The Worst Thing Ever Put In Orbit

I wrote about the 5 coolest inanimate objects in orbit you might not have heard of, because when I found out about the Space Disco Balls of Science I had no choice in the matter.

Orbital Orb of Awesome

Orbital Orb of Awesome

Someone asked why I didn’t include the Salyut-3/Almaz 2 station’s 35 mm Nudelman machine gun.


The first reason is that the only sources for the gun are Wikipedia, fan pages, and mentions in a book which doesn’t have any references. Which is to say, there are no sources at all. A Wikipedia article without numbers in little square brackets is like a gun without any bullets: trying to use it in public will make you look stupid, get you in trouble, and you will lose any resulting fight very badly.

The second reason is that if it is true, it’s the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard.

The “self-defense” gun was allegedly bolted into place along the space station’s axis. Meaning the entire station had to be reoriented to aim. So if you wanted to shoot someone, they had to co-operate almost as much as if they were docking with you. And anyone who knows what the hell they’re doing with orbital attack will just have fired a cloud of shrapnel to pepper your orbit. You might as well try to shoot gravity to stop it from slamming things into you at orbital velocity. Even firing the gun apparently vibrated the station so violently it was forbidden while people were actually in it. Then there’s recoil, meaning that your “self-defence” weapon was obscenely expensive to install, wouldn’t work, and its only function would be to kill the people it claimed to protect. Making the space gun the ultimate analogy for cold war weaponry.

There are apparently real Russian guns in space, kept in locked containers in any Soyuz capsules – like the one connected to the International Space Station. They’re intended to defend the crew from wild animals in case of an off-course landing in a remote area.

It’s sort of wonderful: a gun actually used as an intelligent tool by highly-trained specialists. When you crash-land in bear country, you’ve just used your enhanced brain to survive space itself as well as punching through an entire atmosphere: you’re damned if you’re going to let nature kill you now. That’s the gun as physical intelligence projector. “Keep away, bear, for I am smarter than you.”

The unexpected part is that, of all countries, the US doesn’t let their astronauts have guns. Any random citizen who can keep the voices quiet long enough to show ID? No problem, please insert your VISA card and pick up your hundred bullets. Astronauts, the most rigorously trained and selected people in the country? Have a machete.

That’s just going to make the the leverage and cutting-implement stats look better on the bear’s mauling card. You don’t go up against a few hundred kilos of pure carnivore in a sharpened-leverage fight. When you’ve used a few hundred tons of propellant to get back into orbit, a few more grams is a sensible way to make sure your next great adventure isn’t through a Ursidaen alimentary canal.

The thinking is that you don’t want a device which could kill everyone in a space station. Because we all know that guns have a completely different function on the ground.

It’s just odd to think that the smartest gun on the planet usually isn’t.

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