Una serie de acotaciones al margen a medida que voy leyendo algunos libros... A series of annotations whilst reading interesting books... A collection of notes on books about science, SciFi, history, others topics... Una colección de notas sobre libros de ciencia, ciencia-ficción, historia, otros...

24 April 2013

Remembering Yuri Gagarin and The Space Race

Last week was April 12th, and in that day but in the year 1961 Yuri Gagarin was the first man in Space onboard the Vostok 1. That prompted some people to create a celebration around the World: Yuri's Night

I tried my wife the day before to through a party at our house and take the opportunity to dine with friends. She retorted no way a Nerd dinner, but why not offer to give a presentation about Yuri Gagarin in the school of our daughters? I accepted and needed some time to research again, collect information and remember my old memories about the Space Race

Yuri Gagarin and the Space Race

The result are 2 presentations. One oriented to kids from 6-7 years old to 11-12; and another for a more older audience. For the former using the figure of Yuri Gagarin as a hook to talk about astronauts, how they go to space, the challenge of living there, and finalising with Carl Sagan's message A Pale Blue Dot. The latter stressing more about the Space Race and the Cold War.

Tired of MS PowerPoint and the dry lineal logic of putting slides in one dimension, I decided to give Prezi a new try.

Yuri Gagarin

In honor of Yuri Gagarin and all the astronauts (and cosmonauts) that came after him:

  • Remembering him
  • Remembering his flight
  • After that it is important to get into some facts: how do you go to Space (rockets)?
  • and where you can survive (capsules)
  • we need all these technology because Space is or has:
  • starting from Yuri Gagarin all women and men in Space realized that our planet is a tiny capsule that we must protect. It is the only place that we can live so far. This fantastic composition of our planet as seen from the International Space Station, ISS, is super, Wow and also gives you a clear view of our unique and only true home in space
  • and finishing with Carl Sagan's message A Pale Blue Dot. Started as a bitter race between the 2 superpowers of that time, but ended in collaboration and providing a visual view of our fragile planet.
And here Yuri Gagarin 52th Anniversary (of the flight, of course)

Links to more info and things left out

In any presentation better to be short and to the point (Yuri's First Man in Space, Flying into Space, Our Unique only home; so always I'm prunning a lot of information. Here a short list of some nice videos and additional information that didn't make into the final presentation:

The Space Race

The second presentation is an extension of the first one. Using the same template and basic flow structure but stressing how the Space Race was a collateral effect of the Cold War:

A new section on how the rocket technology was developed. At least naming 4 key scientists and engineers:
  1. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, he is considered one of the pioneers in rocket science, and he developed the theory that helped to put rockets in space. Born Russian and died as Soviet;
  2. Robert H. Goddard, who is credited with creating and building the first liquid-fueled propeled rocket. US citizen, physics and inventor, he wrote several theory papers on space travel and develop and invented key technologies (three-axis control, thrusters, gyroscopes, and he built liquid-fueled rockets);
  3. Wernher V.Braun, leading engineer for the development of rocket technology in Germany (see the entry of Hermann Oberth, another founder father of astronautics and rocketry, not mentioned in my Prezi, but very important)). Worked in the infamous V1 and V2. The V2 rocket is the template for both USA and URSS rockets after the WWII
  4. Sergei Korolev was the Chief Designer for the URSS Space Program. With Valentin Glushko who designed the engines for the rockets are both pivotal to the URSS Space Program development, keys to the early and first successes in the Space Race. The R7 rocket, based on the V2 learnings, and its continuous evolution is one of the most capable and reusable rocket still used today), deploying payloads into space, like Progress capsule) and Soyuz
There was a funny and denialist article on the New York Times in January 13th 1920, arguing that Goddard's ideas to reach space were unrealistic and incredible it attacked him on not knowing Newton's Laws of Motion! In 1969 after Neil Amstrong landed in the Moon the NYT retracted with a simple paragraph saying: Further investigation and experimentation have confirmed the findings of Isaac Newton in the 17th Century and it is now definitely established that a rocket can function in a vacuum as well as in an atmosphere. The Times regrets the error
Some messages from this section:
  1. Need the basics: both in Physics and Engineering
  2. There is a lot of technical ingenuity and trying and trying and trying again
  3. Most of the pioneers they were on this because they have some philosophical question to answer, or they liked to think about daring things, and basically just fun solving a puzzle
  4. But you need big budgets to develop some technologies (or most of them) and one reason why societies engage in huge expenditures are:
    • They are trying to kick some ass of another society (usually under the lame excuse that we have to defend ourselves)
    • Some weird, but powerful and agregating belief, usually under the excuse of some religion, and well managed by some organized church
    • Defending the honor or doing what it is Right also is used
      • and the pure fun is gone
After the end of the WWII is clear the declining of the European colonist powers, and the emergence of a bi polar world run by the US and the URSS. Spectacular facts that marked what was coming were the 2 atomic bombs ever blasted on a real war scenario, let's hope it will never happen again; the Yalta conference where the World was divided; and the strategic bombing developed and refined by the US during the war.

Arguably some can say that having air superiority is not a necessary condition to win a war, but no one can argue that not having air superiority puts your side in the looser side, or at least the side that will suffer the most terrible consequences. At the end of the WWII USA has showed that they have air superiority, and were able to carry deep missions in enemy territory, and deploy atomic warheads. The last not a marketing bluff. The URSS was clearly behind in that capability and after Yalta a offensive/defensive gap was in favour of the US.

Clearly the V2 rockets didn't help Germany in their effort, but looking beside the terror, both countries were able to understand the capability and potential of using rockets to deploy atomic warheads deep into enemy territory: quicker than planes, technically almost un-stoppable, and cheaper to fly and maintain than huge air forces.

The Space Race is a direct son of the Cold War.

The Cold War can be describe as a Red Queen Effect: any move from one adversary is matched by the other in a continuous race, at least technically. A game strategy was defined: MAD, clearly a game devised to minimize the risk of total atomic annihilation.

The Space Race technically was advancing on the same direction and similar objectives, but each side had its own flavour on how to run it:
  • The US choosed the show business, astronauts presented like american football players, a new kind of heroes, everything live and on TV, the margin for error nil, it cannot risk killing an hero in front of the cameras, management centralized with the creation of NASA in 1958 but with an open approach and relying on different actors and contractors, inclusive of all the participants in the project (I need to include this reference to a paper on early Space Exploration: Beyond the Atmosphere: Early Years of Space Science] by Homer Edward Newell. I didn't read it but it covers a lot of topics how the US Space Program was created and managed, and much more)
  • The URSS approach is a mirror of the US: close, secrecy, one coordination, hierarchichal in both management and economic development. Cosmonauts like in the US national heroes (what else? Those women and men just have plain courage, my kudos for all them)
  • The URSS was able to score the first Firsts with a combination of great technically ingenuity and fantastic engineers, and having some advantage in knowing much more of the moves of the US;
  • Yuri Gagarin first flight was pushed ahead because they knew that the US was close to send one man in Space. They risked Yuri's life (50/50 chance) knowing that it the flight failed even killing Yuri, they will be able to cover it;
  • That cover up and secrecy was kept until the collapse of the URSS
There are some great videos (recreations) from the BBC: Space Race.

However the URSS kicked in first, by mid 1960's the US started getting the advantage. But the death of Sergei Korolev in 1966 severily impact the continuation of the URSS program to reach the Moon. The N1 rocket, the most massive rocket ever built failed in the only 4 attemps (starting in early 1969 and the last launch in late 1972. In 1974 the N1 program is cancelled and the URSS accepted that they will not send a cosmonaut to the Moon.

The NASA engaged in a step by step approach, and after the testing of several procedures and concepts during Mercury and Gemini, the Apollo missions run from Apollo 7 to Apollo 17.

The Apollo 11 mission is the landmark: First Man in the Moon. Sadly after that and with a clear confirmation that the URSS abandoned the goal, the enthusiasm falls quickly. Several Apollo missions to the Moon are scrapped after 1972. After 41 years no astronaut has ever returned to the Moon. And there are no plans for NASA going in a mid future.

We can say that the end of the race is the Apollo-Soyuz mission in 1975. Still the Cold War is racing but at least this is a milestone for future collaboration that ended in 1998 with the first modules of the ISS in Space, a joint effort that since 2000 has been tripulated until today.

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