BOSTON, JUNE 1 -- While the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union confer in Washington, the Boston Museum of Science has opened an exhibit of Soviet space technology, the first such display in the 33 years of superpower rivalry in space.
The "Soviet Space" exhibit, which may travel to other U.S. museums this fall, opened to the public today featuring a fleet of spacecraft and models never seen outside the Soviet Union. Among the artifacts are a replica of Sputnik 1, the beach ball-size satellite that stunned America and launched the space race in 1957, a lunar roving vehicle and components of the last unmanned moon probe.
"This is a historic day," said Bradford Towle, the interim director of the Museum of Science, at the opening. Hailing the spirit of "science glasnost," Towle noted that until now, the only piece of Soviet space hardware on display in this country was the Soyuz spacecraft at the Smithsonian Institution.
The exhibit, prepared by the Museum of Science in cooperation with Glavkosmos, the Soviet space agency, is accompanied by technical experts, translators and two heroes of the Soviet space program -- cosmonauts Aleksei Leonov, the first man to walk in space, and Valentin Lebedev, who spent 211 days aboard the Mir space station.
In an interview, Leonov, 56, spoke bluntly about the folly of the Cold War and about his hopes for future superpower collaboration in space.
The burly Soviet air force major general also recalled fondly his role in the first handshake in space. In 1975, during the docking of the Soviet Soyuz and the U.S. Apollo spacecraft, Leonov reached through a hatch and shook hands with American Thomas Stafford.
Just six years earlier, he recounted, he and Stafford had flown training missions aboard military jets in the skies over Germany, flying from bases about 20 miles apart across the border between East and West Germany.
"Thank God, we did not meet in combat," Leonov said through a translator. "The question is, why did we do all those things? A generation shook its fists at each other. What for? I don't think the Cold War ever produced any single good result. . . . The Cold War never encouraged the development of science useful to mankind."
The only result the two nations can show, according to Leonov, is the military hardware that both are considering scrapping. Indignantly, he noted that the cost of a single Soviet tank could pay to build 75 apartments.
To the best of his knowledge, he said, the secrecy that surrounded the U.S. and Soviet space programs in the name of national security did not jeopardize lives of cosmonauts or astronauts. But he said the Cold War has left a dangerous legacy in space -- more than 3,000 fragments of spy satellites circling Earth in low orbit, threatening future spacecraft that could collide with them.
Leonov said he is eager to work with the United States on a joint, manned mission to Mars. A Mars trip has long been a target of the Soviet space program, and President Bush recently embraced the concept in principle, but the two nations are far from detailed agreements.
Organizers of the exhibit here hope that it will mark a turning point in U.S.-Soviet cooperation.
Kelly Beatty, editor of Sky and Telescope magazine and a technical adviser to the Boston museum, said the Americans who traveled to the Soviet Union last December to arrange the exhibit were astounded at the access they enjoyed.
"We saw everything," he said. "They hid nothing from us."
"The politics of our government has changed dramatically," Leonov said. "It's not just lip service, it's the deeds of our government. Nobody in our government now can so easily declare war. That is all in the past."