Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Космос говорит по-русски

Click the arrow to watch the video on YouTube. It helps if you speak Russian.

When I was in college in the mid-1970s, I had delusions of entering the Foreign Service.

Earth was a different planet then.

The United States and the Soviet Union were in the fourth decade of the Cold War, which had evolved into an institutional bureaucracy on both sides. The Nixon Administration had entered into a period of détente with the USSR. The two nations had agreed to fly a joint rendezvous mission called Apollo-Soyuz — or from the Soviet perspective, Союз-Аполлон — in 1975.

And so it was in that era that I began my freshman year in college at the University of California Riverside. A small university at the time with an enrollment of 6,000, it had a reputation for an excellent political science department and Russian program. I declared my major as Poli Sci, with an interest in foreign policy, specifically the Soviet Union.

But when you're 18, you're fairly clueless about where life will lead you, and so by the time I graduated four years later life was taking me in an opposite direction.

I took two years of Russian, along with a year of Russian history, but all that went on the book shelf as I pursued the next in line of several careers.

More than thirty years later, the United States and Russia are space partners, and I'm 3,000 miles east of California living in the Space Coast.

In my day job, I interact with people from around the world, including Russia and other Russian-speaking countries.

About six months ago, I decided to resurrect my mediocre Russian language skills so I could speak in their native tongue to guests from our space partner.

I began with my first-year college Russian textbook, titled Reading Contemporary Russian.

“Contemporary” in 1975 is hardly what is contemporary today.

No, the language hasn't changed. But the nation did.

For example, here's a sentence to translate from Chapter 6:

Центральный комитет арестовал антипартийную группу.

“The Central Committee arrested the anti-party group.”

Not exactly, “Where is the nearest bathroom?”

To help with accent and casual conversation, I'll listen over the Internet to, a collection of Russian radio stations. Not all of it is in Russian; if you click on Радио онлайн — все станции (Radio Online — All Stations) you'll see stations that favor American and European fare.

(My wife loves the Beatles station.)

For we space geeks, the Russian space agency Roscosmos has a YouTube channel for its version of NASA TV, called tvroscosmos. Most of the videos are in Russian, but occasionally one is in English.

The Roscosmos productions are excellent, and often include historic footage never seen here in the United States.

On October 29, Roscosmos posted a 26-minute documentary titled, Космос говорит по-русски, or Space Speaks Russian. It's about how Russian language is intertwined with the history of spaceflight. The documentary notes how the “-nik” from the word Sputnik became part of other words, such as “flopnik” and ”kaputnik” after the Vanguard failure on December 6, 1957.

In modern times, as the United States and Russia became space partners, each side had to learn the other's language, which is what most of the documentary is about.

Even if you don't know Russian, you'll see familiar faces — several U.S. astronauts as they speak Russian with varying degrees of success. Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov speaks in English as he talks about Apollo-Союз.

Another favorite is a 31-minute documentary about the Soviet-era Space Shuttle Buran. It's titled, Буран еще вернется, roughly translated as Buran Will Return. Most of the film is an interview with Oleg Baklanov, one of the founders of the Buran program. But it does have some rare Buran footage I've never seen before.

Click the arrow to watch the video. It really, really helps if you speak Russian. Or just wait for the cool Buran footage.

Meanwhile, I'm going to return to my Russian translation exercises. Here's the latest one:

Председатели колхозов давно хотели строить новые среднее щколы в нашем районе.

“The chairmen of the collective farms have wanted for a long time to build new middle schools in our region.”

That should help me find my flight at the Moscow airport.

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