The Soviets might have landed on two planets to America's one, but the extent of the ultimate U.S. space victory is a sort of metaphor for the Cold War and its resolution.
The Venera 7, left, landed on Venus in 1970. The Venera 13 took this image of the planet in 1982. (Wikimedia)
In the end, when the nuclear warheads were taken off alert and the borders of Europe and Asia redrawn, history recorded the Cold War as a great American victory. It won the arms race and it won Europe; its economic and political models both triumphed; and it won the war of ideology, with democracy displacing communism and totalitarianism across most of the globe. But there's one arena where the Cold War looked a bit closer to a tie: space.
The Soviet Union was the first to put a satellite in space, the first to put a person in space, the first to land a spacecraft on the moon, and the first -- and only -- to land on Venus. The U.S. was the first to put a person the moon, the first to do flybys of Mars, Venus, and Jupiter, and the first -- but not only -- to land on Mars, most recently with today's Curiosity. (The European Space Agency later got into the game by landing a probe on Titan, a moon orbiting Saturn, in 2005 with assistance from a U.S. spacecraft.) I don't know whether or how you can declare a winner from those two records, but one thing is clear: 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and all it stood for, the U.S. has not met the Soviet record on number of planet surfaces visited.
Of course, space exploration isn't about beating the Soviets anymore, so the U.S. would have little to gain by visiting another planet just to say we did. And, when it comes to actual scientific knowledge gained and height of technological achievement, the Soviet edge is as broken and gone as the Berlin Wall. Still, this old, unchanged record is a reminder of the Soviet Union's deep mark on history, and that it wasn't so long ago that space, an area of global American leadership today, was closely contested, another front in the all-consuming Cold War.
The first manmade object to ever soft-land on another planet was the Soviet-made Venera 7. It launched from an Earth-orbit satellite on August 17, 1970, just over a year after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, and entered the Venusian atmosphere on December 15. The Soviet command received 23 minutes of faint signals, the first data beamed from the surface of another world. In 1975, it landed the more successful Venera 9 and Venera 10, which sent back the first photos. The Venera program returned soil samples and color, panoramic views in 1981 and again in 1985. The U.S. never attempted to land on Venus, but it has sent orbiters, including 1978's Pioneer Venus 1, which dropped three small probes into the atmosphere.
The Soviet Union might have won the race to Venus, but Mars was more contested. In May 1971, as a proxy war in Vietnam raged, the U.S. and Soviet Union hurled five satellites toward the red planet. Mariner 8 and Kosmos 419 fizzled, but on November 13 the American Mariner 9 became the first vessel to enter another planet's orbit. Two weeks later, the Soviet Union's Mars 2 followed into orbit, with the Mars 3 a few days behind. The U.S. satellite took over 100 times as many photos as the two Soviet ships, but Mars 2 and Mars 3 both carried landers. The first crashed; the second achieved the first-ever landing on Mars. But it lasted only 20 seconds, after which its instruments shut down, possibly due to a dust storm.
Both the U.S. and Soviet Union tried a number of Mars landers after that, but the Americans had far more success. In 1974, the Soviet Union had another disappointment with the Mars 6, which landed successfully but sent back bad data due to a computer chip problem, and the Mars 7, which simply missed. The U.S. landed the Viking in 1976, and later upgraded to rovers with the 1997 Sojourner, 2004 Spirit and Opportunity, and 2012 Curiosity. A Soviet vessel never again successfully touched down, despite two 1988 attempts.
In a way, the planetary race can be seen as a metaphor for the Cold War itself. The competition might have been nail-bitingly close at the time, with the Soviet Union taking some historic leaps ahead of the Americans, a few of which are still with us. In the end, though, not only did the U.S. win, but the extent of is victory has surely surpassed even the wildest dreams of either Nixon or Khrushchev.
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Mary Hamm was in pain, though it was hard to tell. She bustled around the Starbucks, pouring drinks, restocking pastries, and greeting customers with an unshakable gaze perfected during 25 years of working in hospitality. Her smile said, How can I help you? Her eyes said, I know you’re going to order a caramel Frappuccino, so let’s do this.
Occupying prime space in a Fredericksburg, Virginia, strip mall, beside a Dixie Bones BBQ Post, this Starbucks pulls in about $40,000 a week. Hamm, 49, had been managing Starbucks stores for 12 years. The problem was her feet. After two decades in the food-service business, they had started to wear out. She had two metal plates in the right one, installed over the course of five surgeries. Now her left foot needed surgery too. She doesn’t like to complain, but when I asked her how often she was in pain, she smiled and said quietly, “All the time.”
From the beginning of the project, we've had the fundamental question in mind of what this site is—which is to say, both what it's become (as regular readers know, a lot's changed here over time) and what we want it to be. Is it the website of a magazine? Is it a news site? Is it, as James Franco possibly once suggested, a blog?
The answers, we recognized, are all in one way or another yes. But we figured we'd try a thought experiment: What if we described TheAtlantic.com as a direct, dynamic, digital extension of our core identity in journalism—as a real-time magazine?
That seemed to us both authentic and aspirational: an idea that captured what The Atlantic has been doing in new media for years and a framework that could bring the right focus to rebuilding TheAtlantic.com now.
When healthcare is at its best, hospitals are four-star hotels, and nurses, personal butlers at the ready—at least, that’s how many hospitals seem to interpret a government mandate.
When Department of Health and Human Services administrators decided to base 30 percent of hospitals’ Medicare reimbursement on patient satisfaction survey scores, they likely figured that transparency and accountability would improve healthcare. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) officials wrote, rather reasonably, “Delivery of high-quality, patient-centered care requires us to carefully consider the patient’s experience in the hospital inpatient setting.” They probably had no idea that their methods could end up indirectly harming patients.
J.J. Abrams, the director tasked with bringing Star Wars back to the top of the crowded franchise heap, has always been happy to borrow. When he set out to make a new Star Trek and drag that moribund cinematic franchise back into blockbuster territory, he cheerfully swapped in some very familiar visual language to help it over the hill. Early on in the film, James Kirk (Chris Pine), nursing a desire to transcend his farmboy life, rides a motorcycle to see the U.S.S. Enterprise being built at a shipyard, and gazes up at it longingly. Star Wars fans would connect the scene to one at the beginning of the first 1977 film, when Luke Skywalker wistfully watches the dual suns of his home planet set; Star Trek's producers even called the scene "our Tatooine moment." Abrams has never exactly been a visionary artist, but he's a master of elevating the familiar—a fact made clear in the previews of his new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens.
And Americans? The land that gave the world the iPhone, the Declaration of Independence, and the Kinsey Report prefers emoji that depict technology, royalty, and… eggplants.
These preferences were revealed in a new report from SwiftKey, a software company that makes keyboards for iOS and Android phones. The report describes global trends in emoji usage and breaks them out by country and by language. Like nations themselves, it seems, emoji usage is also shaped by culture, climate, and geography.
What else did the report find? According to SwiftKey:
The most-used category of emoji used are “happy faces.” Happy faces, sad faces, and hearts make up more than 70 percent of global emoji usage.
Pope Francis is widely believed to be a cool Pope—a huggable, Upworthyish, meme-ready, self-deprecating leader for a new generation of worshippers. “He has described himself as a sinner,” writes Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Pope Francis’ entry on Time’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world, “and his nonjudgmental views on … issues such as sexual orientation and divorce have brought hope to millions of Roman Catholics around the world.”
But there’s one issue that can make even Cool Pope Francis himself sound a little, well, judgy. “A society with a greedy generation, that doesn’t want to surround itself with children, that considers them above all worrisome, a weight, a risk, is a depressed society,” the pontiff told an audience in St. Peter’s Square earlier this year. “The choice not to have children is selfish. Life rejuvenates and acquires energy when it multiplies: It is enriched, not impoverished.”
“Oh my God, can you grab him?” I shouted at the woman at the door, as my 3-month-old puppy darted out into the cold and I tried to stop my 6-year-old twins from following suit. She obliged, and I was able to get a proper look at her. It was in the 30s outside, unseasonably cold for Florida, and the young woman holding my squiggling puppy was wearing nothing but a light spring sweater, shivering and looking miserable. I invited her in.
Over a cup of coffee, she introduced herself as Tysharia Young and tried to do what she’d come to do: sell me overpriced magazine subscriptions. It was not the first time someone had knocked on my door for this purpose, and I was sure it wouldn’t be the last. Gainesville has had such issues with magazine sellers that our local police department recently issued a public warning.
In 1979, almost a year into the papacy of John Paul II, a novel called The Vicar of Christ spent 13 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. The work of a Princeton legal scholar, Walter F. Murphy, it featured an unlikely papal candidate named Declan Walsh—first a war hero, then a United States Supreme Court justice, and then (after an affair and his wife’s untimely death) a monk—who is summoned to the throne of Saint Peter by a deadlocked, desperate conclave.
Once elevated, Walsh takes the name Francesco—that is, Francis—and sets about using the office in extraordinary ways. He launches a global crusade against hunger, staffed by Catholic youth and funded by the sale of Vatican treasures. He intervenes repeatedly in world conflicts, at one point flying into Tel Aviv during an Arab bombing campaign. He lays plans to gradually reverse the Church’s teachings on contraception and clerical celibacy, and banishes conservative cardinals to monastic life when they plot against him. He flirts with the Arian heresy, which doubted Jesus’s full divinity, and he embraces Quaker-style religious pacifism, arguing that just-war theory is out of date in an age of nuclear arms and total war. (This last move eventually gets him assassinated, probably by one of the governments threatened by his quest for peace.)
The Russian president’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, didn’t use that expression when we talked by phone, but that’s what he described to me: a man at the center of an ever-churning machine processing vast amounts of news and data at his command.
“Sometimes we’re wondering what is the limit for a human being for absorbing this huge amount of information,” Peskov told me, “but, well, it’s really a very, very, very heavy job.”
Peskov, speaking fluent English, described the operation. “First of all, the information and press department of the presidential administration prepares digests on print media, on Internet sources, on domestic media—federal and regional.
“We have special people working around the clock, preparing TV digests. We’re recording TV news on the [Russian] federal channels for him during the day. Obviously, it’s very hard for him to watch news so we make digests, let’s say, zip versions of TV news, divided into issues.”