Russian cosmonauts used to take this machete-rigged shotgun on space missions

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Nov 14, 2014, 3:49 PM EST (Updated)

Though America eventually managed to plant its flag on the moon first, things were neck-and-neck in the 1960s space race between Russia and the U.S. Regardless of how it all turned out, there’s one point you can’t argue: The Russian cosmonauts were definitely better armed than their U.S. counterparts.

Dating all the way back to the legendary space race, cosmonauts have carried a sidearm on space missions — and they even brought them onto the International Space Station back in the early days of the multinational mission. Nicknamed a “survival gun,” the multipurpose gun was included in every Soyuz crew’s emergency kit. U.S. astronauts have also trained with the weapon in survival courses.

The reason? In case of an eventual crash back on Earth in rough terrain, any survivor would have a weapon/tools to fight off wild animals or shoot a rescue flare. Dubbed the TOZ 82, the three-barreled pistol also doubled as a shovel and featured a swing-out machete. It could fire shotgun shells, rifle bullets and flares.

According to IEEE Spectrum, cosmonauts actually continued carrying the weapon as part of the emergency kit until the past few years, when it was quietly removed for most missions. Considering how even the most well-balanced people can freak out a bit when trapped in a metal box in the deadly silence of space for months on end, it’s probably not the best idea to have a firearm accessible — especially when a misguided shot could rip a hole in the craft and kill everyone.

Per the report, the guns are removed prior to each separate mission by crew vote, so there’s technically nothing stopping a future crew from tossing one in the box before takeoff. Some have recommended adding the gun to the outside of the escape capsule — so it could only be accessed following a landing back on Earth — though there doesn’t seem to be much support for that proposal.

What’s your take? Do we need a triple-barreled gun with a machete in space?

(Via IEEE Spectrum)