Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Alternate Universe

One of the observations we might make on this posthumous anniversary is how the world might have been different if the Germans had stayed with the Russians and not immigrated to Alabama some 60 years ago. Oh, how much better things might be today if they had.

If the Germans had not descended on Madison County, no hand-carried Soviet flag would likely have descended on our nearest orbiting neighbor either. The shortcomings in technology and resources that plagued Korolev would still have inhibited any augmented Soviet team from taking their goal. Indeed, the political infighting between the resulting two or three way competition for those resources would have only amplified the failings evident in history today.

As for our side of the coin, the moon would still bear our flag. The approach would have been different though. If Von Braun's budget busters had never been designed, the United States would have used its own indigenous means to mount a mission on multiple smaller boosters. And, if we had done so, we would have been left with an extensible, sustainable architecture to further our pursuits beyond the white orb and on to planet Red.

Apollo's single point design, with or without steroids, locked us firmly back on this planet when the first set of missions was completed. Standing armies are expensive when they fight only once or twice a year. The sooner we lose our fascination with gambling on giant leaps, instead of taking smaller assured steps, the sooner we will reach our destiny as a space-faring nation.

12 comments:

Jon Goff said...

Rocketman,
Couldn't agree more...but usually aren't you supposed to be more elliptical about making your points? :-)

Anonymous said...

I think the last two paragraphs are spot-on. Too often we start off with the premise that we must take a giant leap...and it really is a big gamble, typically ending in broken programs and broken promises.

Smaller, more manageable steps consistently focused on progressing toward a goal will yield greater progress over time.

Tortoise and the Hare.

Chuck said...

So how long until we get an outer solar system architecture based entirely on bottle rockets?

Anonymous said...

Chucky
You get me a depot at L2 and I will get your doubting lil butt to Pluto faster than you can imagine. Look up powered gravity assist in the big book of astronavigation. Its the only way to efficiently move big things fast. And you do it by pumping energy in a little at a time and storing it at L2. LEO departure is a losers game.

Anonymous said...

The giant leap followed by relapse mentality that has purveyed over the last 50 years is typical of the baby-boomer generation IMO. Mortgage tomorrow for results today.

Besides, not many politicians are willing to invest in long term things - some other, later, elected clown will get to take all of the glory ;)

pat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

You guys are going beyond "hindsight is 20/20" and into fantasy land.

Chuck2200 said...

The Soviet economy would have prevented them getting to the moon. I don't believe that would have been a concern. But we would not have gotten there either. The Von Braun group brought 30 years of hard experience and know-how we didn't have. There is no way we would have done it without that group over here. Just look at our attempt outside their influence - Vangard. After several spectacular failures (I watched every one), it got a ball the size of a small grapefruit into orbit. It would take a lot of grapefruits to assemble a lunar spacecraft.

Anonymous said...

Ok, in an earlier post, you lament that we have no Von Brauns willing to take risk and enspire. Now you complain that the Germans took us down the wrong path. Eisenhower was getting us nowhere fast and Von Braun / Kennedy got us there fast and with far more risk than most realize. Atlas and Delta have no margin beyond getting a specific sized payload into orbit. Or inspiration beyond a profit. Dan Goldin asked private industry to step up with their own money and the responses were: "send us lots of taxpayer money." Small, manageable steps by government to put man in orbit over the last 20 years have never gotten out of the study phase. A few start-ups have gotten past a crash and burn or two and are just starting to understand how close Apollo was to not making it. Unfortunately, the current NASA leaders all got promoted by never failing (they avoided risk and their programs were always canceled before being launched). Was Christopher Columbus a giant leap or a small step? Or both?

Chuck2200 said...

Yesterday's NASA leadership was totally gutless. Let's see if a new head can get them to grow some, other than being good at power point spin-room tactics. Say "black is white" often enough and with enough conviction, and soon you'll get people to believe the lie. Hell, you'll probably even believe it yourself. They sure as hell have no idea how to do rockets, but they got a lot pf people believing they did. Time to take the trash out and start again; marine style.

kT said...

Was Christopher Columbus a giant leap or a small step?

No, he's an old, tired and lame analogy. You can't afford another von Braun, certainly not one like the Italian waiter. What we need are more Krafft Ehricke's, and hey, guess what, we got them by the dozens.

Mr. X said...

The "what if's" surrounding the Soviet lunar program are always fascinating. Apollo and its Soviet competitor were sprints, not marathons. The schedule didn't exist to develop orbital assembly methods and create a true earth-moon infrastructure. Both sides committed to building truly massive and unsustainable launchers. The biggest differences between Apollo and the Korolov effort are the American investments in propulsion technology that the Soviets neglected at the time (hydrogen fuels and big combustion chambers that could burn kerosene in a stable fashion.) If Korolov and Glushko could have buried their personal conflicts (and if Korolov hadn't died before his time,) perhaps the Soviets would have created their own equivalent to the F-1.

If the Soviets had succeeded in landing a Cosmonaut on the moon, the end result would sound familiar to American ears: the program achieves its political objectives, then the Politboro declares "mission accomplished" and pulls the plug on extended missions. The heroic approach to achieving space feats just isn't sustainable in an economic or political sense.