Thoughts About the Cold War Space Race

 

Here’s a chart I see frequently on Twitter.

Jeff Shesol in his new book John Glenn, John Kennedy and the new Battlegrounds of the Cold War, wrote:

What the Soviets had was a Potemkin program. They made fewer launches than the Americans because they lacked the infrastructure. They relied heavily on one rocket, the R7 Semyorka, rather than developing new technologies. They achieved a series of firsts, but at the expense of long-term planning.

Some of the Soviet firsts were done almost totally to beat the Americans such as the first space walk. They first spacewalk was in March 1965. The next one was in January 1969. The Americans had done spacewalks in Geminis 4, 9, 10, 11 and 12 during that time.

Some American firsts include:

Solar cells – Vanguard 1. This is one that my father tinkered with on our dining room table. I’m wearing the red coat next to it.

Navigation satellite – Transit

Weather satellite – Vanguard 2/Tiros

Communication satellite – Telstar (active, direct relay) preceded by Echo

First successful fly by of Mars Mariner 4

First space probe to orbit another planet – Mariner 9

First probe through the asteroid belt – Pioneer 10

These are just some of the American firsts. Clearly, America held a lead from 1959 onwards in application satellites.

 

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  1. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    And, of course, Voyager I and II. The most distant man-made objects in the universe are American.

    (And, for better or worse (okay, for worse), the only space probe ever to assume awesome power, turn around, and attempt to destroy humanity was also American.)

    • #1
  2. DonG (CAGW is a hoax) Coolidge
    DonG (CAGW is a hoax)
    @DonG

    That said, Russia built some very fine rockets.   Have you seen the thrust of the Space-X super heavy duty?  16,000,000 ft-lb.  That is amazing!

    • #2
  3. drlorentz Member
    drlorentz
    @drlorentz

    That Twitter graphic is just leftist agitprop. Some of ‘em just can’t give up on the dream. As for the quality of their spacecraft, a Russian I knew joked that Soyuz “means piece of crap” in Russian, except he didn’t say “crap.”

    • #3
  4. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    If you invent more or less imaginary categories like “first animal in space”, it’s easy. (For the record, didn’t White Sands send mice into suborbital space? It’s still space). As Richard notes, some of these firsts are first by a few months at most (spacewalk, unmanned soft landing on the Moon). By contrast, manned landing on the Moon is something they still haven’t done, 52 years later. The Salyut space station was nothing compared to Skylab. The space shuttle was, regrettably, a strategic mistake in some respects, but it was still an accomplishment that the Soviet Buran couldn’t compete with. 

    Making space work for us, making life better here on Earth has been something Americans can be proud of. GPS, of course; it took years before Glonass could get a point on the scoreboard. Communications satellites? Not an American monopoly to be sure, but we did vastly more with them than they did. 

     

    • #4
  5. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    If you invent more or less imaginary categories like “first animal in space”, it’s easy. (For the record, didn’t White Sands send mice into suborbital space? It’s still space). As Richard notes, some of these firsts are first by a few months at most (spacewalk, unmanned soft landing on the Moon). By contrast, manned landing on the Moon is something they still haven’t done, 52 years later. The Salyut space station was nothing compared to Skylab. The space shuttle was, regrettably, a strategic mistake in some respects, but it was still an accomplishment that the Soviet Buran couldn’t compete with.

    Making space work for us, making life better here on Earth has been something Americans can be proud of. GPS, of course; it took years before Glonass could get a point on the scoreboard. Communications satellites? Not an American monopoly to be sure, but we did vastly more with them than they did.

     

    And, for what it’s worth, we did what we did without gulags or the Lubyanka or the Holodomor. That counts for a lot.

    • #5
  6. Steven Seward Member
    Steven Seward
    @StevenSeward

    Richard Easton:

    Some American firsts include:

    Solar cells – Vanguard 1. This is one that my father tinkered with on our dining room table. I’m wearing the red coat next to it.

    Richard, remind me again of what your father did in his scientific career.  I thought it had something to do with the creation of Global Positioning Satellites.  Are those all your siblings in the picture?

     

    • #6
  7. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    The graphic ends before it can show the Soviet note-for-note copy of the shuttle

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    And, of course, Voyager I and II. The most distant man-made objects in the universe are American.

    (And, for better or worse (okay, for worse), the only space probe ever to assume awesome power, turn around, and attempt to destroy humanity was also American.)

    To be fair, it was just looking to join with its maker, and had the sense to realize that assuming the form of Persis Khambatta would assist in the process. The whole “carbon infestation” thing was a misunderstanding.

    Conversation in heaven:

    Cmd. Matt Decker: Will! My son! Here you are! I hope your life was long and enjoyable. What brought you here?

    William Decker: It’s great to see you, Dad. I encountered a massive, incredibly powerful object crafted by an unknown civilization, and perished in our attempt to vanquish its threat to Earth.

    Cmd. Matt Decker: Me too! How about that! So, was yours a long ugly cornucopia that chopped up planets and ate them? I helped defeat it by running a shuttle down its maw.

    William Decker:  Uhh . . . it was huge, yes.

    Cmd. Matt Decker:So you blew it up? Saved the day?

    William Decker: Not exactly. It manifested itself in cyborg-human form, and I had sparkly disembodied sex with it, and that seemed to do the trick

    Cmd. Matt Decker: (long pause) I never thought of that.

    William Decker: Well dad I’ve gone over the records and I don’t think it was the same.

    Cmd. Matt Decker: You’re probably right. If that had been an option, Kirk would have been on it before me.

    • #7
  8. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    @jameslileks, you just accomplished something amazing. You made me happy to be awake at 2:30 am.

    • #8
  9. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):

    @ jameslileks, you just accomplished something amazing. You made me happy to be awake at 2:30 am.

    :) Right back at you at 1:47 AM CST. 

    • #9
  10. OccupantCDN Coolidge
    OccupantCDN
    @OccupantCDN

    James Lileks (View Comment):
    The graphic ends before it can show the Soviet note-for-note copy of the shuttle

    Actually no. The Soviets designed a unique vehicle. The design was definitely informed or inspired by the shuttle, but the Buran orbiter was different enough that they would have required a unique design and testing program for their orbiter. First of all Buran was 30 tonnes lighter… More differences noted in the Popular Mechanics article linked below:

    Popular Mechanics – Buran vs STS

     

     

    • #10
  11. Richard Easton Coolidge
    Richard Easton
    @RichardEaston

    Steven Seward (View Comment):

    Richard Easton:

    Some American firsts include:

    Solar cells – Vanguard 1. This is one that my father tinkered with on our dining room table. I’m wearing the red coat next to it.

    Richard, remind me again of what your father did in his scientific career. I thought it had something to do with the creation of Global Positioning Satellites. Are those all your siblings in the picture?

     

    Yes, that’s the Easton gang in 1958. It’s hotly contested, but most people credit my father with inventing GPS. You need to read a certain book called “GPS Declassified”…I talked about Vanguard and GPS on The John Batchelor Show.

    https://www.thespaceshow.com/show/06-dec-2017/broadcast-3030-hotel-mars-richard-easton

    • #11
  12. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Richard’s account of the development of GPS, at Amazon:

    GPS Declassified

    It’s a good book, and offers a rare perspective on the history of a major piece of modern technology.

    • #12
  13. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Richard’s account of the development of GPS, at Amazon:

    GPS Declassified

    It’s a good book, and offers a rare perspective on the history of a major piece of modern technology.

    And if you want to listen to me read Richard’s excellent book, drop me a note and I’ll send you a promo code for a free review copy of the Audible audiobook. That goes for anyone reading this, and also for my other 58 titles on Audible if any of them strike your fancy. Audible loves reviews, and I love sharing the freebies.

    • #13
  14. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Richard’s account of the development of GPS, at Amazon:

    GPS Declassified

    It’s a good book, and offers a rare perspective on the history of a major piece of modern technology.

    And if you want to listen to me read Richard’s excellent book, drop me a note and I’ll send you a promo code for a free review copy of the Audible audiobook. That goes for anyone reading this, and also for my other 58 titles on Audible if any of them strike your fancy. Audible loves reviews, and I love sharing the freebies.

    Doug, I didn’t know that you read Richard’s book. I assume Audible lets me search by reader; I’ll check out your titles. — H.

    • #14
  15. Steven Seward Member
    Steven Seward
    @StevenSeward

    Richard Easton (View Comment):

    Steven Seward (View Comment):

    Richard Easton:

    It’s hotly contested, but most people credit my father with inventing GPS. You need to read a certain book called “GPS Declassified”…I talked about Vanguard and GPS on The John Batchelor Show.

    https://www.thespaceshow.com/show/06-dec-2017/broadcast-3030-hotel-mars-richard-easton

    I’m going to check out the John Batchelor show.  Is your  father still  alive?

    • #15
  16. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Richard’s account of the development of GPS, at Amazon:

    GPS Declassified

    It’s a good book, and offers a rare perspective on the history of a major piece of modern technology.

    And if you want to listen to me read Richard’s excellent book, drop me a note and I’ll send you a promo code for a free review copy of the Audible audiobook. That goes for anyone reading this, and also for my other 58 titles on Audible if any of them strike your fancy. Audible loves reviews, and I love sharing the freebies.

    Doug, I didn’t know that you read Richard’s book. I assume Audible lets me search by reader; I’ll check out your titles. — H.

    Absolutely. You should be able to search on my name to pull up my titles. Probably best to use “Douglas R Pratt” as the search term. Besides Richard’s fine book, I have a very good bio of Gus Grissom and an excellent analysis of the beginnings of NASA, “Eisenhower’s Sputnik Moment. ” Glad to share promo codes for any and all of them. 

    • #16
  17. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Where is the “First deaths in space? 

    • #17
  18. Richard Easton Coolidge
    Richard Easton
    @RichardEaston

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Richard’s account of the development of GPS, at Amazon:

    GPS Declassified

    It’s a good book, and offers a rare perspective on the history of a major piece of modern technology.

    And if you want to listen to me read Richard’s excellent book, drop me a note and I’ll send you a promo code for a free review copy of the Audible audiobook. That goes for anyone reading this, and also for my other 58 titles on Audible if any of them strike your fancy. Audible loves reviews, and I love sharing the freebies.

    Doug, I didn’t know that you read Richard’s book. I assume Audible lets me search by reader; I’ll check out your titles. — H.

    Absolutely. You should be able to search on my name to pull up my titles. Probably best to use “Douglas R Pratt” as the search term. Besides Richard’s fine book, I have a very good bio of Gus Grissom and an excellent analysis of the beginnings of NASA, “Eisenhower’s Sputnik Moment. ” Glad to share promo codes for any and all of them.

    Here are Doug’s books.

    https://smile.amazon.com/s?k=Douglas+R.+Pratt&i=audible&ref=dp_byline_sr_audible_3

    • #18
  19. Richard Easton Coolidge
    Richard Easton
    @RichardEaston

    Steven Seward (View Comment):

    Richard Easton (View Comment):

    Steven Seward (View Comment):

    Richard Easton:

    It’s hotly contested, but most people credit my father with inventing GPS. You need to read a certain book called “GPS Declassified”…I talked about Vanguard and GPS on The John Batchelor Show.

    https://www.thespaceshow.com/show/06-dec-2017/broadcast-3030-hotel-mars-richard-easton

    I’m going to check out the John Batchelor show. Is your father still alive?

    Dad died in 2014. Here’s the video they played the day he received the National Medal of Technology from President Bush.

    https://youtu.be/KNX11KV85nE

    • #19
  20. OmegaPaladin Moderator
    OmegaPaladin
    @OmegaPaladin

    Have the Russians ever sent a probe past the inner planets? 

    • #20
  21. Richard Easton Coolidge
    Richard Easton
    @RichardEaston

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):

    Have the Russians ever sent a probe past the inner planets?

    As far as I can tell, the answer is no.

    • #21
  22. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    Richard Easton (View Comment):

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):

    Have the Russians ever sent a probe past the inner planets?

    As far as I can tell, the answer is no.

    They did land on Venus, and the lander lasted long enough to send back a picture or two before melting.

    • #22
  23. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Russian rocket developer Boris Chertok wrote a great memoir, titled Rockets and People.  He said the Sputnik project was inspired by the problems they were having with ICBM reentry….if you use the rocket to launch and earth satellite, reentry isn’t a problem!

    Concerning animals in space, Oleg Gazenko, the scientist and air force officer who was responsible for the Laika project, always felt bad about it:  “Work with animals is a source of suffering to all of us. We treat them like babies who cannot speak. The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We shouldn’t have done it. We did not learn enough from the mission to justify the death of the dog.”

    I reviewed Chertok’s book here:

    https://chicagoboyz.net/archives/49961.html

     

    • #23
  24. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    I recall reading once that many in the American government were happy that Sputnik was the first satellite in orbit.  American planners wanted to put spy satellites in orbit to photograph the Soviet Union, but were afraid the Soviets would claim this as a violation of their airspace and perhaps even an act of war.  Sputnik set a precedent that space was international zone like the oceans rather than an extension of each nation’s airspace.

    • #24
  25. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):

    I recall reading once that many in the American government were happy that Sputnik was the first satellite in orbit. American planners wanted to put spy satellites in orbit to photograph the Soviet Union, but were afraid the Soviets would claim this as a violation of their airspace and perhaps even an act of war. Sputnik set a precedent that space was international zone like the oceans rather than an extension of each nation’s airspace.

    I’ve read that too. It’s probably true among the real insiders, the relative handful of people who were deeply concerned about space policy before 1957. They’d know why it was in our interests to have overflights de facto established by Soviet precedent. They’d also know that the Soviets had said for years that they would launch a satellite during 1957-58, and had announced radio frequencies to monitor it.  I’d guess that most others felt surprise and disappointment, like most Americans. 

    That was. IIRC, part of the claimed rationale for bypassing the Army’s Von Braun-designed ICBM in favor of Vanguard, whose booster was designed specifically for scientific research. 

    • #25
  26. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):

    I recall reading once that many in the American government were happy that Sputnik was the first satellite in orbit. American planners wanted to put spy satellites in orbit to photograph the Soviet Union, but were afraid the Soviets would claim this as a violation of their airspace and perhaps even an act of war. Sputnik set a precedent that space was international zone like the oceans rather than an extension of each nation’s airspace.

    Correct. In “Eisenhower’s Sputnik Moment” it describes this point in discussion. One of the reasons Ike and his staff underestimated the public reaction to Sputnik is that they knew about Polaris, the submarine-based ICBM that effectively countered the threat of the bigger Soviet rockets. However, they couldn’t discuss it in public. Kennedy ran effectively against Nixon on a “missile gap” that didn’t exist, but Nixon couldn’t say why.

    • #26