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Knocking on Heaven's Door: Armenia's Abandoned Orgov Telescope

Credit: Norayr via Wikipedia

Two hours by car from Yerevan, nestled amongst grazing cattle and the farmers who tend to them, is the abandoned remains of a telescope which once searched for signs of life beyond our world.

Space exploration was initially a practical concern: rocket technology solved the problem of sending huge nuclear payloads over long distances. But the Space Race soon evolved into something of much greater symbolic significance. Space became the dramatic arena for an ideological and intellectual struggle between communism and capitalism. If the Soviets won the Space Race, they would win the Cold War.


During the Cold War, scientists in the US and the USSR had almost unlimited budgets when it came to space research. For many, their primary objective was not politics, but the exploration of other worlds. Earthy ideologies like communism and capitalism held no pull in their orbits. At the peak of the Cold War in 1971, 44 of the world’s most renowned scientists from the US and the USSR, including Carl Sagan, came together in Byurakan, a small mountainous Armenian village. They were there for four days to discuss the challenges of communicating with intelligent life beyond our planet as part of the first Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence (CETI) conference.

The search for intelligence beyond our world captured the attention of the USSR. Against the backdrop of Mount Aragats, a radio telescope to capture and decode radio signals from space was commissioned by the Soviet state. Construction of the 54 metre Orgov Radio-Optical Telescope took place between 1975 and 1985. Operational in 1986, it captured a radio-flare on the Etta Gemini star within its first few minutes of operation. 

Credit: HAYP Pop Up Gallery

It was once considered one of the most powerful radio telescopes in the world, but it fell into disrepair after the collapse of the Soviet Union due to lack of funding. In the early 2000s, a plan to restore the telescope was proposed, but the hefty price tag of $200-250 million to get it working again, means that little progress has been made.

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Further Reading


The Buran: The Soviet Response to NASAs Space Shuttle

On November 15, 1988, the Soviet Union's first reusable space shuttle, the Buran, launched in what is now present-day Kazakhstan. This little-known chapter in the Cold War space race saw the Soviets build their own version of NASA's Space Shuttle to challenge the USA for space supremacy. The Buran, Russian for "blizzard", was once the future of the Soviet space program. But, its first flight was also its last. A year after its launch, the Berlin Wall fell and the USSR collapsed. The space shuttle program was suspended. In 1993, it was canceled altogether.


Intourist Travel Posters - How the USSR Used Propaganda to Drive Tourism

Intourist held a monopoly on tourism in the USSR. As the only tourism agency in the Soviet Union, Intourist was responsible for attracting and accommodating all tourists. Like every other industry or ideal in the USSR, Intourist used propaganda to advance its agenda. Posters targeted western audiences. They portrayed the Soviet Union as a glamorous and exotic land rather than a country of labourers and peasants.


The Trans-Siberian Railroad - The Railroad that Changed the World and Started a War

9,198 kilometres of tracks connect Moscow to the Pacific port of Vladivostok. As the longest railroad in the world, the Trans-Siberian Railway is truly one of humanity’s most impressive engineering feats. But, this symbol of Soviet power has also had an outsized impact on the world at large. Its construction was the catalyst for a war between two superpowers, it transported millions of prisoners to the Gulags, and served as a lifeline during the Second World War.


A Top 10 Guide to Georgia’s Best Soviet & Modern Architecture

The Sovereign state of the Caucasus – and Stalin’s home nation – Georgia was a critical part of the USSR. In the late 1970s, it stepped out from its Soviet shadow and into a new architectural age. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the ambitious and otherworldly designs became an explicit rebuke of Communism and a sign of Georgia’s struggle towards self-actualisation. Here are ten of my favourite buildings in Georgia.
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