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11 Lesser-Known Facts about the Soviet Union

7. From 1970 to 1992, the Soviets drilled the world’s deepest borehole known as the “Kola Superdeep Borehole” that reached 12,262 meters (40,230 feet). The project’s aim was to drill as deep as possible. 

Kola Superdeep Borehole and the Borehole Welded Shut
Kola Superdeep Borehole and the Borehole Welded Shut. Image Source: Andre Belozeroff, Rakot13

When the drilling started on May 24, 1970, the target depth was 15,000 meters (49,000 feet). The borehole reached the depth of 9,583 meters (31,440 feet) in 1979 breaking the then-record for deepest hole held by the Bertha Rogers hole in Oklahoma, US. In 1989, it reached the 12, 262 meters depth.

It was expected to reach 13,500 meters by 1990 and 15,000 meters by 1993 but had to be stopped as the temperature reached 180 °C (356 °F) instead of the expected 100 °C (212 °F). The project ended with the collapse of Soviet Union.

The borehole fascinated scientists and was the site of geophysical research for many years. The hole penetrated a third of the Baltic Shield continental crust and reached the Archaean rocks at the bottom.

Scientists also found that the granite doesn’t transition into basalt, which they thought was the reason for discontinuity of seismic waves, at the depth of seven kilometers. They also found that the rock was thoroughly fractured at that depth and held a lot of water. Another surprising discovery was the large amount of hydrogen gas.

For 20 years, Kola Superdeep Borehole held the record for the longest and deepest borehole. Though its record for length was broken long ago, it remains the deepest artificial point on Earth to this day. (source)


8. The Soviet Union had an internationally televised song contest. As few viewers had phones, they would turn their lights on if they liked a song and off if they didn’t. The power spikes were recorded by the state energy company and the reports sent to the station to pick the winner.

Intervision Song Contest
Intervision Song Contest. Image Source: BBC, Intervision

The contest started as the Sopot International Song Festival, the Eastern Bloc equivalent of Eurovision Song Contest, in 1961 by Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish pianist and composer of Jewish descent on whose life Roman Polanski’s film The Pianist was based.

It was replaced by Intervision Song Contest between 1977 and 1980, though it was still held in Sopot, Poland. The participants in the contest included both Post-Soviet states and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization members.

The electricity-based voting system was used during the contests because viewers from the participating Soviet nations did not have private telephones. The popularity of the contest decreased in the 1980s following the rise of the independent trade union movement Solidarity and was discontinued after the fall of Soviet Union.

Vladimir Putin attempted to revive the contest in 2014 as part of his ” broader cultural diplomacy agenda,” but it never again saw the light of day. (1, 2)


9. The Soviet Union lasted long enough to have its own country code domain “.su” on the Internet, which it received a mere 15 months before its dissolution. 

Soviet Union Country Code Top-Level Domain
Soviet Union Country Code Top-Level Domain. Image Source: Roman Poulvas, Yevgeny Ukhnalyov

The first country code Top-Level Domains to be registered were .us (United States), .uk (United Kingdom), and .il (Israel) in 1985, and several other countries followed suit next year.

After 1989, .cs (Czechoslovakia), .yu (Yugoslavia), and .dd (East Germany) were registered along with .su (Soviet Union). The domain was supposed to be .ussr, but Petri Ojala, a 19-year-old Finnish student, proposed the two-lettered alternative.

Following the dissolution of Soviet Union on December 26, 1991, Russia continued to use .su until 1993 when the domain .ru was created to eventually replace .su.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) meant to withdraw the domain but retained it considering its popularity among the Internet users and the Russian government. (source)

10. The Soviet Union was the first to send a human into space as part of the Vostok Program featuring cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. They were also the first to launch a space station. 

Yuri Gagarin's Vostok Spacecraft
Yuri Gagarin’s Vostok Spacecraft. Image Source: Arto Jousi, wikipedia

The development of human spaceflight capability began during the Cold War when the USSR built the first intercontinental ballistic missile rockets for delivering nuclear weapons. While the US was working on Project Mercury to send humans into orbit following the first satellite launches in 1957 and 1958, the USSR was secretly working on the Vostok Program.

On April 12, 1961, the USSR launched Yuri Gagarin in Vostok 1 on a Vostok 3KA rocket and the US sent Alan Shepard on May 5, 1961, in Freedom 7 on a Mercury-Redstone rocket. The USSR is also the first to send a woman, cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, into space on June 16, 1963, along with four other cosmonauts aboard Vostok 6.

As the space race continued, and the US next sent Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon on July 20, 1969, the Soviets changed their goals from manned spaceflights to orbiting space stations. Their first space station, Salyut 1, was meant to be launched on the 10th anniversary of Gagarin’s flight, but due to technical difficulties, it was launched on April 19, 1971, while its US counterpart, Skylab, was launched on May 14, 1973. (1, 2)


11. On a lighter note, Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, starred in a 60-second Pizza Hut commercial in 1997. 

Gorbachev introduced policies of glasnost (“openness”) and perestroika (“restructuring”), and also reoriented the strategic aims of the Soviet Union contributing to the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In 1989, he was awarded the Otto Hahn Peace Medal for “his contributions to nuclear disarmament” and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 for “his leading role in the peace process.”

Gorbachev in Louis Vuitton Ad
Gorbachev in Louis Vuitton Ad. Image Source: Annie Leibovitz

After his resignation following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev did numerous acting jobs while running for the presidency or forming new parties. In 1993, he appeared as himself in the film Faraway, So Close!, the sequel to Wings of Desire.

He appeared in an internationally screened Pizza Hut commercial along with his granddaughter, and the payment went to went to his non-profit organization the Gorbachev Foundation. He was also photographed by Annie Leibovitz for a Louis Vuitton ad campaign. He also sang an album of old Russian romantic ballads titled Songs for Raisa, dedicated to his wife. (source)


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