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Rockets and Revolution

Rockets and Revolution: A Cultural History of Early Spaceflight

MICHAEL G. SMITH
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 448
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1d9nkjj
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    Rockets and Revolution
    Book Description:

    Rockets and Revolutionoffers a multifaceted study of the race toward space in the first half of the twentieth century, examining how the Russian, European, and American pioneers competed against one another in the early years to acquire the fundamentals of rocket science, engineer simple rockets, and ultimately prepare the path for human spaceflight.

    Between 1903 and 1953, Russia matured in radical and dramatic ways as the tensions and expectations of the Russian revolution drew it both westward and spaceward. European and American industrial capacities became the models to imitate and to surpass. The burden was always on Soviet Russia to catch up-enough to achieve a number of remarkable "firsts" in these years, from the first national rocket society to the first comprehensive surveys of spaceflight. Russia rose to the challenges of its Western rivals time and again, transcending the arenas of science and technology and adapting rocket science to popular culture, science fiction, political ideology, and military programs.While that race seemed well on its way to achieving the goal of space travel and exploring life on other planets, during the second half of the twentieth century these scientific advances turned back on humankind with the development of the intercontinental ballistic missile and the coming of the Cold War.

    eISBN: 978-0-8032-8656-6
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction (pp. 1-16)

    The exploration of outer space, one of the more dramatic and complex technical achievements of our time, owes much of its success to a scientific paradigm of relatively distant origins: Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of motion, “to every action there is always opposed an equal reaction.”¹ This simple precept from the seventeenth century, once it was applied to the rocket engine of the twentieth, helped to launch America’s Apollo missions to the moon. The conquest of space was not some grand “paradigm shift,” some momentous “spaceflight revolution” of our times.² It was the result of forces and trends already...

  6. Part One. The Surveillance of Outer Space and the Russian Empire
    • 1 Envisioning the Biological Universe (pp. 19-42)

      By the late nineteenth century interplanetary travel was still a matter of imaginative visions more than of any actual machines. It was about grand lines of ascent rather than plotted trajectories. In these ways it shared some traits with revolution. Rocket science lined its arrows upward into space the way revolution lined its arrows forward through time. They both appreciated leaps and bounds. This marriage between rockets andrevolutionalso returns us to the very origins of the term revolution in modern usage, to the astronomical innovations of Nicolaus Copernicus and Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton. Their work...

    • 2 Mystical Economies of Earth and Space (pp. 43-66)

      Modern astronomy was no mere visual tableau upon which the planets and stars moved with predictable speed and regularity. Outer space was also becoming a living canvas, a field upon which cells and beings might migrate, through which live signals might travel, into which we humans might answer back. In the mid-nineteenth century H. E. Richter had proposed that the universe was filled with living things, “cosmozoa,” germs that sailed upon the ether and its planetary bodies.¹ Leading scientists such as William Thompson and Svante Arrhenius further developed the “panspermia” thesis, widely disseminated in Russia, that life first came to...

    • 3 The Mechanics of Interplanetary Travel (pp. 67-102)

      All of these diverse contexts and personalities bring us to Konstantin E. Tsiolkovskii, the founder of modern rocketry and spaceflight theories. One of the leading interpretations counts him among N. F. Fedorov’s best students and disciples, a point also suggested by some of Tsiolkovskii’s own writings. At the age of sixteen, so he remembered, he lived three years of joyful poverty: roaming Moscow’s streets, living in hovels, spending his days in the library reading Fedorov’s stacks of chosen books. But Fedorov’s Orthodox religious ideals may not have been so definitive or allencompassing. Tsiolkovskii, after all, hovered somewhere between agnosticism and...

  7. Part Two. The Mastery of Time and the Bolshevik Revolution
    • 4 Lyrical Cosmism of the Russian Revolution (pp. 105-133)

      The Bolshevik regime opened new vistas for rocketry. By 1918, well before any of the more dramatic news came out of the United States and Germany, Russian publicists were already raising the People’s Will terrorist Nikolai Kibalchich as a rocket pioneer worthy of Bolshevism. Awaiting execution in St. Petersburg for his part in the assassination of Tsar Aleksandr II in 1881, Kibalchich had sketched a basic device for reaction-powered flight in the atmosphere. He had more famously helped to establish a secret underground laboratory to make explosives for political murder, sanctioned by the Executive Committee of the People’s Will. Kibalchich’s...

    • 5 The Pioneers and the Spaceflight Imperative (pp. 134-162)

      With the inauguration of the New Economic Policy (NEP) after 1921, Russians joined utopian ventures with practical tasks. They finally had the opportunity to rebuild following seven years of war and revolution, a breathing space to consider once again the values of rocketry and spaceflight. Political empires had fallen. A whole new world of nation-states and economic markets surrounded them. Governments now appreciated the role of machines, especially flying machines, for war and peace. Aviation became a mark of prestige in the world. In Russia it had not proven decisive through the First World War or the civil war, but...

    • 6 Rocket Spaceships as Science Fictions (pp. 163-186)

      The classic rocket spaceship actually premiered in science fiction with Konstantin Tsiolkovskii’s cosmic novelBeyond the Earth(1918), the first among his stories to send humanity to space in a liquid fuel, multistage rocket. Fulfilling a lifelong urge for public recognition,Beyond the Earthwas also a parable about Tsiolkovskii, the Russian scientist “Ivanov” in the novel, sharing his nation’s revolutionary brilliance with the geniuses of Europe and America: Galileo, Newton, Franklin, Helmholtz, and Laplace. Tsiolkovskii had in mind, perhaps smarting from the rivalry with Esnault-Pelterie, to lecture the French, who at first found his machine inconceivable. “It’s a flying...

    • 7 The Origins and Ends of Life on Earth (pp. 187-218)

      Academic science had its own narratives about cosmic origins and ends. In the United States and Europe scientists continued to debate Arrhenius’s “panspermia” and possible life on Mars and Venus. Perhaps Earth’s originals seeds of life came from there?¹ This thesis enjoyed a short-lived resurgence after the Russian Revolution, when the leading plant biologist, S. P. Kostychev, critically affirmed panspermia inThe Appearance of Life on Earth(1921). Organic life on our world was far too complex to have developed on its own; living matter, he said, came from outer space. The cosmos was the ultimate source of life. Spontaneous generation...

  8. Part Three. The Rise of Rocket Science and the Soviet Union
    • 8 The First Foundations of Astronautics (pp. 221-252)

      The Moscow First World Exhibition of Interplanetary Machines and Apparatuses, dedicated to the tenth anniversary of the Russian Revolution in 1927, closed a decade of remarkable approaches toward rocketry and spaceflight by Russian enthusiasts and the general public. But Russia could not maintain the momentum. Germany now eclipsed it. France set standards of achievement. America joined the competition in bold ways, often reported in the form of newspaper science. Goddard’s prediction of a race for rockets was coming true.

      At first the Germans appended rockets to cars. The automobile maker Fritz von Opel and popular science writer Max Valier began...

    • 9 A Race into the Stratosphere (pp. 253-292)

      Although isolated and precarious, the amateur groups had the advantage of working on a project of potentially huge impact for the aviation industry. They were reaching for altitudes and speeds that far surpassed the limits of current technology, that reached into the next great frontier of human exploitation, the stratosphere, for flight above the weather, at faster speeds. Pilots around the world had been testing the limits of human and airplane endurance at high altitudes for years: Apollo Soucek to 43,166 feet (13,157 meters) on 4 June 1930; Cyril Uwins to 43,976 feet (13,404 meters) on 16 September 1932; Renato...

    • 10 Stalinism and the Genesis of Cosmonautics (pp. 293-333)

      The Russian aesthetic of cosmic oneness, first refined by the Symbolist and futurist poets and later adapted by the proletarian writers, survived into the Soviet 1930s in various ways. F. A. Tsander expressed it when he translated the Stalinist slogan “To catch and surpass” as meaning a leap forward to a truly communistic society in outer space, a place for “free labor” and “universal creativity.” G. Arel’skii, the writer of space travel adventures, even called for a whole new poetry based on mathematics and physics. “Science is building its own cathedral of Reason,” he wrote, for “our earth is but...

  9. Conclusion (pp. 334-352)

    The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 offers a dramatic pause—and punctuation—to our story. Some thirty years of vibrant debates on rocketry and spaceflight theory went silent. In Russia and America the war saw the momentary eclipse of liquid fuel rocketry, its pioneers and societies. But in Germany the rocket was reborn as the ballistic missile, one of the touted “wonder weapons” and “V [vengeance] weapons” that were supposed to turn the tide of war Germany’s way. When they became vaguely known to the general English-speaking public in the middle of 1943, rocket power was no...

  10. Notes (pp. 353-416)
  11. Selected Bibliography (pp. 417-420)
  12. Index (pp. 421-431)