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'Soviet Space Graphics' takes you inside the cosmic visions of the USSR

"Soviet Space Graphics: Cosmic Visions from the USSR," (Phaidon, 2020), released April 1, is an incredible collection of images from the USSR.
"Soviet Space Graphics: Cosmic Visions from the USSR," (Phaidon, 2020), released April 1, is an incredible collection of images from the USSR. (Image credit: Phaidon)

One new book transports readers back to the early days of Soviet spaceflight (opens in new tab) with an unbelievable collection of stunning, colorful and nostalgic images. 

"Soviet Space Graphics: Cosmic Visions from the USSR (opens in new tab)," (Phaidon, 2020), released April 1, is a masterful compendium of images showcasing space design ideas from the then Soviet Union from the 1920s through the 1980s. It highlights the beauty of early space design in imaginative, colorful artworks. 

This book is a collaboration between the Moscow Design Museum and author Alexandra Sankova, who is both a graphic designer and a founder of the museum. " I grew up in the Soviet Union and dreamed of becoming cosmonauts as many boys and girls did," Sankova told Space.com in an email, adding that, during this time period in the Soviet Union the cosmonauts, and even the first dogs to fly to space, were some of the most adored and revered figures. 

Related: The 10 Greatest Soviet and Russian Space Missions

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"Soviet Space Graphics: Cosmic Visions from the USSR (opens in new tab)," (Phaidon, 2020) showcases a number of incredible images from the Soviet side of the space race. 

"The theme of space penetrated into every apartment, and I don't mean only magazine covers. Belka and Strelka — who were the first animals to successfully complete an orbital flight and return to the Earth alive — obtained status of the Soviet Union's most famous dogs," Sankova said. 

Now, given the large span of time that this collection draws from, the team had to be very selective with the images they chose to include. "The selection of visual material took quite a lot of time," Sankova said. They chose from a massive variety of materials including posters, postcards, magazines and books from those decades. 

She noted that images from magazines have long been overlooked by art historians because they printed and distributed the magazines to all Soviet citizens and the images were therefore very common. However, "many of these works are masterpieces of graphic design."

But the pieces they ended up choosing are incredible not just for their visual beauty but the design and inspiration behind them as well as many of the artists who contributed to the magazines they drew from were also experts in technology and science fields. "For example, the author of the "Technology for the Youth" cover (page 153) Vladimir Aryamov was the chief designer of the All-Union Scientific Research Automotive Institute, the author of numerous concept cars that were much ahead of their time. Later he worked at the All-Union Scientific Research Institute of Technical Aesthetics — the leading organization for industrial design in the USSR," Sankova said. 

 Some of Sankova's favorite images included in the book are by both cosmonaut Alexei Leonov (opens in new tab), the world's first spacewalker and a science-fiction artist. In addition to being a groundbreaking cosmonaut as the first person to ever conduct a spacewalk, Leonov was also a talented painter. "The vivid, spectacular and authentic works created "first hand" painted an image of the cosmos as a romantic, friendly space in the minds of many Soviet citizens," Sankova said. 

The space race

While these images are stunning and diving into the history of Soviet spaceflight is very interesting on its own, Sankova points out that "it is fascinating to compare American and Soviet graphics, as space programs were carried out simultaneously."

"The space race influenced everything — from innovations to design of newspapers, magazines, and posters in both countries. NASA imagery is awesome and impressive! I dream of creating an exhibition where the works of Soviet illustrators and designers will be displayed alongside with the works of their American colleagues," Sankova said. 

If you are familiar with art and pieces of pop culture from the U.S. during the space race (opens in new tab) you might see familiar styles or imagery. From fantastical, imaginative technology ideas to glamorized visions of space tourism and exploration, it is interesting to see the similarities and also the differences between art from different parts of the world during the space race. 

Follow Chelsea Gohd on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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Chelsea Gohd
Senior Writer

Chelsea “Foxanne” Gohd joined Space.com in 2018 and is now a Senior Writer, writing about everything from climate change to planetary science and human spaceflight in both articles and on-camera in videos. With a degree in Public Health and biological sciences, Chelsea has written and worked for institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine and Live Science. When not writing, editing or filming something space-y, Chelsea "Foxanne" Gohd is writing music and performing as Foxanne, even launching a song to space in 2021 with Inspiration4. You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd and @foxannemusic.