Midnight repost: “We stand for freedom.”

The tenth anniversary retrospective of Behind the Black continues: This essay, portions of which was adapted from the fourth chapter of Genesis: The Story of Apollo 8, was posted originally on May 25, 2011, the fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy’s speech to Congress where he committed the nation to landing a man on the Moon by the end of the decade.

It seems fitting to repost on July 4th, Independence Day.


Kennedy's speech

“We stand for freedom.”

Fifty years ago today, John Kennedy stood before Congress and the nation and declared that the United States was going to the Moon. Amazingly, though this is by far the most remembered speech Kennedy ever gave, very few people remember why he gave the speech, and what he was actually trying to achieve by making it.

Above all, going to the Moon and exploring space was not his primary goal.
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Boeing and Lockheed Martin are both considering hiring the Russia aerospace company Energia to build components for the CST-100 and Orion manned capsules.

It appears that both Boeing and Lockheed Martin are considering hiring the Russia aerospace company Energia to build components for the CST-100 and Orion manned capsules.

What is going on here is that both Boeing and Lockheed Martin are looking for a subcontractor who can build these components for less money. Since labor costs in Russia are much lower than the U.S., both companies are considering Energia for this work.

This quote, however, encapsulates the cultural war that still goes on sometimes between Russia and the U.S.:

“[Russian] achievements in docking sites and [thermal protection equipment] production are quite competitive, but I am not sure that the Americans will accept our offer because they not only have the task of building a spaceship but also of gaining competence in this matter,” Dmitry Payson, director of the space and telecommunication technology department in Russia’s Skolkovo hi-tech hub, told Izvestia.

In interviewing many Russian and American space engineers over the years I have found an amazing amount of contempt from each for the work of the other, often without justification. Just as the Russians above seem to falsely think that Boeing and Lockheed Martin know nothing about docking equipment or thermal protection, American engineers repeatedly have expressed to me unjustified disdain for the space station technology developed by the Russians for Mir. The result: both countries often don’t take advantage of the other’s skills.

The Soviet Union’s gigantic nuclear equipped Ekranoplane

The Soviet Union’s gigantic nuclear equipped Ekranoplane, rusting on the shores of the Caspian Sea. With pictures.

Equipped with nuclear warheads and able to blast across the sea at 340 mph, the Lun-class Ekranoplane; part plane, part boat, and part hovercraft — is a Ground Effect Vehicle (GEV). A GEV takes advantage of an aeronautical effect that allows it to lift off with an immense amount of weight, but limits its flight to 16 feet above the waves. Its altitude can never be greater than the length of the wings.

Escape from Berlin

An evening pause: In honor of the fall of the Berlin Wall on this day in 1989, I post below Part 2 of a documentary on the history of the Wall’s construction and the many escape attempts by East Germans. Though the documentary does a poor job of explaining why East Germans desperately made attempt after attempt to flee to the west (a wish to escape from oppression and go somewhere where they could freely live their lives), it does include some incredible film footage showing the various escape attempts. Part 1 outlines the Wall’s initial construction, during which many people could easily break through.

Part 2, embedded below, describes the first deaths, when the communist East German government gave its guards orders to “shoot to kill.” Part 3 is even more fascinating, showing the effort by West Germans to dig tunnels under the 150 foot death strip in order to get friends and relatives out. Parts 4 and 5 show later attempts, when the Wall had become more impregnable, including one escape using an arrow (!) and another using two ultralight airplanes. Part 6 shows the Wall’s fall in 1989.

For twenty-eight years a government decided it had the right to imprison its citizens because they longed for freedom. In the end, all that government really achieved was to prove that freedom is better, and that good intentions — based on intellectual ideology and imposed on people by force — lead nowhere but hell.

Dismantling the last U.S. hydrogen bomb

Dismantling the last American hydrogen bomb.

The [9 megaton] B53 was designed in the 1950s and replaced 500 B41s, which had a yield of 25 megatons. The largest nuclear device ever built and tested was the 27 ton Russian AN602, which had a yield of 50 megatons. It was eight meters (26 feet) long and 2.1 meters (6.9 feet) in diameter. Only one of these was built. The Russians followed the Americans in phasing out large yield bombs in favor of smaller, and more numerous ones. This was largely the result of ICBM warheads designed to carry multiple nuclear weapons.