Beating Swords into Rockets

Saturn V

Kudos and congratulations to Curiousity! The Mars Space Laboratory—the “rover”—is safely down on Mars.  Other blogs have covered it in great detail, so I won’t go into it.  The Bad Astronomer is a great place to start with anything space-related; here’s a good one, and here’s another.  Maki, over at sci-ənce, has a really cute comic.  And you can always count on Randall Monroe, over at xkcd, for a good take on it.  (And speaking of xkcd and Mars, I’ve always loved this one.)

But I do just want to say, “Wow!  This is really cool!”

And isn’t Curiousity an apt name for a mission designed to slake ours.

I’m amazed, and very, very happy, that it worked.  It would have really sucked to have our Curiousity ended in infinite silence, not returning our increasingly desperate texts.  Was it something we said? We can change! Just give us a chance. Speak to us, please!

So kudos and congrats to courageous Curiousity and the many, many people who pulled it off!  My virtual hat is literally off to you!!

It got me thinking about beating swords into plowshares.

Did you know that the rockets we used to launch the Mercury and Gemini capsules were military rockets that already existed? NASA just re-purposed them for the space missions.

The original mission of those rockets was to launch nuclear bombs!  In using them to explore the new frontier of space, NASA made real the old saying about beating swords into plowshares.  Or in this case, rockets.

Atlas-D

The very first rocket we used to hoist humans into space, during Project Mercury was a member of the Redstone family.  They were based on the German V-2 rocket!  Remember that many of “our” rocket scientists came from the German war rocket program (and see this xkcd comic).  Which means the first Mercury rockets were directly related to the rockets that bombed England!

We used another rocket for Project Mercury, the Atlas-D, which came from the Atlas family. Those were designed back in the 50s as ICBMs: Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles.  The “IC” part means we could throw them across the sea at other continents (those pesky Rooskys being high on our list). The “B” part is about the throwing; we light one of those off, it climbs on its tailfire for a while, and then it coasts to touchdown like a launched football to the end zone.  Only in this case, it’s a blast zone.  We didn’t put pig bladders on those things.

By the time Project Gemini came along we graduated to Titan family. A bit more bang for the buck, in at least two senses of the word.  The Titans were the ones (or one of the ones) planted in missile silos around the country. (In Arizona, one such site is now a tourist location where you can tour the silo and learn about those crazy, hazy days of near nuclear annihilation (tick-tock, it’s nearly midnight).)

Titan

And let’s just skip any phallic fantasy foolishness. Missiles are shaped the way they are for aerodynamic reasons (although in this case “aerodymanic” might almost be a better word). And yet, despite that, they were all about dick waving, weren’t they.

Which brings up an interesting point. One could argue that the space race was its own form swordsmanship. Certainly from the political point of view there was both point and edge. That was a race with consequences!

On the other hand, the men and women, the scientist and engineers involved in actually designing and implementing the race, they had science on the brain. They wanted to boldly go where we were never before [swell music swells] to explore strange new worlds, to seek out… well, you know how it goes!

It wasn’t until we built the mighty Saturn V that we built a machine specifically to put humans in space, specifically to advance our scientific progress. The Saturn V not only pushed us to the moon, it put venerable Skylab in orbit.

That was 40 years ago, and we’ve come a long way, baby. We just did a magic trick that put a car-sized scientific machine on Mars. Another small step for the hairless apes, can I get a hip happy hooray!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

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