Did you know that the US Government intentionally prevented Wernher von Braun from launching a satellite a year before Sputnik? Or that mousetrap springs were used in the Vanguard rocket to save costs?
With links to videos on a supporting website, this e-book takes full advantage of the multimedia capability of the new generation of e-readers. For those without video capability, codes are provided to enable viewing on PC.
The narrative follows missile development and the politics of the emerging space sciences in the USA and the Soviet Union from 1945 through to the moon landings and beyond.
At the end of WW2 the US Army captured the German V-2 rocket research centre at Peenemunde just weeks ahead of the Soviets. Within days they’d stripped the site and shipped train loads of rocket components to the United States. Their most valuable prize however, was Wernher von Braun, head of the German V-2 program, and his team of scientists. Along with thousands of vital documents, this group was flown to America to work in an Army research facility at El Paso, New Mexico.
When Peenemunde was handed over to the Soviets as part of the allied post war agreement, they found the cupboard literally bare. It was up to Sergei Korolev, head designer for Soviet rocket research, to examine what was left and re-create the V-2’s design. Leading a team of Soviet and captured German scientists, within a year they’d built a Russian version of the V-2, and the race for missile supremacy with the United States had begun.
Part One – Into Orbit – describes the competition between the USA and the Soviet Union up to the launch of Sputnik, Explorer and Vanguard. It also follows the careers of the men behind both nation’s rocket research programmes – Wernher von Braun and Sergei Korolev. This was an era when the USA believed they were so far ahead of the Soviets that a false sense of security had enveloped the nation. America had the A-bomb and estimated it would take the Soviets at least 10 years to develop their own. Instead the Russians did it in 4 years.
Fear gripped America, making way for the climate of paranoia when senator McCarthy began his Communist witch-hunt, and a civil defence program tried to convince the population that there was no need to be afraid of the “bomb”. The somewhat tragic-comedy “Duck and Cover” campaign is described, along with links to the video productions used to educate the youth of the era. An interesting perspective is also given by Sergei Khrushchev, son of the former Soviet Premier.
Even though the Soviets now possessed nuclear weapons, America continued to opt for manned bombers as their prime means of delivery, with only a nominal commitment to missile development. The US government ignored von Braun’s warnings that the Soviets were ahead in rocket research and his requests to use a satellite launcher he’d developed were continually refused.
It took the launching of Sputnik 1 in October 1957, to shake the Americans out of their complacency, only for them to realize they’d been eclipsed by the Russians. Panic gripped the nation as Sputnik 1 orbited, and a month later Sputnik 2, containing the dog Laika, caused a public outcry. America, that bastion of freedom and supposed world leader in technology had been outclassed by “a nation of potato farmers”.
After the first attempt by the US to orbit their Vanguard satellite ended in an embarrassing explosion on the pad, von Braun was given the go ahead. In less than 90 days, using the same rocket he’d tested almost two years earlier, his team orbited Explorer 1.
100 photos and over 10 hours of video.