The hidden artist of the Soviet space program
January 9, 2017 10:53 AM   Subscribe

When Galina Balashova designed her first space habitation module for Soviet cosmonauts, she drew a landscape on its interior wall, something that could remind them of home. In a 2015 interview, she said, "When I popped by to commission the final product they asked me where to procure the painting for the wall. When I replied that it was not needed I was reproached: 'No, it’s been signed off and so we will build it exactly that way.' So I sat down one night and painted pictures for the space capsules. Usually watercolors depicting Russian countryside. They all burned to nothing on re-entry."

Initially, she "was given a futurist-design dream. Without the limitations of gravity – with no up or down – architecture could be freed from earth-bound requirements such as a ceiling or floor. Yet Balashova had the visionary insight to realize that the mind has its own internal gravity, a craving for familiarity."

Now 81, Balashova "began her career as an architect by stripping off the decorations from Stalinist buildings that had fallen foul of the Khrushchev reforms. The classical language of socialist realism was firmly out by the mid-1950s when she started, but the designs still had to get built. Just a bit less frilly. She finished her career in the early 1990s as the pre-eminent architect of space exploration."

Cosmic interiors by secret Soviet architect Galina Balashova: Striving for harmony and beauty in space design

The Soviet Architect Who Drafted the Space Race

Soviet space programme: Philipp Meuser lifts the lid on the seminal cosmic design of Galina Balashova
posted by mandolin conspiracy (14 comments total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
"Look, lady, it's more'n my job's worth not to include this officially sanctioned whimsy."
posted by Etrigan at 11:28 AM on January 9 [7 favorites]

I don't know why "Her sketches were often signed though they were top-secret" sticks out as a special kind of bad-ass but it certainly does. What a life! Thanks for this.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:42 AM on January 9 [1 favorite]

They all burned to nothing on re-entry

And that is the perfect cue to take a long drag from a cigarette, eyes closed, visage: distant.
posted by alex_skazat at 12:28 PM on January 9 [7 favorites]

Sweet, didn't know this history, thanks!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:33 PM on January 9

Thanks so much for this post!
posted by bleep at 1:00 PM on January 9

At first I imagined concrete space Khrushchyovkas
posted by oceanjesse at 1:06 PM on January 9

"I have been boats heading to the horizon on the Black Sea. A village in winter after the crops have been taken in. A single snowflake against a night sky. All lost, likes ashes in the troposphere. Time ... to ... burn."
posted by bl1nk at 1:09 PM on January 9 [6 favorites]

"These watercolors have never returned from space. According to the used technology of the “Soyuz” (Union) flight, astronauts descended to the Earth in the landing module. And orbital compartment where they lived and worked burned along with the watercolors when landing on the ground."

So, no cosmonaut ever thought "hey this looks nice, I think I will save it from incineration"?
posted by ArgentCorvid at 1:25 PM on January 9

I'm sure some did, but I doubt it would have actually been practical for them to do so. There's just not much space for contraband in the reentry capsule.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:41 PM on January 9 [3 favorites]

Fascinating! If this is the continuation of a trend of digging up and telling the cool lesser-known stories of women and space, I'm all for it!
posted by Secretariat at 3:07 PM on January 9 [5 favorites]

This is great, and I love that the first art in space was little original modest watercolors by a specific person involved with the space program, rather than e.g. reproductions of the Mona Lisa or some more The-Done-Thing gesture.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:05 PM on January 9 [3 favorites]

This is so great. The drawings, photos and interviews here have helped me consider aspects of spacecraft design, history, architecture , art and gender in the workplace I've never considered before.
posted by putzface_dickman at 9:15 PM on January 9

Something about the realization that people in the most extreme technical environment pretty much anywhere would want pictures of *home* makes me tear up.

Nice post.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 5:56 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]

I have had her painting of Mir posted in my office since I first encountered it last July in a magazine I picked up on a trip to Melbourne. Great post.
posted by jrb223 at 6:52 PM on January 12

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