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Cold War in orbit, or how astronauts prepared to fight astronauts
Cold War in orbit, or how astronauts prepared to fight astronauts

Despite the generally accepted phrase "peaceful space exploration", it has not been like this since the first manned flights of man into Earth orbit. Moreover, the USSR and the USA were preparing for "Star Wars" long before mankind discovered the space age. Both superpowers had plans not only to create a laser service weapon for astronauts, but also more serious projects - from cannons suspended from orbital stations to nuclear missile strikes on the Moon.

Astronauts' service weapons

Few people know that Yuri Gagarin had on board his Vostok-1 ship, among other vital equipment, and a personal service weapon - a Makarov pistol. Until 1965, the PM remained in service with the cosmonauts, until an emergency situation occurred with the crew of the Voskhod-2 spacecraft. Due to a malfunction in the automatic equipment, the landing of the apparatus was supervised by the cosmonauts themselves - Pavel Belyaev and Alexei Leonov, who became the first person to go into outer space on this flight, and frankly "got lost", having lost the course.

Cosmonauts A. Leonov and P. Belyaev after returning from the taiga

The capsule with the astronauts landed not at the prepared test site, but 200 kilometers away. Leonov and Belyaev had to spend 3 days in the taiga. Local hunters helped to find them. However, after this incident, it was decided to develop a special universal weapon for the cosmonauts. It was a hybrid of a 3-barrel shotgun and a tourist hatchet. These weapons could both prepare firewood and repel attacks by alleged NASA boarding squads.

The very same pistol with three barrels, which received the TP-82 marking, used smoothbore cartridges of a special caliber 12, 5x70 millimeters as the main ammunition. However, one barrel was "sharpened" for firing 5, 45x40 mm rifled ammunition, which was equipped with an expansive bullet with a cavity at the top. Such a charge had an impressive destructive power and could easily lay down both a large animal and a person in a spacesuit.

Three-barreled pistol TP-82 in the Artillery Museum of St. Petersburg

The developments of the Americans in this area were much more modest. For astronauts, only short knives were supposed as service weapons, and, perhaps, also a machete. However, in the United States, in terms of the militarization of space, they thought much more broadly. Since 1959, the Pentagon, together with NASA, have been seriously busy developing plans to build real military bases on a natural satellite of the Earth.

Cosmic "non-peaceful" atom

The main project of the Americans was the idea of ​​a lunar base, codenamed Project Horizon. According to this idea, a detachment of 12 military astronauts was to be deployed on the Horizon, equipped with nuclear power units and recoilless launchers for M388 Davy Crockett atomic ammunition. The total cost of Project Horizon was $ 6 billion at the time. The White House did not dare to allocate that kind of money, and the Horizon project was never brought to the stage of its implementation.

American project "Horizon"

The two superpowers also had other "developments" associated with the "non-peaceful" atom on the moon. They were distinguished by their scale and ambition. And if the USSR in its project E-4 planned to detonate a relatively small charge - something like a sea mine, then the United States was considering a much larger nuclear explosion.The American project A-119 provided for the delivery to the lunar surface and detonation of a nuclear missile warhead with a capacity of 1.7 kilotons in TNT equivalent.

In the theoretical substantiation of its project, the Pentagon primarily emphasized its scientific component. Allegedly, in this way, the United States will be able to practice the delivery of goods to a natural satellite of the Earth, as well as study its geology and explosive effects in space. However, there was an obvious psychological component in the A-119 project. The detonation of a charge of such power would be clearly visible from the planet, even with the naked eye. And this would mean a victory for the United States over the USSR at the next stage of the nuclear arms race.

American project of nuclear explosion on the Moon A-119

It is also interesting that all these atomic projects were stopped not because of their technical complexity or high cost. Both superpowers feared the real prospect of radioactive contamination of the area on the moon, where later it would be planned to place residential bases, as well as the theoretical possibility (in the event of a missile malfunction during launch) of its falling along with a nuclear charge onto the territory of a foreign state. And the inevitable diplomatic difficulties.

Shooting in outer space

From the early 1970s until its collapse, the USSR managed to launch 5 manned Almaz stations into Earth orbit. The duties of these devices and their crew members, who had military ranks not lower than lieutenant colonel, included radio intelligence of the territory of the alleged enemy, as well as the management of military bases and the actions of armies in the event of a military conflict. Including after the alleged mutual nuclear strikes.

Military space station "Almaz"

The real history of Soviet "Star Wars" began after the MCC (Mission Control Center) noticed that the cargo bay of NASA's space shuttles, launched under the Space Shuttle program, was ideally suited to accommodate the Soviet Almaz station. ". This fact was seen as preparing Americans for kidnapping or space boarding. The reaction was immediate.

Soviet "Almazy" became the first, and so far the only in the history of mankind's space exploration, manned vehicles, on board which were installed real weapons. Under the "belly" of the station was placed an aviation automatic cannon designed by Nudelman-Richter, which in a minute was capable of shooting about a thousand 170-gram ammunition.

Aviation automatic cannon designed by Nudelmann-Richter

Along with this, the development of fiber laser pistols began in the USSR. Such a weapon could both blind the attacking astronaut and disable cameras on NASA's unmanned unmanned satellites. The pistols were supposed to shoot beams of energy and have destructive power at a distance of 20 meters.

As ammunition for laser pistols, it was planned to use "cartridges" made of zirconium foil, charged with a mixture of metal salts and oxygen. And these were by no means "dead development". The only thing that prevented the Soviet Union from starting serial production of laser pistols for cosmonauts was its collapse at the end of December 1991.

Prototypes of Soviet laser weapons for cosmonauts, developed by the Military Academy of the Strategic Missile Forces

But the USSR still managed to shoot in space. This happened on September 25, 1975, when the Almaz cannon fired a burst at the “supposed enemy”. The aiming of the gun, as well as its guidance towards the target, was carried out by turning the entire body of the station.

Thor's Hammer

Naturally, the CIA was well aware of Soviet military satellites and combat space stations. In the States, they realized the degree of the threat and, since the early 1960s, have insured themselves. On 24-hour combat duty in the United States were 2 intercontinental nuclear ballistic missiles of the "Thor" project. It was a kind of "anti-aircraft weapon" for the destruction of Soviet military spacecraft.

American ballistic missile of the "Thor" project

Warhead "Thor" with a nuclear charge of 1 megaton was supposed to detonate after launch and ascent of the rocket to an altitude of 1350 km.During this explosion, all objects in a sphere with a diameter of about 10 km would be completely destroyed. For all the apparent effectiveness and power, some questions to the "Thor" still remained even with the Pentagon itself. In particular, one of the frankly weak points of the project was the missile guidance system at the intended target.

End of Star Wars

The Thor project was suspended by the Americans in the late 1970s after a significant "warming" in relations between the USSR and the United States. However, already in the 1980s, a new round of the Cold War began, which immediately affected space. In the United States, a new military project, the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), has been launched, which is called the "Star Wars Program" in society.

US Strategic Defense Initiative

Until now, experts and historians argue about what the American SDI really was - a real missile defense system (missile defense) with space-based weapon-based elements, or a successful "canard" for undermining the economy of the Soviet Union. Be that as it may, the United States curtailed its Strategic Defense Initiative program immediately after the collapse of the USSR.

Currently, the Americans, Chinese and Iranians are busy exploring Mars, Roscosmos plans to revive the "lunar program" and create its own space station in Earth orbit, and ESA (European Space Agency), together with Japan and NASA, continue to operate and modernize the ISS.

Space battle in the computer game Star Wars Battlefront II

All of them declare the exclusively peaceful exploration of outer space for the benefit of all mankind. And maybe people have enough common sense not to turn the solar system into the very "distant, distant galaxy" of George Lucas, where "Star Wars" raged.

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