ago, when the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first manned Earth orbit, Anton Agarkov paid a visit to the Star City and shared lots of photos that I also featured on my blog. Read the article. To commemorate the same event, Attic Room Productions have made The First Orbit movie that you can watch below. It reconstructs Gagarin’s historic flight and helps to relive his experience – now almost 60 years on.

More posts on Space.

Georgy Beregovoy – Spacе Begins on Earth

Extracts from the book by the Russian cosmonaut, the Hero of the Soviet Union Georgy Beregovoy “Space Begins on Earth” (translated from Russian by Julia Shuvalova).

“Aldrin is wrong, perhaps, on one point: the feeling of unity with mankind has nothing mystical about it. It is a natural consequence of man’s going out into Space where he has acutely realised that he innately belongs to Earth. The alien nature of Space makes people understand more deeply and clearly what these are – the Earth and its human inhabitants. Today mankind is no longer a mere mass of people who lived once or are living now; mankind is something that exists nowhere in the entire universe – except on Earth.

It has long been noted that a parasite consumes far more than someone who lives an active life, who is passionate about his work, interesting work. The parasite strives to fill the void of his existence with objects; they are the only things that preoccupy him. The one who leads an active life creates objects rather than consumes them. For him, things are not the end of it all; they are just the interior of life, and their sense lies in a man’s self-expression, in making use of whatever capabilities and opportunities he has got. These people usually give more to the world than take away from it.

The creative mind is great because it aims at what can be achieved and created, not what has been done. It strives to the future instead of sinking into the present.

The life of a man is but a particle of time; the life of mankind is an uninterrupted chain of these particles that to us is the image of Time itself. And just as it is impossible to either stop the time or to turn it back, so the mankind can only move forward. This is why the Space exploration is inevitable unless we want the mankind to disappear along with our, sadly, mortal planet. Earth is but a humanity’s cradle, in the words of Tsiolkovsky, and its real home is an infinite universe, not bound by either time, or space.

We simply have no choice… We may only choose the means to the goal, not the goal itself. And the goal of delving into Space and its exploration has been set by the very nature of rational life.

Each of us follows his own path to reach the goals of his epoch… I have always strived to do as much as I am capable of, and not less – and I hope to continue to do so! Yet even this skill is rather usual, in that anyone may acquire it, given the desire.

Of course, I didn’t want to waste my life on nonsense, I wanted to serve people. And for that, I knew well, I had to give my all, to live so that I had no energy left of what had been given to me.

In physics they say that when a system energy reaches its critical level, a threshold, it inevitably acquires a new, previously inexistant quality. So I, too, have eventually reached my critical threshold beyond which there lay the road to Space”.

The 50th Anniversary of the First Manned Orbit – A Report from the Star City

Many years ago when I was still in school I had the chance of a lifetime: I visited the Star City, the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre located in the northeast of Moscow where they teach and train future spacemen. I still remember the visit, and my reminder is a “golden” commemorating coin with Yuri Gagarin’s portrait.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photo, when there, so I was kind of hoping that I may find some on the web. And so I did, and if you read in Russian, go to the Russian post by Anton Agarkov. And if you want to read about the political history of the Star City, head over to the Russian Space Web.

So, when you arrive to the train station just a few minutes away from Moscow, you are taken to the Star City through the gates that divide the earthly and heavenly lives. Behind the gates are clean streets, modern houses, shops, schools, and training buildings. Spacemen have lived in the Star City with their families, here they shopped, here their children went to school. In the Soviet era people used to joke that socialism had come to life in this little spot outside of the capital city.

Credit: Anton Agarkov

One of the most important tasks a potential cosmonaut has to complete is a centrifuge training. It is at this stage that a lot of prospects are seeded out: the centrifuge shows, whether or not people can sustain the taking-off and setting down. A lot of equipment at the training centre is unique, and speaking of centrifuges, at the Star City there is the world’s largest centrifuge produced by the Swedish company, ASIA, at the astronomical price of 11 ton of gold, excuse the pun. The result is the ability of the medical team at the training centre to monitor the changes in the cosmonaut’s health under the influence of fluctuations in temperature, pressure, humidity, and even the atmospheric content of the centrifuge.

Credit: Anton Agarkov
Credit: Anton Agarkov

Another place of interest at the training centre is the hydrolaboratory. This is a swimming pool specially designed to imitate the state of weightlessness. A cosmonaut wearing a spacesuit is put in the water; to keep him from floating, the spacesuit is emburdened with leaded weights. The pool’s depth allows to put in it various modules of the International Space Station, so that the prospective cosmonauts can practise working in the open space.

Credit: Anton Agarkov
Credit: Anton Agarkov

Obviously, it is impossible to fully replicate the weightlessness: the objects that would be weightless in space retain their weight in the swimming pool. To this end, cosmonauts work together with the specially trained aqualungers.

Credit: Anton Agarkov
Credit: Anton Agarkov

Since the preparation for travelling into space is carried out on Earth, cosmonauts also have to learn to pilot their spacecraft. There is a special division at the training centre where they do just that. On Anton’s photo, through small windows and on displays we can see the bowels of the spacecraft the cosmonauts use to descend on Earth. Here, as well, is an imitation of a position the cosmonaut takes, when descending.

Credit: Anton Agarkov
Credit: Anton Agarkov
Credit: Anton Agarkov

In this division, the future spacemen work on normal and abnormal scenarios they may have to deal with in the upper spheres. And on special displays you can see a full cosmonaut pack, including high-calorie food in small tubes, signaling rockets, and even a gun, should the spaceman has to protect himself against the wild beasts that may be inhabiting the place where the spacecraft descends.

Credit: Anton Agarkov

Bearing in mind that scientific enquiries into the possibilities of going into space have started in Russia already in the 19th c., it shouldn’t be surprising that it eventually became the country who first sent a man into space. What is amazing, is that mere 16 years before that the country lay in ruins after the destructive Second World War. When I visited an exhibition of Soviet photographs at the Imperial War Museum North in 2006, this was what struck me the most. Throughout the first 10-13 photos I was looking at the war atrocities, hunger, death, a Reichstag banner – and suddenly, there was this massive smile of Yuri Gagarin, two Soviet chessmen competing against one another at the final of the world tournament, and many more happy faces. Perhaps, that happiness wasn’t altogether sincere, but the difference between the pre-war and the post-war Russia was quite palpable. It was as if, having stepped on the threshold of oblivion, the nation resolutely turned back and went beyond every imaginable boundary – straight to the stars.

I guess sometimes either a person, or a nation has to fall low – to then pave the road to people’s dreams.

Happy Cosmonaut Day!

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