The first space race and “other worlds”: new spheres of influence and “imperial” projection

cosmos Archivos - KolobokThe Russian philosopher Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857-1935) is considered the father of astronautics and author of the so-called Tsiolkovsky formula or rocket equation[1]. He was a thinker of spaceships[2], of orbiting space stations that would be inhabited by humans of all nationalities in their preparation to reach planets in our solar system, such as Mars [3], among other ideas such as an orbital elevator to access space from Earth[4].

Tsiolkovsky was a member of a humble family with 17 brothers and sisters in total. With a certain deafness caused by scarlet fever, he turned to knowledge, and Jules Verne's novel "From the Earth to the Moon" fascinated him with this idea. His stay in Moscow from 1873 to 1876 won him the friendship of Nikolai Fyodorovich Fyodorov, and contact with his ideas aroused his curiosity about Fyodorov's philosophical system and anthrocosm[5].

Two years after the October Revolution, 1919, the Bolsheviks appointed him to the Moscow Academy of Sciences. From then on, he was supported and recognized by the USSR until the end of his life, researching, among other aspects, stratospheric exploration and interplanetary flight.

It is clear that the Soviet space programme was neither coincidental nor anecdotal, thanks precisely to Tsiolkovsky. Rocket engineers such as the extraordinary Sergey Koroliov or the genius Wernher von Braun pointed to him as their main reference.

Nuclear missiles on parade in Red Square. Sixties, former USSR

Like the United States, the Russian Empire was in a phase of stagnation that should keep it alive in territorial expansion, and/or in the geopolitical dispute with another Empire that would be approaching collapse once it reached its maximum extent: the British Empire. I am referring, obviously, to the Great Game. But, once it is played in a dynamic in which the movements on the geopolitical board are balanced, it was necessary to look for a technological and economic development that would help to structure the Empire, and that would prepare it for a new expansion.

And this is when Tsiolkovsky's philosophical projection arises, which would find a basis for growth in anthrocosm, on which he meditated, and which resulted in a sort of union between the positivism of the West, embodied in the work of Auguste Comte, and the intellectual tradition of Russian Orthodoxy, the latter embodied, for example, by Pavel Florenski[6]. 6] The difference between Florenski and Tsiolkovsky for the Bolshevik power apparatus is that, unlike the former, the latter agreed to work with them, and because they clearly identify within Tsiolkovsky's thought formulations of scientific providentialism comparable to Marxist dialectical materialism and neo-Kantian cosmopolitanism.

After World War II, Tsiolkovsky will be revitalized by Kaluga, where he is also known and admired, helping to present the Soviet program as a manifestation of the good will, strength and purity of the Soviet ideal of neo-Kantian cosmopolitanism, which differentiates it from its competitor that establishes the axis in the market and not in the proletarian class, the United States. It is also used as an agglutinating element between the two ideological blocks to try to put values and knowledge incommon [7]. 7]In fact, his figure has come back into fashion in recent years to try to relaunch the conquest of space or other challenges.

The idea behind this is that both Empires, converted into champions of the neo-Kantian cosmopolitanism by different routes, find themselves in a nuclear standoff, in an intermediate zone or grey area where they fight their different battles for the influence of the non-aligned countries, and where the confrontation by means of proxies takes place in scenarios such as Africa, Asia and America. So, both empires cannot continue to expand, but both need to find, as had already happened:

  • a new technology (nuclear technology)
  • an upgrade of the army (nuclear war and cold war)
  • new forms of transport (aircraft and cars, the oil combustion engine, tar)
  • to attract the nations of the Earth to their position by excluding ideological rivalry in terms of the nuance of achieving the union of all the republics of the Earth
Soviet propaganda on the space race

This competition is hard for both contenders, with the United States noting that it could lose its position to the nations of Western Europe and the Yom Kippur War, President Anwar Sadat's change in Egypt's alignment demonstrated at Camp David along with Israel's Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who was replaced as a key player in Soviet influence in the region by Hafez al-Asad's Syria. Likewise, the USSR must also control two attempts at rebellion such as the Hungarian Revolution (1956) and the Prague Spring (1968), the break-up of the centrality of the socialist axis with the fall of the Bamboo Curtain and the transformation of China into the world's factory by the United States, followed by the petrodollar in the 1970s, The Chinese-Soviet clashes, and the need to expand the Soviet "empire" with Afghanistan, losing the economic race and increasingly, in some sectors of technology, not to mention Reagan's so-called "STAR WARS" that led to the Soviets taking it too seriously and losing a huge amount of resources with the Buran Shuttle.

How do you manage to expand the "Empire" when it is not so easy to do so?

The answer is obvious, much more money is needed, and for this we must continue with the path of abstraction of money. The United States turned the dollar into a fiat currency backed by the petrodollars that Western Europe and China were forced to buy and pay in dollars, weakening the nations of Western Europe, as well as finding themselves in a first trade war with Europe, which would be followed by Japan and now, in a way, by China. The next step, starting with Reaganomics and neoliberalism, is to increase the mass of money available, in such a way that today we use digits to pay and contract debts, which countries and people return as obligations that move in natural wealth, working hours or movable or immovable goods. The next step is obviously the elimination of cash. In my opinion, it is a matter of applying the ideas of the Wittgenstein Tractatus, in particular the thesis "the limits of language are the limits of my world"[9], because reality can be expressed in language, the correct language that allows us to describe the reality that we intend to understand or designate. If I create the right language, I can create infinite money, create another world that will also be part of reality, and I will be able to connect and manipulate them, and so on.

Stephen Moore: Obamanonics vs. Reaganomics - WSJAnother necessary aspect is to establish new borders, as President J.F. Kennedy mentioned. This new frontier means an economic, but not a political Europe, a Southeast Asia that is a sort of mirror of that economic Europe (ASEAN). But it is also the formation of new realities. The space race is a new frontier for both competitors[10]. Another idea of a new frontier would come from the "cyber" world, where there is another opportunity to recruit nations and people[11].

The Soviets advanced to the United States, but the clumsiness and lack of clarity of ideas of those who had the capacity to make decisions prevented the materialization of a fascinating project thought up by a computer genius, Viktor Glushkov, whose idea was to create a civil network that would interconnect the USSR in its entirety at the beginning of the 1970s, preceding the World Wide Web in almost 20 years. But even more so, Glushkov thought of Cybertonia, a kind of extraordinary socialist Silicon Valley. At that time it was known to the Soviets that the United States had just started Arpanet. 12]On October 1, 1970, Glushkov proposed cyber-socialism. 13] Glushkov was based on the previous work of Anatoly Kitov, who in 1959 wanted to propose to Prime Minister Khrushchev a computer network that would unite the USSR by bringing together professionals from the civilian sphere and the Red Army.

But Glushkov had even greater ambition. The acronym OGAS[14] concealed the project to set up a central network based in Moscow to communicate any corner of the country through 200 centres scattered throughout the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. In total, it required 20,000 terminals. In addition to this, an electronic payment system was to be set up that would put an end to the circulation of banknotes and coins, as well as automatons, a paperless office for operation and communication, a language for communicating human beings and computers. To this was added a kind of social network, Cybertonia, which was launched in 1960, and which issued passports and marriage certificates, as well as drafting a constitution for that platform. It was governed by a committee of robots that reported to a central robot that played the saxophone. It had its own currency, the cybertone, its own newspaper Evening Cyber, and a cybersauna as a recreational area[15].


The United States can draw valuable lessons from the fall of the USSR, such as how to control military spending, or rather its efficiency, and monitor the costs of the space race in a context such as the present one. Likewise, from the internal contradictions and the very different and disparate character of the USSR in a scenario of collapse, the United States can learn to avoid it, since there are already different centrifugal tensions within the United States that without an Empire and a unity of action towards the outside could resort to geographical and economic logics (a unit in the Pacific, another in New England, another in the Gulf of Mexico-Mississippi). After all, that was the logic that served to disengage the Soviets from what they considered a controllable backyard in Central Asia and to divide the three main centers of power and economic and geopolitical interests in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.

In turn, this crisis presents a serious challenge, aggravated by the effects of the Covid-19 and which make one think that perhaps a time of social and territorial tensions will be unleashed that would implode, on a reality in that same pre-existing sense. It is worth mentioning that the points highlighted here: new infrastructures, new army, new means of transport, new energy, imperial ideology of global reach, new digital/ciber and space frontiers, will be the key or, better said, the symphony, together with social peace, that will be played by whoever wants to build, now, a global Empire and give shape to an imperial version of cosmopolitanism, which cannot be carried out by a single country, as it has been until now. Rather, by a league of countries acting as partners on equal terms.

1] Tsiolkovsky develops such a formula in the article entitled "Space research by means of jet vehicles" (1903). The interested reader can consult the following link:

2] In "The Free Space", (1883), it includes a diagram with the design of a spaceship with cosmonauts inside that throw balls at each other in a state of apparent weightlessness. There are also two large gyroscopes to know the ship's orientation in space and a small pressurized chamber with two gates to go outside, among other elements that show the visionary genius.

3] Furthermore, it talks about controlling the climate and our entire planetary system, reaching out to even other suns and using their energy when our star is dying.

4] It is a structure about 36,000 kilometers high to access space, where most of the satellites in the geostationary orbit are located. For Tsiolkovsky, it was necessary to stop launching rockets if necessary in order to concentrate efforts on making such an elevator more efficient, safer and cheaper to access space.

5] It consists of the movement that advocates the union of the entire human race in the common cause and with the engine of scientific progress to achieve the end of suffering and death itself. Fyodorov's thought is very close to the intellectual tradition of the Raskolniki, the old schismatic believers, and their utopian communities that sought to liberate from original sin through the work of the earth. Even Fyodorov talks about making the earth a paradise and raising the dead to life. A kind of transhumanism that links transcendence and immortality.

6] Art historian, mathematician, philosopher, poet, engineer, physicist and Orthodox priest. I think it is not by chance that his son, Kiril Florenski, was an astronomer and geologist, as the spirit of that time. His vision of aesthetics or dialectics influenced by Plato's thought is very relevant. I have also been struck by his vision of language, as he establishes that the word has three parts, the phoneme or external form, the morpheme or skeleton and semena or the soul of the word. It is this capacity to project a spiritual aspect but also, following Plato, the semena is what the word really is, and not its external form or skeleton. This will have a special relevance when it comes to understanding abstract approaches of Russian thought that could not be developed in their time, and that would have given an advantage to the USSR, as Benjamin Peters states in his book How Not to Network a Nation. The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet.

7] Represented by Joseph Shklovsky and Carl Sagan and the establishment of SETI, the program to search for possible intelligent life in the universe.

[8] Like the Russia 2045 program that consists of downloading a human brain into a computer.

Could this reflection be related to the one I mentioned by Florenski? Do words have a soul, as Florenski proposes, and if one knows how to reach it, one can formulate it with them?

10] Both Soviet or socialist science fiction and American science fiction generate cultural products that abound in this idea of a world united by the socialist system or in the market, examples of which would be Solaris, Ikarie XB-1, both based on the stories of Stanisław Lem; Aelita by Aleksey Tolstoy, Red Star by Alexander Bogdanov; or, Star Trek, Star Wars, Babylon 5, Stargate, The Expanse, stories like Call Me Joe, movies like Avatar, series of stories like Tuf Voyagin by George R. R. Martin, Space Merchants and The Merchant War by Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth; to cite just a few examples from each side. We can see the same eagerness: a humanity that progresses in the stars and as a species, but also the recreation of the myth of the United States' frontier, with opportunities for anyone who ventures out and challenges the media, a melting pot, and so on.

11] Again, "land of opportunity", challenges, place not yet regulated. Promise of freedom or threat of control. As an example, Tron and Tron: Legacy.

12] A computer network created by the Department of Defense to serve as a communication system between state and academic institutions. Unlike the United States, the USSR had had large scale military defense communication networks since the 1950s, so it had the experience to develop an unprecedented civilian network communication project.

[13] He was an engineer and the first director of the Kiev Cybernetics Center. He had an extraordinary scientific background, spoke fluent German and English, and was very familiar with the sources of socialism, such as Marx, among others, as he explains in his book Peters Benjamin, How Not to Network a Nation. The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet.

14] "Automated System for Collecting and Processing Information for Accounting, Planning and Governance of the National Economy".

15] This article is available for more information:


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