Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Apollo-Soyuz Test Project medallion from the Soviet Union

This week’s item, like last week’s, was issued to commemorate the collaborative Apollo–Soyuz mission flown by the United States and the Soviet Union in 1975. Last week’s was issued by NASA, this week’s by the Ленинградский монетный двор (ЛМД—Leningrad Mint, LMD; today, Санкт-Петербургский монетный двор, СПМД, St Petersburg Mint, SPMD) in the Soviet Union. Amongst other items, the Leningrad Mint produced commemorative coins for the Soviet Union and medals for the Soviet military forces. Unlike the NASA medallion from last time, this item was not produced specifically for workers in the space program, but as a commercially available souvenir.

The medallion measures 40 mm (1⅝”) in diameter and is made from some lightweight alloy—mostly aluminium I guess—with a very dull lustre. Like its American counterpart from last week, it contains metal that actually flew in space.

The obverse of the medallion features a symbolic representation of the mission: two space-suited figures shaking hands, with a depiction of the docked Soyuz and Apollo spacecraft at the top (the Russian text on the medallion simply reads “Soyuz” and “Apollo”).

The design is titled “Рукопожатие в космосе”—“Handshake in Space” and was created by cosmonaut Aleksei Arkhipovich Leonov. Leonov is a renowned space artist and also commanded the Soyuz 19 spacecraft that participated in this mission.1 The style is one that I immediately associate with eastern European poster art, but for which I do not know the correct term.2

The reverse of the medallion is blank, and clearly shows the grainy composition of the metal.

This particular medallion is part of a set of six that was issued to commemorate the mission. The obverse sides of the other five medallions feature relief portraits of the three American astronauts and two Soviet cosmonauts who participated in the flight, and the reverse sides feature their autographs.

Special thanks to Alex Panchenko for his expert advice on the history and background to this medallion. Visit his website on Soviet and Russian aerospace collectibles at www.ussr-airspace.com

1Leonov was also the first person to step outside a spacecraft and “walk” in space (on the Voskhod 2 mission in March 1965) and was selected to command the first Soviet crew to the moon (the mission was cancelled). After the Apollo–Soyuz mission, he became head of the cosmonaut corps and then deputy director of cosmonaut training. The fictional spacecraft that took the joint Soviet–American crew to Jupiter in Arthur C. Clarke’s novel 2010: Odyssey Two was named after him, as is a crater on the moon, and an asteroid.
2To my unqualified eye, I would say there are cubist and futurist elements here; but both those movements were long dead by the 1950s and 1960s and the poster art which which I’m familiar. I’d love to know if there’s a better way to describe this style; I like it very much.

Copyright information: Leonov is still alive, and copyright in this work likely belongs to him. The St Petersburg Mint might also hold rights to the exploitation of the work. The artwork is imaged here for informational and educational purposes only, per article 19.1 and 19.2 of Об авторском праве и смежных правахOn Copyright and Neighbouring Rights, law of the Russian Federation (1993, amended 1995 and 2004). 

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