Venus, the Moon, hereinafter everywhere: an interview with Pavel Shubin

    There are many popularizers of astronautics, and, even better, they are different. Texts, podcasts, books, videos, live performances - there are all the options for a wide variety of audiences. At the same time, some follow less well-worn paths. Pavel Shubin writes books about the history of studying celestial bodies with spacecraft and publishes them using crowdfunding. I bring to your attention an interview with him.

    How and when did the fascination with space come about? What influenced this?

    I was carried away by space for a long time. The trigger was two points. The first is Shklovsky’s book “The Universe. A life. Reason ”1981 edition. I began to read, tentatively, in the fifth grade. Of course, most did not understand. But what he understood was interesting. It is even strange that after this book, hobbies focused more on the planets of the solar system, and not on astrophysics. The second point: in the eighth grade, I was asked to report on the explorations of the moon. So it started ...

    Why was the crowdfunding method chosen instead of the usual way through the publishing house? Years later, do you think the choice was right?

    I just had no other choice. I remember well the year 2014, when I personally took the text of the book “Venus. Indomitable planet, "mailed, etc. Do you think at least one answered? Yes, answered. One of several dozen. It was the publisher Peter. They proposed truncating the text in half and writing in this volume about all the planets. And I even agreed, but then they changed their minds.

    After the release of "Venus", both experts and amateurs praised the book. So crowdfunding was the only option. Although, if I knew in advance all the difficulties that lie ahead of the publication of the book ... I would still try. After all, there were no other options.

    How many rounds of crowdfunding have you already had? How successful were they?

    The fourth project is currently underway. But so far only “Venus. Indomitable Planet ”- in two versions, where the second edition, as they say, is“ expanded and supplemented ”. This was the first and third chronological fundraiser. Plus, an album was published consisting of materials that would not be included in the "Moon". Now the first volume of the book “The Moon. History, people, technology. ” Actually, my second fundraising project was just for creating an electronic layout of this book.

    When I launched the second project, I tried to solve the main problem of crowdfunding: to exclude a very large break between fundraising and publication. At the stage of bare text, it is extremely difficult to estimate how many pages will be in a real book. But this is precisely what affects the price of the print run, the cost of the copy, and the time of typesetting, etc. I assumed that if I first assemble it on an electronic layout, then everything will be fine. With a ready-made layout and means already received, printing a circulation is a matter of the month. But as a result of the time, it took more for the layout of the Moon than for Venus, and people began to get nervous. I will not decide how I will pay for the layout of the second volume of the Moon. Need some other option. However, if now I collect money significantly more than the minimum necessary for the publication of the “Moon”, then I will direct them to this matter.

    How much personal money was spent on books, and how do relatives relate to this?

    I really want to answer such a question that relatives, of course, understand and support everything. A similar answer sounds so often in similar situations that it has almost become a cliche. Alas. Sorry, but in my case it is not. Work on the layout of the first "Venus" required very significant sacrifices. And not only financial.

    Why is it such an order - first Venus, then the Moon? Will there be Mars after the moon?

    Chronologically, Venus was ready a little earlier. The advantage for this book was that there are very few flights to Venus now. So, you can describe the history of its study, and the book does not become obsolete even after a few years. Although, for studying the planet, a similar situation is, of course, very unpleasant.

    I thought that with the “Moon” the story would be similar. Still, the history of moon research from 1958 to 1976 is already in the past, and in general terms everything is known there ... So I thought, until I got open reports of those years in my hands. After studying them, the scattered pieces of the mosaic finally took their rightful places, many strange moments of our cosmonautics became clear, information appeared about projects that no one had known so far. I had to rewrite and rewrite a lot. As a result, the history of the study of the moon of the mid-twentieth century will take two volumes. Each is more than Venus.

    Yes, after the "Moon" should be "Mars." And five years ago, I also thought that I knew a lot about projects half a century ago. And the text was ready. But now, too, I feel that I have to redo a lot. I have already mentioned that I do not yet take in the archives for reading new, recently declassified materials related to Mars. In order not to be distracted from much more pressing issues.

    Is there any feedback on books? The feeling that they are useful or vice versa?

    I really hope so. Although no, it’s better this way: I understand that there is benefit. Thanks from a variety of people confirm this. But sometimes I have the feeling that, at least, “Venus” is incorrectly positioned by people. I am trying to create a product that will be of interest to both ordinary readers and professionals. For the first I give a detailed history, for the second - various details and nuances, information about which has not been published before.

    But sometimes it seems to me that amateurs believe that the book is too complicated without even reading it, and professionals believe that they already know everything.

    To make matters worse, sometimes a certain mythology arose around astronautics, moreover, mythology is rather strange. For example, now an Israeli probe is flying to the moon, and already many have managed to write that it is the lightest landing craft. When I hinted that the landing “Rangers” were easier, although they didn’t sit down, they accused me of completely not understanding the question: they say that everyone knows that there were no landing “Rangers”, the “Rangers” were intended only for photographing the moon in the fall. This is a very vivid example of how people take their own knowledge for the ultimate truth and do not even try to understand the issue a little deeper.

    Or another example. In my book there is a comparison of Soviet and American stations since the first Lunar race of 1958-1960. Including in the list there are stations of the R-3 series, which were supposed to enter the orbit of the moon in 1959-1960. When I asked a very experienced space book illustrator to make a comparative diagram for the Moon, he was extremely surprised: what kind of strange stations are these? Maybe I meant the Pioneer 5 probe?

    But these are not some secret US stations; information on them has always been open. But they are firmly forgotten, and history in the memory of people is formed without failures, which took place in the American cosmonautics of the 60s.

    Actually, even the correct chronology of launches of famous stations, in my opinion, would be very useful and interesting. But I also want to talk about what we still did not know about. Say, the very first story of the Moon describes a very detailed history of our soft landing station series (E-6) - from concept selection to all flights. It also tells in detail how our manned lunar program was unfolding, why such an N-1 carrier scheme was chosen, and much, much more. The second volume will contain even more interesting information - such as real TASS reports that were prepared before the launch of the N-1, the history of the Lunokhod E-8, the E-8-5 soil digger, and also what was hidden under the E indices -8-2 and E-8-3 (what is E-8-4 - even I still do not know). This is not to say that there are no white spots in the history of the study of the moon. But after my book, they definitely should be much less. And while there are no analogues of this book. Even according to the list of documents in the archives, I am one of the first to read them after declassification.

    Do you have any other cosmic hobbies?

    I don’t know whether it is possible to call time-lapse photography (shooting various processes that are extremely slow) near-cosmic, but I was once fond of it. Here is a very old project:

    But this is a really old movie. Then there were more successful "star" videos, however, work on books pushed them to the background. Experience appeared, and time disappeared. And I never created a new video.

    Still very seriously carried away by the history of hydronautics - underwater space. And I also wanted / want to write a book about this. But in this situation, everything has to be relegated to the background. Even in the archives, I specifically ignore materials related to Mars (and a book on the exploration of Mars is also in my plans), since there will definitely be interesting information that needs to be studied and comprehended, and this will distract from the current work on the publication of the Moon .

    What space books do you read yourself and can you recommend?
    Magazine "Cosmonautics News". But he is no longer there. I’m reading your blog :) The problem is that because of the overload associated with working on a book, there is very little time to read modern publications. I am still completely busy with the reports of the 60s. For example, the reading plans include the book “Uninvented Cosmic Stories”, but there is really little free time, although the reading promises to be interesting.

    The cosmic task of mankind: the moon or Mars?

    Moon. No questions. It is much closer to the Earth, and less. You can fly at least every day, energy for start / landing is less. The moment is very good for mastering. And geology has not really been studied yet. Although elements are already known that may come in handy - like helium-3. Mars is much worse in this regard.

    In general, after the moon (or in parallel) it is better to start exploring asteroids. If you find a suitable ice asteroid and drag it to the Lagrange point, then you can try to start producing fuel outside the Earth's gravitational well. This will change a lot in the balance of power.

    The manned flight to Mars is, in my opinion, redundant so far. More precisely, the manned flight itself would be interesting, but exclusively for scientific purposes. It’s too early to think about the exploration of Mars.

    How do you see the future of space in general?

    In the short or long term? Although, if we can’t really say about the short-term, what about the long-term?

    In my opinion, our space program is now located at one of the branch points. What will happen next depends on what decisions we make now.

    Why now? The fact is that somehow the Soviet plan of the late 80s fell into my hands. To my surprise, the decent part of this plan was implemented. This is especially true of applied cosmonautics. Even the names of the stations that were supposed to change the old platforms are familiar. Like the Meridian. Among scientific apparatuses are also familiar indices, albeit on other platforms. And they are just underway: “Spectrum-RG”, “Spectrum-UV”, etc.

    That’s really the failure - this is in interplanetary missions. Moreover, the Soviet plan was aimed specifically at Mars, with a possible manned flight in 2018-2019. And such a date is not accidental - right now there is a minimum in energy required for the flight. The next similar minimum will be in 2033.

    So, right now it is necessary to make decisions on changing platforms, on new goals - both for applied devices, and scientific, etc. Of course, you need to choose a new task in manned space. The ISS has long been built, and there is already talk of its flooding. And the goal is chosen - this is the moon. And while we gradually go to her. But as is well known, the future thing is unpredictable. Plans can be canceled, and money can be debited. So while we wait and hope. The key elements of our program are Federation and Soyuz-5. And, of course, a series of lunar AMS. We are waiting for their first flight.

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