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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Space Was Cracked Because of Competition

Fifty year's ago, on this day, space was cracked. The Soviets launched a man-made object, about 58.5 cm in diameter and weighing about 84 kg with battery powered transmitters, into space using their ICBM as the launch vehicle. The Americans were trying to develop a purely science-based launcher without depending on their own ICBM technology. The Soviets beat them at the space game, at least initially.

Sputnik 1 - Traveling Companion

Within a few days, on November 3rd, the Soviets launched Laika, a part-Samoyed mongrel, into space, on Sputnik 2, and was supposed to be in space for 10 days but died in 9 hours because of faulty climate controls.

Utterly beautiful Laika

On December 6th, the Americans tried to launch their science based launcher, Vanguard rocket, with a 6-in 2 kg satellite, but it didn't quite get off the ground. They then sobered up, put a Jupiter C missile together as a launcher to put their first satellite in space, on Januray 31, 1958. Eventually they launched a second satellite, using Vangaurd rocket, that apparently is still in space and is the oldest satellite in space. US hadn't created NASA yet.

Of course, the Americans changed the game completely when JFK announced, early in the 60s, that they will land a man on the moon and get him back safely by the end of the decade.

Most early satellites were for military use to spy on the other cold war adversary. Peter Zimmerman proposes since the Soviets launched the first satellite and the because the American didn't protest the presence of Sputnik over it's space, the military satellites and spying was possible. Had it been the other way round, and the Soviets claimed space over Soviet Union all the way to the stars (what ever that means) off limits to others, space would not be free-for-all as it is today.

Cold war competition between the American and the Soviets brought immense technological capabilities to humankind, just like World War II did - some of it bad but most of it good (at least in a post-Cold war era). Rockets, satellites, and space travel have to be in the top 10 of these technological leaps. Competition, even the Cold War kind, was a good thing. And this competition seems to be revving up again with the Chinese, the Americans, and us wanting to send humans to the moon and beyond.