Did Soviet Cosmonauts Take Deadly Laser Pistols to Outer Space — in the 1980s?

Soviet Laser Pistol.

In the 1980s, Russian astronauts (Cosmonauts) may have taken a prototype laser pistol with them into space. What was this retrofuturistic weapon, and how did it work? Was it real, only a prototype, or pure Soviet sci-fi propaganda? Read excerpts from three sources below for images, video and more information.

Soviet Laser Pistol.

Futuristic Pyrotechnics

Yes, these are real handheld laser weapons developed in the 1980s for cosmonauts. These futuristic pistols used pyrotechnic flashbulb ammunition, and their primary function was to disable optical sensors on enemy spacecraft or satellites. Allegedly the laser beams of these recoilless guns were energetic enough to burn through a helmet visor, or to blind anybody from 65 feet.

How did the Soviet laser pistol work?

In 1984, to protect manned orbital stations and long term manned stations, the Soviet Military Academy developed a really fantastic weapon – a fiber laser gun.

Soviet Laser Pistol.

The main requirements to the weapon were: 1) a small size; and 2) ability to destroy the optic systems of an enemy.

The main elements of the laser gun (as any laser) could be the active medium, a pump source and an optical resonator. But it was subsequently decided to replace the active medium with fiber-optic elements. Disposable pyrotechnic electronic flashes were used as a source of light pumping.

The gun’s laser beam maintains a “burning and blinding” effect at a distance of up to twenty meters.

Soviet Laser Pistol.
Soviet Laser Pistol.

Based on the pyrotechnic-flash laser pistol, a laser revolver was designed with a drum magazine. Its creators also announced the ability of the revolver to convert into a medical tool (scalpel) if necessary.

All experimental (i.e. prototyping, research and development) works were done manually. Prior to the start of production for the pistol’s flash elements, however, the conversion of the defence industry (?) put an end to the project.

Today this “wonder weapon” may be seen at the Museum of the Strategic Missile Forces of the Military Academy, named after Peter the Great in Moscow.

Only a prototype?

Soviet Laser Pistol.

A skeptical perspective from TheFirearmBlog:

The pistol may have functioned just like the original ruby laser built by Theodore Maiman in 1960 (photo below). This laser worked by “pumping” a synthetic ruby rod with very bright light from a flashtube. The ruby rod would then emit a short laser pulse.

The original ruby laser, built by Theodore Maiman in 1960.

The Soviet laser gun looks like it had a ruby rod instead of a barrel. It’s fed by cartridges from a magazine. Either those cartridges contain a chemical flash powder, or they were ultra-high discharge batteries/cells that could power the laser for one “shot”, which would be multiple pulses, before having to be disposed of.

The output of this laser would be minimal. A quick glance through Electronic Engineering papers from the 1960s and 1970s report scientists achieving just 6% efficiency with ruby lasers. In other words, there is no way that this laser would burn a hole in a US or British satellite. If cosmonauts really needed to do some damage, they had the nifty Soviet TP-82 Space Pistol on hand.

Bullets Made of Light

Soviet Laser Pistol.

Maybe the laser pistol had a more specific purpose:

Rather than blind an adversary or burn a hole in an opponent’s space suit, Russian cosmonauts may have designed the laser pistol for one sole purpose: shoot out the optics on enemy satellites.

The Russian cosmonauts had some pretty sneaky weaponry. But according to TheFirearmBlog (quoted above), this laser pistol probably didn’t have the oomph required to do any real damage. Its intended purpose was to give the cosmonauts the ability to destroy optical components on enemy satellites that were floating through space.

Soviet Laser Pistol.
Soviet Laser Pistol.

The “bullets” in the magazine are likely ultra-high discharge batteries that would power the laser for a short time, or possibly a form of chemical flash powder to create the same effect.

Even if it can’t burn holes through satellites, the Soviet laser pistol is a pretty sweet piece of gear.

Learn More

1. Nagy, Attila. (02 Apr 2016). The Ultimate List of Weapons Astronauts Have Carried Into Orbit. Gizmodo. Retrieved from http://gizmodo.com/the-ultimate-list-of-weapons-astronauts-have-carried-in-1768199454.

2. Johnson, Steve. (8 Oct 2013). The Soviet Laser Pistol. The Firearms Blog. Retrieved from http://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2013/10/08/soviet-laser-pistol/.

3. (5 Oct 2013). Laser Gun For a Soviet Cosmonaut. English/Russia. Retrieved from http://englishrussia.com/2013/10/05/laser-gun-for-a-soviet-cosmonaut/.

4. McCluskey, Brent. (10 Oct 2013). Soviet laser pistol: The secret space weapon of Russian cosmonauts. Guns dot com. Retrieved from http://www.guns.com/2013/10/10/soviet-laser-pistol-secret-weapon-russian-cosmonauts-4-photos/.

The New Dark Age of Demagogues

Keiner Soll Hungern! Keiner Soll Frieren! Nazi propaganda poster, promising and end to cold and hunger.

“Keiner Soll Hungern! Keiner Soll Frieren!” Nazi propaganda poster, promising and end to cold and hunger.

Future dystopian story world: beginning in the year 2026, emergency elections in Greece and Spain become dominated by demagogues promising to “make their countries great again”. Their platform slogans promise ironfisted national security and mythically boundless personal prosperity. Anti-refugee propaganda is bolstered by struggling European Union economies and terrorist incidents, creating flashpoints of unrest amid widespread financial hardship and discontent. Italy is soon drawn in, as is the U.K. All of Europe is eventually consumed by nationalist whirlwinds that spread to allies and enemies alike as all are forced to take sides.

Violence intensifies due to terrorist attacks by both foreign opportunists and domestic reactionaries. Mass expulsions begin. Borders close. Discrimination becomes an acceptable aspect of political narrative, actively promulgated by extremists and tacitly accepted by mass media channels.

Polarisation of opinion hardens into the willingness to take up arms. Scapegoats are fashioned from popular demonologies that rely on skin tone, ethnicity and concomitant jingoistic marketing demographics. Stones thrown become bullets fired. Bullets become bombs. Bombs become guided missiles fired across continents as allies take sides and offer arms to their strategic partners.

Humanity seems once again to have undone its hard-won learning: lessons written in blood flowing in rivers, bone meal sewn into the soil of Europe after two World Wars. The last great war ended as nuclear blast waves incinerating cities full of human beings, leaving shadows of dreams, shattering families and emasculating once-proud nations.

The time has come for the blood tide to rise once again, for a fresh coat of ashen snow to fall on already-weary shoulders. Nuclear technology has become the rule rather than the exception for both rogue agents and first-world states. Rhetorical dehumanization has left a hollowness in the eyes that now stare emptily to an oblivion that seems inevitable. We make a game of anticipating the second hand of our antique analog watchfaces, creeping closer to atomic zero hour. This is a game of the gallows in a worldwide party of the damned, shadows lengthening as the clock counts down. The Reaper’s accelerating drumbeat echoes in the footsteps of soldiers on the march across the globe. Beautiful flowering mushroom clouds may now grow to encompass us all. The end will begin in a blinding flash of light.

. . .

The Witches’ Sabbath

If vast portions of the United States’ population are swayed in 2016 by media-fueled rhetorical frenzy, imagine a time when deeper financial hardship grips the world. If a new Great Recession were to occur within the next decade, the appeal of demagoguery may be too strong to resist. This is why the prevalent mood in post-Word War I Germany bears revisiting.

After four disastrous years Germany had lost the war… prices doubled between 1914 and 1919. Why did the German government not act to halt the inflation? More than inflation, the Germans feared unemployment.

So the printing presses ran, and once they began to run, they were hard to stop. Price increases began to be dizzying.

Berlin had a “witches’ Sabbath” atmosphere. Prostitutes of both sexes roamed the streets. Cocaine was the fashionable drug. In the cabarets the newly rich and their foreign friends could dance and spend money. Other reports noted that not all the young people had a bad time. Their parents had taught them to work and save, and that was clearly wrong, so they could spend money, enjoy themselves, and flout the old.

All money is a matter of belief. Credit derives from Latin, credere, “to believe.” Belief was there, the factories functioned, the farmers delivered their produce. The Central Bank kept the belief alive when it would not let even the government borrow further.

But although the country functioned again, the savings were never restored, nor were the values of hard work and decency that had accompanied the savings. There was a different temper in the country, a temper that Hitler would later exploit with diabolical talent. Thomas Mann wrote: “The market woman who without batting an eyelash demanded 100 million for an egg lost the capacity for surprise. And nothing that has happened since has been insane or cruel enough to surprise her.” [1]

Keep It Simple, Even When It’s Not: High-Concept Dehumanization

Realistic dystopian plotlines merely need to chart the confluence between factual history, present rhetoric and plausible future outcomes.

Believable fictional villains aren’t “high concept” monstrous caricatures or cartoonish exaggerations. Dehumanization allows a group to delegitimize the existence of a person, and thereby destroy the lessons to be learned from that person’s example. Adolf Hitler wasn’t a monster. Neither were the German people bloodthirsty zombies after World War I. Hitler was a shrewd-yet-deluded megalomaniac, and the people were badly downtrodden, partly resulting from enthusiastic French enforcement of reparations demanded by the Treaty of Versailles.

Even today, generations later, much of it sounds pretty incredible.

Few could laugh at “the macabre joke of inflation,” as writer Klaus Mann termed it. “What breathtaking fun it is to watch the world coming off the rails,” he wrote in undisguised fascination. Germany was now witnessing “the complete depreciation of the only truly credible value in this godforsaken era: that of money.”

People lived in a strange kind of tension. On the one hand there was the daily fight for survival, for food, and for heating fuel.

On the other hand it was also a time of phenomenal wastefulness. The people were gripped by the urge to panic-buy. They squandered their money, and lived from one day to the next. “We’re drinking away Grandma’s house” proclaimed one popular tune of the day.

Never before had Germany witnessed such a fundamental redistribution of wealth, and many of the winners were those who had previously been wealthy. [2]

Mass discontent and the tendency toward dehumanization of the “other” becomes the urge to find a simple enemy and a simple solution. A final solution. Salvation for the true believer, extracted from the DNA of the dead.

“The enemy is among us,” wrote the Hildesheimer Allgemeine newspaper… “He has crept into the heart of the German economy to suck out our life-blood and destroy our very existence as a nation.” A 10,000-mark note issued the year before was nicknamed the “vampire bill” because it depicted a man who appeared to have a bite-mark on his neck.

It’s no coincidence that Adolf Hitler’s inexorable rise to power began in November 1923, the highpoint of Germany’s inflation, when he organized the abortive Beer Hall Putsch in Munich.

Catalan Germany correspondent Eugeni Xammar witnessed the spectacle at close quarters, having recently conducted an interview with “the future ex-dictator of Germany.” In this interview Hitler claimed the high cost of living was Germany’s biggest problem, promising “We intend to make life cheaper.” To this end he demanded that shops — many of which were in Jewish hands — be brought under state control. And he stressed, “We expect all kinds of miracles of these national stores.”

The journalist from Barcelona wasn’t shy about stating what he thought of his interviewee. Hitler was, Xammar wrote, “the stupidest person I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.”

Tragically, most Germans were soon to have a very different opinion of him. [2]

Notice how patterns of historical precedence tend to repeat themselves. Future scenarios can serve as timely, entertaining signposts, even if only a few take heed before it’s too late. The rest can laugh, be amused and continue forward on the ceaseless march of progress to the end of human history.

We will make our nation great again, and we will gleefully watch the world burn. Has there ever been any other way?

Take the opportunity to write your own ending to the story, before the second hand reaches midnight. The next bright flash of light we see may not be the sun.

Read More

1. Goodman, George J.W. (1981). Paper Money, pp. 57-62. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/commandingheights/shared/minitext/ess_germanhyperinflation.html.

2. Jung, Alexander (2009, August 14). Millions, Billions, Trillions: Germany in the Era of Hyperinflation. Retrieved from http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/millions-billions-trillions-germany-in-the-era-of-hyperinflation-a-641758.html.

Program or be programmed: Douglas Rushkoff on ‘digital native’ naivete and programming as a basic literacy skill.

“The answer to that, I think, is to turn computing into a counterculture.” — Douglas Rushkoff

Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age
Mountainview, November 10 2010

Excerpts from Rushkoff’s talk below:

I thought, and I wrote my early books, very, very optimistically, about youth. I thought that once the generation that was twelve or thirteen years old, when I was writing… once they got into their twenties and thirties, once they’re starting to run things, everything will be okay. Because these people are what I call ‘digital natives’. And unlike us ‘digital immigrants’, who were raised in the analog world, the digital natives are going to be able to, surf this terrain, you know, like… natives. Like native speakers… they’ll be able to tell the difference between ads and editorial, and see what’s coercion and what’s actually truth.

And, as you guys probably know, the data is in. Young people are way, way worse, at discerning between valid information and crap online. At negotiating between sources and (finding) reputable material.

…they don’t know the alternatives. They look at each thing as if it was made to do the thing that its makers are telling them it’s there to do. I mean, talk to anybody under seventeen, and ask them, “what is Facebook for?” They’ll tell you, “Facebook is here to help me make friends!” (The audience chuckles.) Right?

Go to the boardroom… and what are they doing? “(Ask them) what is Facebook for?” Facebook is there for companies to monetize the connections, the relationships, between young people. Or to create, what they’re calling “social marketing opportunities.” I mean, what is it for (in the public perception) is not what it’s for (in actuality). What it’s for is something different. Which comes back to “program or be programmed.”

There’s this sense online — and, you know, Tim O’Reilly and John Battelle talk about it alot — that everything online must scale. Whenever you talk to someone in business online, they’re like, “how does it scale? How will it scale? How will it scale up? It’s gotta scale up!” If it doesn’t scale, it’s like it’s not real.

And what they decided, what O’Reilly decided, was that, “nah, we’re out of Web point-two, Web two-point-oh, now we’re in Web Cubed.” Right, and what you want to do is get away from actually doing anything and become the indexer of people who are doing stuff. It’s like he finally realized what Google does, right? But, his idea is that you don’t want to be writing books. You want to be Amazon, aggregating books. You want to be the music store — you want to be the meta-music store aggregating music stores.

The problem with that from a post-modernist perspective is that you get into an infinite regressive loop!

Right? So, all right, why don’t I just be the aggregator of aggregators, then? And then he (pointing offstage) can be the aggregator of aggregator-aggregators. And so on and so on. It’s like, “I’m going to start the incubator that incubates incubators. Or the one that incubates incubator-incubating incubators.” (The audience laughs.) You could keep going forever.

The fact that you could keep going forever means that it doesn’t actually work, right, that that’s actually a place that’s not the creation of value. That’s the extraction of value. And that’s what we’re looking at there — and that’s another story for another day — but that’s really the incompatibility of twenty-first century economics with the thirteenth century, currency operating system that we’re trying to run this economy on. But it’s why we’re having the stock market crash. It’s why we’re having the banking crash. There’s a number of reasons, but it’s, there’s this Jack Welsh idea, that what you want to do is you want to get away from having a productive business. Sell off your aerospace! Sell off your washing machines! Don’t do any of that real stuff; become a holding company. Or become a bank. Get closer and closer, to just — if you want to make money, just get closer and closer to making money.

(The audience chuckles and murmurs.)

And it makes sense in a society where the making of money is making of money. Where the creation of value is tied to value, though, you want to do something else.

What you’re doing in the best-case scenario, is restoring the pre-Renaissance, peer-to-peer economy, that was destroyed by central banking, destroyed by monopoly charters, and destroyed by, really a collusion by government and a few corporations to prevent a peer-to-peer economy and re-centralize economic activity.

When you let me write a book and sell it to him (points offstage) without Amazon, without Harper Collins, without borrowing money from Chase or J.P. Morgan… you’ve done something really powerful, right? You haven’t just disintermediated one company. You’ve disintermediated the central economy.

And you’ve restored my ability to create value without having a job. And what is a job but a legacy of this old industrial-age model, that was created to prevent us from just doing stuff. Right, late Middle Ages, end of feudalism. What was going on? People were doing stuff and getting rich. That’s what was happening. There were merchants starting to travel around and trade. There were people developing crafts. All these people who had been peasants were now doing stuff — trading with one another, using local currencies, but transacting and getting wealthy.

They were what was called, “the bourgeoisie”.

The aristocracy hated the bourgeoisie. Why? Because the more bourgeoisie you became, the less dependent you were on centralized power: on lords and lasses, to give you the land to go make your food on. So what did they do? They ended the peer-to-peer economy, with law. That’s what charter monopolies were. “Nobody’s allowed to do any business in this industry except my friend. You want to do that business now? You work for him.” That’s what charter monopolies and the corporations we know today, that’s what that — the code, is based on that.

And the second was centralized currency. You’re not allowed to transact with one another unless you borrow this transaction medium from a central bank. From us. From our treasury. This was how the rich got to stay rich, simply by being rich, rather than by creating value. And that worked for six hundred years, as long as we could expand the economy… through other places and extract their value and their labor.

“Computer” broke that. Right? And you guys broke that more than most, by realizing ‘bottom-up’.

Many people feel that as an author, I should basically share everything I write, for free, comments on, online. Period. No matter what. And, you know, there’s this, ethos, as if by charging for the stuff I’ve created, I’m somehow against the boingboing, Linux, openness, thing. And what they don’t realize is that when I share my writing for free online, value is still being extracted by companies, very often you guys (Google employees)!

If people are accessing my data through Google indexes, Google is still advertising. Google is still extracting value from the ability to index and send people to my (website), but they’re not passing that value on to me. Unless we enter into some interesting deal, and I start putting ads onto my stuff (makes a sour expression). Where(as) Rupert Murdoch, however evil and foxnewsie he is, at least he cut me in on his take. Right, so the idea that opensource and openness and free are all equivalent — is kind of muddled in peoples’ minds…

There was a great debate between Walter Lippmann and John Dewey, in the early 1900s, where Walter Lippmann wrote the first books on propaganda. He was Ed Bernays’ teacher. And, he basically said that people are stupid; they just have pictures in their heads. They don’t really know what’s going on. And all we can do is get a benevolent elite to run things, who then hire very clever public relations people, who then get the masses to be compliant.

John Dewey saw this — he was an old guy, like an, eighty year-old teacher at Columbia Teacher’s College. and he was like, ‘omigod this is crazy’, and he started writing all these articles and letters saying, “no, people can be educated, people can be smart enough. We just need a new relationship between people and the press and education and all this.” And it fell mostly on deaf ears. And…. and that’s the way it’s basically… Lippmann has been right, through most of history.

People look at the world uncritically. And unthinkingly. To me, we have these windows of opportunity: the invention of language may have been one, but the invention of text was certainly one, and the invention of digital technology is another one.

We get these windows of opportunity for the other ninety-percent to go, “oh, I get it! We’re all in charge of reality. You know, that, we can actually participate in this thing.” And I just don’t know how many more of those opportunities we get.

So I would argue, yes, this is the status quo, and it’s going to be exacerbated by digital technology, but… um, it could just as easily be broken free. That this is another moment for humans to break free. It’s just hard, you know. We (all) want to make a living and programmers are in the employ of big companies that… that’s not their interest.