...that ever since I was a little 'un I've had a fascination with rockets and space travel, including the occasional science fiction movie. The following "Did you know...?" page(s) are my humble attempt to present my abridged view of humankind's first steps into our known universe. This first page (others to follow) is the pre-NASA era.



There's always one joker who answers the "why?" question with a "why not!" In this case there were two. One a Russian, the other an American, both early pioneers in liquid fuelled rocket propulsion. The Russian is Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky, whose work predated by 10 to 15 years, that of American Robert H. Goddard.

 

You would certainly need a pretty good imagination to picture one of these things lifting something the size of the shuttle into earth orbit 50 years into the future, the kind of imagination that would land you in a straight jacket and a padded cell.


 

Here's a picture of a monument to Mr Tsiolkovsky which was erected in the 1950's at his birthplace of Kaluga.

Here's a happy snap of Mr Goddard next to one of his pride and joys during the mid
1920's.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course the War of the World (Version 2.0) was a major influence on the science of rocketry and if it wasn't for Mr Hitler's idea of "shoot and forget" long range bombardment, I'm sure that Wernher von Braun could have send a hunk of man made way up there long before the Russians even thought of it.

While Herr von Braun (pictured on left) was dreaming of exploring the heavens and at the same time making use of occupied populations to construct his V2's, other's were hard at work either researching high speed/high altitude aircraft, or planning on pinching a whole bunch of German rocket scientists to kick start their very own rocket programme.

 

 

 

 

Organisations of both the USA and USSR were moving heaven and earth during the final moments of the war in a very James Bond type of way to get hold of this bloke and his buddies the moment the shooting stopped.

As history has more or less forgotten him for now, I will remind you that 1 x Major Robert Staver (right) of the US Army Ordnance Corps was doing his best to lie, cheat and kidnap as many of Herr von Braun's colleagues before the Russians and without letting the Allies (yes, the other "good guys") know what he was doing. To say that he was successful would be a gross understatement and when you consider he completed his task virtually without any organisational support, is amazing. Well done Mr Staver!

 

 

 

 

On the other hand, Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, on left, (aka Chief Designer) was brought out of early retirement from a Gulag in sunny Siberia, given a temporary (you know, "failure is not an option" kind of temporary) commission in the Soviet Army and tasked with convincing/bribing as many Nazi rocket scientists he could lay his mits on and make the bold career move of working for him back in the USSR for a pittance or not seeing your next birthday. Comrade Korolev had the whole of the Soviet security force, the NKVD, working for him.
Word got around pretty quickly about this great offer and consequently the majority of the more highly regarded rocket scientists/engineers left Mr Staver detailed instructions on where he could find them. The remainder found themselves waking up over the border and exiled into forced labour camps, only after their brains were sucked dry by Russian rocket scientists/engineers first, of course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before, during and just after the war, the US (and most likely the USSR) was carrying out all kinds of research into fast/high altitude aircraft. All of the armed services were doing flight testing of course, but a group of clever people collectively known as NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) were doing the really hi-tech stuff. One of these was Robert Rowe Gilruth, on right, (also known as Bob) who first began working for NACA in 1937. Mr Gilruth would become America's version of Russia's Chief Designer. A very smart man, whose future sail boat designs would cause much mirth and laughter until the wupped there collectives in any type of match race.

 

 

 

Around about 1946, a research and development committee working within the Douglas Aircraft Company produced a report for a "World Circling Spaceship", at left, called Project 1947, of all things. Anyhow, research and development (or R & D) is what the RAND Corporation eventually become, so this project is sometimes known as the RAND World Circling Spaceship.

At the end of the day, this thing was very advanced for it's time and a forerunner of future spacecraft as it was multistaged, carried internal guidance systems, cheapish to construct by various aviation contractors and could be modified to carry human cargo. It just needed a damn good engineering team to make it.

Meanwhile, Herr von Braun at around the same time had a plan (in his head) to construct one really big mutha, point it at the moon, light the wick at the bottom and stand back and see what happened. And the Yanks still reckon they had the best German rocket scientists!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In October 1947, the Americans opened up the sky when a young hotshot by the name of Charles (Chuck) Yeager used a sawn off broomstick to fly an aircraft faster than the speed of sound. (At right is a picture of Mr Yeager with Dick Smith and David Lowy at a recent Temora Aviation Museum flying day.) This event took flight to the very edge of space and to also help sharpen the skills needed for "a man" to get to and walk on the moon 22 years later.

 

 

 

Meanwhile, the Germans working for the Russians, along with those working for the Americans, where hard at work perfecting their knowledge of rocketry as the main means of delivering more bang for the taxpayers buck/rouble and at the same time turning the earth's surface into a molten wasteland. While the American-German's had many of the technical advantages of an industrialised economy, the Russian-German's had plenty of "incentive" to do everything within a workers paradise.

Fast forwarding a couple of years, 1955 was the year when the 6th Congress of the International Astronautical Federation took place in Copenhagen. During this congress, the Russians told everyone that they would put a satellite into earth orbit within 2 years. Everyone laughed.

Around the same time, the Americans suggested a similar feat and also a time of when it would happen, the 18 month period of the International Geophysical Year (IGY) beginning in July 1957. Nobody laughed.

Now the Russians had a timeframe. The race was on, 'cept nobody told the Americans that a race had even started.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although the Chief Designer finally convinced the Soviet leadership of the PR value of placing a hunk of tin up in earth orbit and that he could do it before the western capitalist scum could, the American's had a big problem with their German rocket scientists. One part of the problem was they were German, even though the vast majority had become American citizens and had children born in America - the political reality was they were still seen as Nazis by many.

 

The other part of the problem was that they were working for the US Army and President Eisenhower didn't want to militarise space during the IGY. Mr Eisenhower also wanted the project to be open for public viewing and scrutiny. The Russians meanwhile had a real sharing and caring problem and preferred to shoot the press if any questions were asked.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 4 1957 is the day when the Russians placed a little beeper into orbit, giving the Americans a bit of a surprise. On January 29 1958, the Americans were at last successful and, oddly, it was an Army rocket designed by those American-Germans which was the first to work.

Both countries could see real PR value in being the first to put a human into space so the hunt was on.

NACA become the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) at the flick of a pen on October 1 1958 and Bob Gilruth was in reality it's first boss. NASA also needed to find some "astronauts", a word first used by Time magazine a few years earlier.