This article explores the biography of a network of Soviet telescopic cameras stationed across the African Sahel during the Cold War. Through joint Soviet-African cooperative programs, scientists used these advanced cameras in Egypt, Somalia, Mali, the Sudan, and Chad to photograph satellites flying overhead to gather data to produce a new model of the Earth, one that Soviet scientists hoped would be an alternative to Western models. I argue that these technical artifacts in Africa, connected into a single global network, represented examples of “infrastructural irruptions” of Cold War technopolitics into African geography, wherein the superpowers placed networked technologies inside postcolonial spaces for the collection of data. Although these technologies were nominally Soviet in origin, the story could also be read as one of Africans who invested their geography with agency in the production of scientific knowledge. Like the socialist moment in Africa and indeed the Soviet Union itself, this camera network no longer exists, its data compromised and its material imprint disappeared. But this “failure” should not blind us to the immanent power of possibility embedded in this incomplete project. I argue that this combination of unbounded aspiration and incomplete materiality was a powerful manifestation of the African-Soviet Modern.
You can follow him on Twitter @historyasif.
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Prof. Asif Siddiqi curated, selected, and annotated documents to comprise a new Digital Archival collection on Soviet cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, for the Wilson Center’s Cold War International History Project. The first human to travel into space, fifty years ago, on April 12, 1961. You can click this link to access more information.
Prof. Siddiqi writes: Collectively these 20 declassified documents provide an extraordinary peek into the preparations and implementation of the flight of Yuri Gagarin, the first Soviet cosmonaut, who flew into space in his Vostok spaceship on April 12, 1961.
“They’re green,” says Fordham University history professor Asif Siddiqi of the first group of cosmonauts. “You essentially have the space program mold and shape them.”
The author Jay Bennett continues, “As the U.S. and U.S.S.R. gained experience flying people in space, they began to attempt more complicated missions, such as docking in orbit and sending astronauts outside their spacecraft. In the astronaut selection process, the two space programs put more emphasis on engineering education, and the Soviet program raised its standards for flight time, making the second group of astronauts older and more experienced than the first, Siddiqui says. Buzz Aldrin, selected in the third group of NASA astronauts in 1963, was the first person to join the corps with a doctoral degree (in astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology).”
You can follow Prof. Asif Siddiqi on Twitter @historyasif.
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