The difficulty of getting reliable information for many years gave the Soviet space program a special interest to many of us in the West, an interest which hasn't waned as accurate information has become available on the scope and details of their programs. I show here a few pictures (click to enlarge) from Moscow and travelling exhibits of Soviet space hardware, followed by some material from Russian books on these topics.
Museum of Cosmonautics, Moscow: These shots are from a December 1990 trip, the same one that involved working with the 6-meter telescope of the USSR Academy of Sciences. On this visit, I learned that my boots were bigger than the sizes of the shoe protectors the guides passed around to protect the floor, and managed to talk my way back into the main hall for solo pictures by convincing them I was using very sensitive film. The building is topped by a soaring 100-meter pylon, of steel with titanium facing, calling up visions of Tsiolkovsky, appropriately represented next to the pylon..
At the base of each side of the huge pylon is a frieze symbolizing the human reach into the heavens. One can make out various kinds of workers, a tracking antenna, a soldier, scientists, and some huge figure that I would swear is Mother Russia (or some personification of the Rodina) if this weren't otherwise such an example of socialist realism. These pictures were taken in December 1990, accounting for the snowy rims highlighting some of the figures.
A prominent item on display is this duplicate of Gagarin's capsule Vostok 1 and what may be his suit. As best I could tell, the guides described this as his actual capsule, which other information places at RKK Energiya these days. Gagarin's spacecraft now may be like pieces of the True Cross in mediaeval Europe - all the boosters in the inventory wouldn't be enough to carry them all.
The most striking thing I found about the layout of the museum was this amazing display of a cosmonaut figure against a stained-glass background, gently illuminating one end of the main exhibit hall. Tell me the officially atheist society didn't encourage a view of cosmonaut-as-savior! Cruciform figure, gentle colored light, respectfully dark and quiet surroundings... this fits with some of the more abstract Soviet and later Russian space art, such as appeared in In the Stream of Stars.
This mockup shows an especially interesting piece of Soviet exploration technology, a Lunokhod ground-controlled lunar rovers. Two of these wandered about the Moon: one launched on Luna 17 in 1970, landing in Mare Imbrium, and the second launched on Luna 21 in 1973 (arriving in the crater Le Monnier). The turtle-shell opening top, along with radioisotope heating, provided an elegant solution to thermal control during the extreme temperature cycles of lunar day and night. This view from the front shows two of the six wire-mesh wheels, helical antenna on top, and stereo TV cameras. In searching for more information, one finds both spellings Lunakhod and Lunokhod in English-language publications; the closer transliteration is Lunokhod.
A signal achievement of the early cosmonaut program was Alexei Leonov's first "spacewalk" (EVA). This mockup shows how they used an inflatable airlock to allow depressurization around him on leaving the cramped Voskhod 2 capsule. The display also shows the "Berkut" space suit design produced for this mission. (Berkut, Golden Eagle, has been a very popular name for Russian aerospace projects right down to the present).
The descent module of Soyuz 37, along with the emergency and rescue suit worn by Oleg Makarov. This view shows the bell-shaped reentry capsule tipped toward the viewer, with the heat shield hidden from view and one of the circular windows offering a slight view of the illuminated interior. Soyuz 37 (of the Soyuz 7K-T variety) was used for a crew-exchange and Intercosmos mission to Salyut 6 in 1980, most notable for carrying Vietnamese crew member Pham Tuan.
The Soviet interplanetary program is represented by these mockups of the landing probes Mars 3 (left) and Venera 4. Mars 3 reached the surface and apparently returned telemetry for a few seconds (but, alas, no recognizable imagery), well before the Viking landings of 1976. Venera 4 was more successful (part of the highly successful Venus program of the USSR), returning measurements from the hostile Cytherean surface.
The French-Soviet Astron satellite for ultraviolet astronomy, launched in 1983 into high Earth orbit (period about 96 hours, apogee near 175,000 km). This vehicle was based around the design of the Venera spacecraft. The centerpiece was a 0.8-meter telescope, roughly contemporary with similar in scope to the International Ultraviolet Explorer but, due apparently to detector limitations, never really able to use its larger aperture to scientific advantage. Some of its results from the literature include observations of Supernova 1987A in parallel with IUE and Hubble, chromospheric emission from flares on red-dwarf stars, molecular lines from Comet Halley, and the UV spectra of normal galaxies. Astron also carried an independent X-ray spectrometer, and operated for more than five years. It would be 1990 before UV-capable telescopes of larger aperture were orbited (specifically, both Hubble and the Hopkins Ultraviolet Telescope on Astro-1). This picture was taken at an Interkosmos travelling exhibit, at the Dutch amusement park "De Efteling" near Kaatsheuvel in the southern part of the Netherlands, in July 1986.
In another picture from the July 1986 Interkosmos exhibit in the Netherlands, this is a mockup of one of the Vega (Venera-Gallei or Venus-Halley) probes, then recently having completed successful comet flyby missions. Along the way, during Venus gravitational slingshots, each left a probe carrying a balloon into the upper atmosphere of Venus, to be tracked by a global network of Earth-based radio telescopes to add wind velocity to the in-situ data they returned. In addition to the images of the comet nuclei returned by the Vega probes, they participated in the "Pathfinder" project, in which they were closely tracked by multiple antenna locations on Earth, allowing detailed triangulation of the comet's position and path based on their images, which then allowed the Giotto probe to be target more precisely for its daringly close flyby of the nucleus.
Moving now to a travelling exhibit seen at the US Space and Rocket
Center in Huntsville, in January 1991, the first item is a mockup
of a fresh Soyuz re-entry module - note the crisp white paint.
On the heat shield you can see the covers for (what I take to be) two
of the small retrorockets used to slow the final landing for
Soyuz capsules - watch for the puff of exhaust and dust just before
landing on some of the video. The CCCP logo wasn't in use very long
after that exhibition came around.
Here's a Vega again, now with a good view of the dish antenna and solar arrays. As an astronomer, I would key in on the scan platform holding the imaging instruments (right) used for the closeups of the nucleus of Comet Halley... Note the dark glare shields extending downward, and the robust construction designed to handle the hostile environment of the comet's coma (hence the housing around the moving parts).
Some relevant links:
Courtesy of a Ukrainian grad student, I have a copy of the two-volume Bitva za Zvezdy - Kosmicheskoe Protivostoyanie, or "Battle for the Stars - Standoff in Space (I'd go with the simpler "Space Race" as a dynamic equivalent). This is a history by Anton Pervushin, which emphasizes the roads not taken. I worked on my astronautics vocabulary (that wasn't common to astrophysics), and reproduce here a lengthy summary (which also got posted to the FPSPACE list). The volumes appeared in 2003, from Izdatelsvto AST, Moscow (part of their military history series). Volume 1 deals with rocket systems in the pre-space age (B.G. or Before Gagarin), while volume 2 continues up to the present and future prospects. More stuff by Pervushin is available as part of Sergei Khlynin's site.
I'll note a few things from various chapters that struck me as newish, in some cases apparently not in astronautix.com yet. The chapter numbering is continuous.
Vol 1: Raketnye Sistemy Dokosmicheskoi Ery (Rocket systems before the space age) subtitle page Cosmonautics in the pre-space age
Introduction - he comes clean on his particular interest in the projects that never made it to metal, illustrating the point by way of a bit of alternative history:
USSR orbits "Sputnik" in 1957. World press yawns, seeing it as simply a response to US Orbiter of 1956. Cognoscenti note that it is much larger, carries biological specimens. Korolev follows with actual Sputnik 1 and openly discussed these plans beforehand. It is clearly a prototype spaceplane with space for a pilot. Eisenhower counsels caution, sets meetings and lays out a decade plan, trying to restrain public opinion. Lyndon Johnson pushes for a faster program, including Dyna-Soar. Lavochkin announces a booster, Pobeda - based on an ICBM - which can launch a winged spacecraft fromanywhere on Earth. Vladimir Ilyushin becomes the first man in orbit in 1959, in the 5-ton Krasnaya Zvezda spacecraft. Overshoots landing site by 1000 km. Eisenhower publicly announces commitement to Dyna-Soar. Meanwhile Ilyushin's world tour causes a global sensation. Six more Vostok booster flights follow in 1959-60. One cosmonaut is lost on re-entry; a second, Sergei Shiborin, dies when retrofire fails and his spacecraft remains in orbit. USSR showers European press with information and plans, wielding great political influence. Nixon elected in 1960; the space race isn't a major campaign issue. USSR announces a new kind of armed force, tactical space forces as well as nuclear-armed satellites in high orbit. As a show of force, 15 such military spaceplanes are launched, maneuvering to make clear the potential of targeting New York. Penkovski provides details on the system, executed for treason.
US administration panics. Nixon personally pushes Dyna-Soar. 1961 - Cuban fiasco as contras are repulsed. USSR seriously damages carrier Enterprise with conventional space-based weapons. Their trajectories do not allow determination of a point of origin. Nixon gives a speech on May 25, 1961, arguing in familiar words for the importance of space to the US. Commits to a lunar program. UN discusses treaty on outer space, derailed by US/USSR maneuvers. This leaves territorial claims possible. 1966 - Gemini 2 approaches Krasnaya Zvezda 5, revered by USSR as a hero's tomb, interested in intelligence value. This begins the Lunar War, as it is fired on by spacepanes with Nudelmann cannon. Gemini 2 is destroyed. US attacks and overwhelms Soyuz-3 station in low equatorial orbit. Sotka, B70, and Blackbird all used to launch small spaceplanes as things heat up.
1969 - Nixon announces impending lunar mission. Meanwhile, Gagarin and Leonov become first on Moon, declare it a soviet socialist republic. Bases are established, USSR announces relocation of its strategic deterrent to lunar surface. Young US Communist Dennis Tito gains notoriety as first American to work at Soviet Selena-1 base, becomes as well known as Elvis, who sings "Cosmonaut Love". NASA moves forward with LUNEX plan on its own. USAF pushed "High Frontier" program, commencing with (failed) Apollo-X mission to attack Soviet lunar assets. President Johnson hopes to gain in next step, announces NERVA mission to Mars. But again - Gagarin and Leonov ride what's basically a pair of Salyuts there, proclaim another SSR. Meanwhile, in the US, the Presidency is won in 1976 by the candidate of the Communist Party, Dennis Tito, and a new era in world relations begins...
Pervushin notes that this whole scheme involves space systems that were seriously proposed and designed.
Chapter 1 - spaceships before the space age. Reviews early SF, especially from Russian authors. Loving details on how they imagined the technology, with a uniformly drawn set of cross-sections and views. Starts with discourse on where space begins, arguing that intent is important in looking at plans and schemes. Says he traces ideas more than names, but does bring up a slew of Russian writers I was unfamiliar with.
(I seem to recall a story about Pushkin - the writer, not some sort of artillery - witnessing a demonstration of military rockets being fired from a submerged craft in a Russian river circa 1840, an invention which was still sadly lacking any means to navigate underwater. Where is an index when you need one, so I could be sure that's what was reported?)
Chapter 2 - The Third Cosmic Reich. Grip of their engineers on the imagination illustrated by a tabloid piece originally in English, but which seems to have real legs in Russia: "On Aprl 2, 1991 (there are no chance dates in mythology) a US Coast Guard cutter fished out of the Atlantic a downed space capsule with a crew of three. Imagine their surprise to discover that the crew were Luftwaffe officers who had left our planet 47 years earlier at the height of World Ear II. The flight was undertaken on Hitler's direct orders, using a modified V-2. They spent all 47 years in suspended animation" This attests to the fascination with the admitted technical prowess of the Reich's engineers.
Flying disks of the Third Reich: circular-winged craft date at least to 1915 in US; in 1909, Anatoli Ufimtsev built (but never successfully flew) the Spheroplane 1/2. In Germany: Schreiver and Gabermol built model 1 ("winged wheel"), with test flight in Feb 1941 near Prague. Model 2 ("vertical plane" or V-7), larger, space for two prone pilots, test flown 17 May 1944 Reached 288 km/hr, near record, 200 horizontally. Another variant ("Diskolyot") was built by the Chesko Morava factory, using Walter rocket engines. Model 3 (Bellontse disk) (Bellontse, Schriever, and Mite). Huge design, diameters 38 and 68 meters, to use 12 jet engines (probably Jumo-04 or BMW-003). Looks just like the C-57D or Jupiter II. Describes first and last test flight on Feb 19, 1945. Claims 15 km altitude and 2200 mn/s after 3 minutes, and during flight it was maneuvering back and forth The multimillion RM object was destroyed at war's end. In 1958, the engine builder Schauberger wrote that the model which had flown was destroyed by explosives experts. Mentions reported extremely-high-performance disk Haunebu 2, which resembled nothing so much as the Millennium Falcon.
"Alternative 1" - concludes that any alternate history in which the first in space were Nazis would be unrecognizably different from ours, no matter what the UFOlogists say.
Chapter 3 - Rockets and rocket planes of Soviet Russia. USSR was already worried by mid-1930s about aerial bombardment, since existing fighter planes could not reach even then-current bombing altitudes within feasible warning times. Several groups worked at rocket-powered boost gliders or rocket-boosted piston fighters. These projects were all, as they say in this part of the US, snakebit.
The RNII winged rockets, with Korolev playing a key role, are described in great detail. The piloted RP-318 suffered an amazing series of setbacks - above all, the arrest of key engineers during the Stalinist terror. Moving on to the BI-1 rocket interceptor, whose development was interrupted by relocation of the factory and personnel beyond the Urals, it was given a piloted flight test by Bakhchivandzhi in May 1942, which was successful as a flight but ended with a flaming plane after a landing-gear failure. Development continued, claiming the life of Bakhchivandzhi in 1943 (for which he was made Hero of the Soviet Union 30 years later). Additional models (up to BI-7) were built up to the end of the war, but the military situation gave little need for the unique point-defense role of rocket interceptors by that time. (Oddly enough, the final models were glide-tested being dropped from a Lend-Lease B-25J). GIRD also developed a rocket interceptor, the 302, which was developed through drop tests from a Tu-2 and B-25.
Attempts to boost aircraft performance continued with a rocket-assisted bomber, the twin-engine Pe-2. Variants with rockets in the tail or added to the wing engine pods were examined. Similar modifications were tested on the La-7 fighter as well.
Ts-1 (or LL-1 flying laboratory) rocket plane. Versions with forward and backsewpt wings were tested. Mikoyan's bureau enjoyed some suucess with their I-270 (Zh-1) rocket interceptor, except that by the time it performed satisfactorily, the Mig-15 had similar speed and altitude and much greater endurance.
D-346, inherited from German scientists, was a sleek swept-wing vehicle intended for supersonic flight. At various times, its glide tests used drops from a Ju-388, Tu-4, and B-29 (some kind of international record). There's a photo under the starboard wing of what's described as a B-29, although I certainly couldn't tell the difference from a Tu-4. This reached 950 km/hr, and may have gone supersonic during dives in its final flights (1951).
Pervushin also muses about a difference in historical approach - in the USSR, the way to the stars clearly began on wings.
Alternative 2 - the aerospace forces of Comrade Stalin?
Chapter 4 - The race for leadership. The impact of Sputnik 1, East and West. Russian citizens now tend to see this as a triumphal human achievement, forgetting that at the time thre was a purely political spin. He quotes a Steven King novel attesting to the impact in the West, and wonders whether the Americans' sense of entitlement blinds them to reality, even to missing the areas in which they didn't have to gloss over anything.
He makes what is either a grossly misleading generalization or an insightful observation (perhaps both) about the reaction to SF tales of space flight, claiming that while in the USSR fan clubs understood themselves to be about literary criticism, in the US they were about dreaming of making the unreal real. (Actually his spin on the US situation is less flattering than that phrase, maybe more like deliberate confusion of fantasy with reality).
Goddard's work, patents, and his striking lack of influence on US rocket development in spite of having his name on a space flight center, medal, and all over the history books. The role of what became JPL. WAC-Corporal flights, Viking, Bumper. Vanguard and Explorer 1. He describes many of these launches in Novosti Kosmonavtiki-level detail.
Chapter 5 - on the question of priority. The first satellite, revised version. Eisenhower and the problem of satellite overflight and national sovereignty (and why should he worry about overflights after authorizing the U-2 program over the USSR?). He certainly underestimated the impact of the first satellite on world opinion - and so, for that matter, did the Soviet leadership.
So back in the USSR - the role of captured V-2 parts and their reconstruction on Korolev et al., as they were still struggling with rocket planes. This experience and a visit to postwar Germany redirected Korolev's interest to "pure" rockets. Ten years of Soviet rocket development, starting with the V-2 analog R-1. The 1952 programs Geran' and Generator, which studied the spread of radioactive materials by exploding R-2 warheads over northeast Kazakhstan and studying the dispersal of liquid or pelletized radioactive tracers.
The G-series rockets and their origins with the competing efforts by USSR and USA to gather in Germany the harvest of wartime technology. Korolev, Glushko, and Chelomei are already important players.
Geophysical rockets in the USSR, 1949-1970. Those odd things on the sides of the intermediate models must be the separable-in-flight instrument units. One of these, a V-5A, reached a single-stage altitude record of 473 km in February 1958.
Dogs were first (hmm, our black Lab seems to perk up his extensive ears at that). Beginning, apparently, with a V-1V in 1951 carrying Dezik and Tsygan to 101 km and their parachute descent. Later flights woth the V-1D tested high-altitude ejection and parachute descent. Some dogs were flown multiple times (Otvazhnaya four times), and showed that their physiological reactions were less stressed on later flights. Belyanka and Pestraya reached 473 km, and were examined very closely with electrocardiograms and X-rays (today we can forget how little was known and how much was feared about physiological reactions to even brief journeys into space). In addition to dogs, they also flew rabbits, white rats, and mice (which were especially used in reaction-time and response tests) in the suborbital program.
The R-7 on the ground and in flight. Construction of the Baikonur facilities as the R-7 was developed into an operational missile system. Satellites "Object D", PS-1, and PS-2, and Korolev's campaign to prepare and launch one after Vanguard was announced. Pervushin reports that the September 1956 US launch in fact carried a satellite secretly but a third-stage failure kept it from orbit. (Doesn't everyone else claim that it was a dummy weight and was not intended as an orbital attempt??) In fact, on the next page, he writes that it was unconnected with the US space effort and was a purely military test of the Jupiter-C. (I'm confused). The Soviet tradition of placing electronics in pressurized vessels goes right back to PS-1 (whose launch also inaugurated the tradition of satellite boosters giving the controllers quite enough glitches to worry about). Oddly enough, like the Soviet leadership, even the people of OKB-1 didn't realize at first what a strong resonance the launch would produce worldwide, making space achievements, at least for a time, more important than ICBMs. PS-2 carried Laika shortly thereafter, and the "double" of object D made it the next year (after the original was lost in a launch failure on April 28).
Alternative-3: The first American satellite.
Chapter 6 - He said, "Let's go!" Gagarin and his era
Chapter 7 - Mesospheric war.
Chapter 8 - American winged vehicles
Chapter 9 - Space planes of the Soviet Union
Chapter 10 - Race to the Moon. von Braun (the "rocket baron") features, including his memo responding to JFK's questions abou the feasibility of various space options. Pervushin links poliitical and technical developments (especially in USA), as well as military and NASA work rather more tightly into single threads than I would.
It's telling these days that he begins this chapter by presenting the arguments that the Apollo landings really happened, pointing out that no Russian library of any size will be lacking the requisite information. He goes on to detail the proposed Soviet landing missions, to the detail level of when the lunar vehicle has to pitch up so its radar won't mistake the falling crasher stage for the lunar surface. He ends up with Chelomei's giant booster proposal.
He also devotes a couple of pages to the perennial question of how the USSR lost the race to the Moon, blaming the asymmetry in economic resources, irrational decisions from the top, and undue competition for internal resources. In a very odd aside, he opines that the USSR would have been much more successful if, rather than Khruschev, power in the post-Stalin era had gone to Lavrenti Beria, on the theory that bad decisions arose from being swayed by ideology and emotional appeal, while Beria was above all cold and calculating. (If there were an emoticon for "shivering up and down the spine" it would go here).
Chapter 11 - Lunar bases. That guy Korolev - already thinking about lunar bases using in situ resources, while getting the first man into orbit and adapting the capsule for reconnaissance use...
Chapter 12 - On the way to Mars. Several Soviet concepts from the late 1960s that all have the same feel as the NASA Apollo-adaptation plans (as in the report republished by Apogee in Mars vol. II).
Chapter 13 - Satellite interceptors. Nukes in space - lists Soviet K1-5 tests, and the project for a nuclear warhead exploded on the Moon so everyone would know they reached it. Only passing mention of Argus.
Khruschev's global rocket and how his bluffs cost dearly USSR's satellite inteceptors, history of interceptor tests (including one after ABM treaty out of military inertia). Pictures of Polyot-1 and "satellite interceptor".
Shows the counterpart to the F-15/ASAT combination, Mig-31D with underslung ASAT (tail 071/072, "Article 07") which used an R-33 rocket on central pylon. Issues with radar system, added two-sided winglets to improve stability. First flight of 072 from Zhukovsky, 1987, by Aviard Fastovets. The planes are now in Kazakhstan, uncertain situation with missiles but not closed out.
Chapter 14 - Buran versus the Space Shuttle. Perhaps as one might expect for a book in a military-history series, he emphasizes the military aspects of the design and politics of the STS system (although to an extent that I thought went on the far side of misdirection). Follows its various incarnations in design, short shrift to actual shuttle flights.
Buran - history included a long skinny lifting body, until politics plus crossrange (the USSR being without without a worldwide network of actual bases and additional emergency landing sites) plus politics won out. Buran had an internal phased array for cleaner communications in whatever orientation, used cryogenic fuel cells (a first, and their first foray into fuel cells IIRC). They planned at least 3 orbiters, four unpiloted tests flights upgrading along the way, specific guidance stuff for first unpiloted flights was back in payload bay. Plan then had four two-cosmonaut flights, with installation of ejection seats, including Mir docking and Kristall retrieval with explicit Spacelab analog and probably RMS.
Chapter 15 - Successors to Buran. A whole litany of projects usually wrapped up with "and there was no more money", in a few cases "and it wouldn't have actually worked" Depressingly like the whole chapters in the book of Chronicles listing kings of whom it is written "reigned, and then he died".
Chapter 16 - Successors to the Shuttle. Much like successors to Buran...
Chapter 17 - Orbital cities. He traces the idea back to Tsiolkovskii (surprise!), and devotes almost all the space to projects, some quite grandiose, that were never built. The Almaz series does get 12 pages with diagrams. Skif-DM (Polyus) is described here rather than in the next chapter, with some very fast spin about research measurements supposed to be made during ascent.
Chapter 18 - "Star Wars". The Terra-3 laser complex at Sary Shagan reported as having in fact illuminated Challenger, 10 Oct 1983, at minimum power. Followup program on Il-76MD, 60-tonne laser apparatus, which replaced the usual weather radar bulge. Optical elements retracted into fuselage on top, between wings and tail. Analogous modifications made to an A-50 and Tu-142 (antisubmarine version of Tu-95 Bear), otherwise still secret. The Il-76MD (or A-60) was itself retired in 1990.
The USSR maintained an active antimissile program in 1970s including energy weapons, EM launchers. Most builders closed it off after it appeared unpromising; could not even on paper meet the goal of annihilating the US nuclear capability within the requisite 20-25 minutes.
Chapter 19 - The problems of power. Traces a parallel (to NERVA, more or less) nuclear rocket development in USSR with Big Names such as Kurchatov, Keldysh, later Korolev, Myshin. Gets to solar sails, photon rockets, flavors of ion rockets. Propulsive use of "local resources" - magnetic field, ionization of upper atmosphere, recombination catalysts (now that sounds like a particularly Russian technique - the physics is so clever and complicated that there must be a use for it).
Chapter 20 - Space artillery. - not quite only Gerald Bull.
Chapter 21 - Into space on a lift. Quotes almost two pages from Fountains of Paradise at the outset. Traces idea to Yuri Artsutanov in 1960, although (surprise!) Tsiolkovskii mentioned it. Rotating, asynchronous elevator systems. Tethers and magnetic field for thrust or power. The text suggests the author has real enthusiasm for these. Yunitskii's all-planetary transport system - think Ringworld Jr...
Chapter 22 - Interstellar expeditions. Wherein we learn to recognize "Geoffrey Landis" in Cyrillic.
Chapter 23 - Untamed planet. That is, Mars. History of Mars probes plus Mars Direct and Energiya's current viewgraph/PowerPoint engineering for human expeditions.
One recurring phrase might as well enter the astronautics lexicon: "ostal'sya na bumage" - it remained on paper. A common epitaph for space projects.
I thought there was an interesting anecdote about the results of confusion in call signs between the ASAT Mig-31 and a chase plane, but can't find it at the moment. No index... And thanks to Ilya of bautforum.com for correcting my on-the-fly translation of the title.
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Last changes: June 2007