Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Odyssey of the Millennium

I'm really enjoying This New Ocean by William Burrows. With about 100 pages to go, I've learned a lot that I didn't know about the Soviet/Russian space programs, their strengths and weaknesses, and the many mistakes and failures (often hidden until after the Cold War) that accompanied their successes.

The competition between the US and the USSR for "firsts" in space obviously had a powerful driving effect on both sides. I can't say we are lucky to have had the Cold War, because we dodged a lot of bullets, and both sides spent fortunes on building up military forces, and relatively smaller fortunes on space spectaculars (and some science too). But it's clear that whatever the rhetoric, the key politicians on both sides cared little or nothing for space exploration itself, manned or unmanned. It was played for perceived political advantage. We would not have put men on the Moon by 1969 or sent robot craft to visit most of the Solar System in the sixties and seventies without the urgency of the space race. As Burrows says of Apollo at the end of chapter 11
The greatest feat of human exploration to that time had been undertaken for exactly the wrong reason. Yet it remained the greatest human adventure; the Odyssey of the millennium.
I have some more book observations and Orbiter add-on connections to add in the next few days, related to the early Soviet manned spacecraft and the robot explorers that visited the Moon, Venus, Mars, and eventually Jupiter and beyond. But jet lag rules for now (just back from India, your basic 24 hour travel day).

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