The Old Space Age Began

Today is the 60th anniversary of Sputnik. I have some thoughts over at The Weekly Standard. I’ll have more later today at PJMedia.

[Update a couple minutes later]

Henry Spencer reminds me that upon the successful launch, Korolev supposedly said “The road to the stars is now open.” A little premature, I think…

[Update a while later]

For a detailed history of the program, go read Asif Siddiqi over at The Space Review (it’s part one, the second part will appear next Monday).

[Update a couple minutes later, after going through the Siddiqi piece]

This is excellent. It is likely now the best available history of its development.

[Update a few minutes later]

Anatoly Zak reminds us that Sputnik wasn’t about the satellite; it was about the rocket.

[Update a while later]

More from Siddiqi on recent translations. Kind of amazing how much we still don’t know about space history six decades later.

[Update a while later]

How dreams of space-faring zombies resulted in Sputnik. Well, sort of.

[Update late morning]

Here‘s Chris Gebhart’s take.

[Afternoon update]

My (other) take is now up over at PJMedia. As usual, most comments are ignorant and/or idiotic.

[Update a week later]

Part 2 of Siddiqi’s new history is up now.


11 thoughts on “The Old Space Age Began”

  1. “While it wasn’t a surprise to the Eisenhower administration (the Soviet launch actually established a legal precedent for overflight that we could then use for our own spy satellites), it was seen as a sign by ordinary Americans that we were behind in crucial rocketry technology with what we viewed as our mortal enemy in a potentially existential conflict.”
    Sure Rand. But the fact is the USA was behind the Soviets. I would argue the US only got a comparable launcher to the R-7 when the Titan was put into service.

    “But in a sense it was a very un-American way of doing things; a democratic state-socialist enterprise constructed in order to defeat a totalitarian one.”
    It’s even worse than that Rand. In the Soviet Union there were multiple competing launcher designs by separate bureaus (Korolev’s, Chelomei’s, even Yangel had a design). While in the US it was top down designed by Werner von Braun and his team and then farmed out to the contractors.

    But I agree with the main premise. The commercial market based route is the right way to go forward with space development.

    1. In the early years of the US space program, there were multiple rockets built by multiple vendors. Explorer I was launched on a derivative of the Redstone missile. Atlas ICBMs became workhorse boosters, as did the Thor IRBMs that eventually evolved into the Delta series of boosters. The Titan I was a dead end but the Titan II was used to launch Gemini capsules and led to the Titan 3, 34, and 4 heavy lifters. It was NASA that directed the development of the Saturn (I, IB, and V) rockets and Space Shuttle. The only thing the Atlas V and Delta IV have in common with their predecessors is the name.

  2. I am just going to add that the US space launch program didn’t start that way. The US Army, Air Force, and Navy had separate programs. But the US Navy program, the one which was all done by US in-grown rocket scientists, was a disaster. Both the Army and Air Force programs had German rocket scientists in key positions (e.g. Von Braun and Krafft Ehricke). As costs spiraled up for the gigantic Moon program some sort of consolidation was bound to happen. In the Soviet Union, Chelomei’s program was also cancelled, and the technical committee simply told Yangel to stick to his business of designing military rockets.

  3. Boy, you ain’t kidding about the comments.

    Maybe I’ll wade in there later on after I’ve had a few more drinks and don’t care who I piss off. Or maybe I’ll just go to bed.

    1. That sort of commenting is nothing new. Around 2000 I remember Slashdot being described as “where the aggressively stupid battle the pugnaciously ignorant.”

    2. It’s frustrating because the advancements SpaceX has made and their impact on the global launch industry are so profound and yet people get hung up on Musk’s other ventures.

    3. Wow, yeah. There didn’t seem much point in leaving a comment to that effect over at PJM. Dunning-Kruger and all that. I did feel called upon to comment, for the Nth time it seems, on that ludicrous bit of L.A. Times click bait from last year that claimed Elon had gotten almost $5 billion in “subsidies” from the U.S. gov’t. There was one particularly dim nit over there who seemed especially taken with said article and mentioned it repeatedly. Pretty much a paradigmatic example of that old saw about a lie being half-way around the world before the truth gets its boots on. Oh well, one does what one can.

  4. Rand: In the Weekly Standard article you said there were two televised disasters on the launch pad after Sputnik 1. I know about Vanguard on December 6, 1957, but what was the other one?

    1. Don’t want to look it up right now, but pretty sure there were two Vanguard failures, one on the pad and one a few hundred feet off. That’s why the Eisenhower administration finally gave von Braun the go-ahead in January for the Juno launch with Explorer 1. They’d give up on the “civilian” Naval Research Lab.

  5. The comments on your PJ Media article are mostly fingernails on a chalkboard worthy.

    You can’t say you didn’t warn us.

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