Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
July 09, 2021

The Space Race: Technical Facts vs Popular Narrative - by Gordog

by Gordog

lifted from a comment

A little while ago, commenter Karlof1 asked me about the space race, the Apollo Program, and the role of Nazi scientists recruited under Operation Paperclip.

This is a fascinating subject that has also been severely distorted by the American narrative.

What prompted Karlof's query was my earlier, and somewhat lengthy technical discussion of today's state of space technology, where the media narrative is that the US is greatly advanced, due mostly the 'exploits' of Space X---when in fact the situation is quite the opposite.

The US is far behind important core technologies like advanced rocket engines and space station tech, both of which it acquired from Russia. China has similarly acquired nearly all of its core space technology from Russia, but has built impressively on that technology transfer---including developing its very own space station tech, and its own advanced rocket engines.

During the 1990s, many important Russian industries were on the verge of collapse due to the disintegration of the USSR. Hence there was something of a firesale of Russian space tech, something that would have been considered unthinkable previously. The Chinese acquired their entire manned program, Shenzhou, lock, stock and barrel through direct technology transfer from Russia, resulting in the first Chinese man in space in 2003.

The US similarly bought its way into the Mir2 space station that was already built, but not yet launched, abandoning its own effort to build an indigenous station to rival Mir---the Freedom space station that was killed on the drawing board. Those Mir2 modules, now known as the Russian Orbital Segment, would become the functional core of the ISS.

The US also acquired advanced Russian engines and key engine technologies, mostly the RD180, which is in fact the undisputed workhorse for both high profile Nasa missions [such as the current mars rover mission], and the US Space Force, which launches nearly all of its mission-critical payloads on the Russian engines.

Other Russian engines, including the RD190 and even the 1960s era mothballed NK33s were also bought up and pressed into service by the US. That the Russians possessed this advanced engine technology was completely unknown in the west until the 1990s, which had regarded the 'closed-cycle' technology as technically 'impossible.'

So let's take a look back to the 1950s, when spaceflight was first achieved. This was an exciting era, and there is much to discuss here, so I will leave the Apollo story for another time.

By the latter stages of Word War 2, the Germans were the undisputed leaders in rocket technology. The V2 rocket, which was used to bombard London, was a hugely impressive piece of engineering for the time.

Russia, whose rocket technology in the 1930s was considered comparable to the Germans, had fallen behind. But the country did develop smaller, albeit usable rocket engines, for instance the experimental Bereznyak-Isayev BI1 interceptor aircraft. The US really had no rocket engine technology to speak of during this era.

But the US would import most of the German rocket engineers, as well as some working copies of the V2 itself. This would provide a strong base to build on, not just for the space race a decade later, but also the far more important race for strategic weapons, namely the intercontinental ballistic missile.

A quick tale of the tape on the V2: It had a mass of 12.5 metric tons, and a thrust of about 25 tons, from a single engine burning alcohol and liquid oxygen. It could reach a speed of 3,500 mph, and a flight range of about 300 km. Incredibly, over 3,000 of these were built during the war!

Von Braun and over 100 key V-2 personnel surrendered to the Americans, and many of the original V-2 team ended up working at the Redstone Arsenal. The US also captured enough V-2 hardware to build approximately 80 of the missiles.

The Soviets captured the V2 manufacturing facilities in Eastern Germany and used some of the remaining German engineers and technicians to build 30 V2s of their own by 1946.

The following year, a group of these engineers were transferred to Russia to work under the direction of Sergei Korolev, on the R1 missile, a copy of the V2, but built using Russian industrial plants.

This was quickly followed by the substantially improved R2, which first flew in 1949, and featured a number of key design improvements. R2 achieved double the V2's range, and a much higher speed of nearly 5,000 mph.

By 1953, the Russians started on what would become the world's first ICBM and also the world's first space launch vehicle---the R7 'Semyorka' rocket.

This was a huge leap forward in rocket technology. The R7 first flew in 1957 and launched Sputnik, the first satellite in earth orbit, later that year. It was also the launch vehicle for the first TWO humans in space, Yuri Gagarin in April, 1961 and Gherman Titov in August of the same year.

In the meantime, the US launched its first 'astronaut,' Alan Shepard on a suborbital 'spaceflight' atop a Mercury-Redstone rocket that was basically a slightly improved V2, comparable to the Russian R2 of a decade earlier.

In this photo from 1961, we see the Mercury-Redstone rocket that carried Shepard on America's first 'spaceflight' [more on that in a moment]. Joachim Kuettner, the Mercury project manager, and former V2 engineer is seen at left. 'Astronaut' Gus Grissom is sixth from left.

The size difference between the Mercury Rocket and the Russian Semyorka is obvious. With a mass of 30 tons, it was barely one tenth the mass of the R7. The latter's thrust of over one million pounds was more than TWELVE times the power of the single engine Mercury rocket with its 78,000 pounds of thrust!

Crucially, the single-stage Mercury could only reach a speed of about 5,000 mph, less than one third of orbital velocity of 18,000 mph [8 km/s].

A little basic physics to explain what 'space flight' really means. In short, it means achieving orbit, which is a function of SPEED, not altitude.

To understand this, a spacecraft must generate enough centrifugal force to overcome the earth's gravitational pull. When the spacecraft's centrifugal force is exactly equal to the earth's gravity, the spacecraft will continue orbiting the earth indefinitely, just as the space station stays aloft [provided it is high enough above the atmosphere that collisions with few and far between air molecules don't slow down its speed, which will cause it to descend, and require an engine burn to speed back up].

A good way to visualize this equilibrium of forces is with the Olympic hammer throw. As seen here, the athlete swings a metal ball attached to a length of cable he is holding. As he swings it around, the centrifugal force builds up and wants to hurl that ball off into space. But the cable is like the force of gravity keeping it from spinning off. The two forces are in exact equilibrium, until he lets go.

The only difference with an orbiting spacecraft is that the earth's gravity never lets go! Once equilibrium is reached the two opposing forces are equal and opposite, as per Netwon's Third Law. And since centrifugal force is a function of speed, it is necessary to reach a speed of about 8 km/s [18,000 mph] to counter the earth's gravitational acceleration of 9.8 meters per second squared.

[Here is the math: centrifugal force = mass x velocity squared, divided by radius of the circular motion. Since the radius of the earth is about 6,400 km, and we assume a unit mass of 1 kg, then it is a simple matter of algebra to solve for speed: square root of (earth's radius in meters x acceleration of gravity), which gives...square root of (6,400,000 m x 9.8 m/s^2) = 7,900 m/s, or ~8 km/s]

I am dwelling on this because it is important to understand what actual spaceflight means. Simply flying to any given height above the atmosphere is not spaceflight---anymore than a ski jump is 'flying.'

Similarly, feeling weightlessness also does not require actual spaceflight. Astronauts regularly train on large commercial jets that have had their interiors removed and the pilots fly the airplane in a ballistic arc that provides up to several minutes of zero g flight inside the cabin training space. In fact, you can have several seconds of zero g flight in a little Cessna student training aircraft!

So let's continue with the relevant stats for the first American 'spaceflight' of Alan Shepard. His 1961 flight aboard that Mercury rocket [a souped up V2] covered a total distance of 263 miles over the ground! While staying aloft for a grand total of 15 minutes!

Now compare that to Gagarin and Titov's real spaceflights, Gagarin making a complete orbit of the earth in about 90 minutes, which is 25,000 miles, almost one hundred times greater than Shepard's distance flown. Titov Orbited the earth 17 times in 25 hours aloft just a few months after Gagarin---covering a distance of 425,000 miles!

Obviously the US has been willfully deceiving folks about what spaceflight means for all of these decades.

And they have been doing it because they desperately wanted to show they could 'match' the Russians by sending a man into 'space.'

And the reason they could get away with this is because they knew that the majority of folks simply don't have any knowledge of physics.

It is a cynical charade that plays upon the public's lack of understanding!

It was only John Glenn's 1962 flight aboard a much more capable rocket, the Atlas, which put the first American in space. He flew three orbits, covering a distance of 75,000 miles in about four hours aloft.

This was in fact an incredibly daring feat, considering the shortcomings of the early Atlas rockets. This was also the first US ICBM. It was far less capable in both mass and thrust than the Soviet R7, and could only carry a fraction of the latter's payload. More importantly, it was prone to spectacular explosions.

After watching an Atlas ICBM explode shortly after launch, Mercury astronaut Gus Grissom remarked "Are we really going to get on top of one of those things?"

The numerous failures led to Atlas being dubbed an "Inter County Ballistic Missile" by missile technicians...

An 'inter-county' ballistic missile? Why not?...considering the first American 'astronaut' Shepard made an inter-county 'spaceflight.'

But hats off to John Glenn, who showed remarkable grit to fly one of these things at this stage in the game, where the Americans were clearly desperate to keep up. Glenn flew into orbit again at age 77, aboard the Shuttle STS95 mission.

What is clear to this point in time is that both the Russians and US piggybacked off the German V2 technology. The big difference in results was due to the Russians having their own, indigenous rocket capabilities that were not that far behind Germany.

The impressive Soviet buildup of higher education was perhaps the key, which built greatly on top of already world-leading institutions like the Bauman Moscow State Technical University, which pioneered the use of deep practical education in concert with industry, alongside the classroom theory. This influence was in fact adopted back in the latter 19'th century by MIT and other American technical universities.

During the Stalin era, 'Baumanka' founded more than 70 technical universities in the USSR. Among them some of the more storied names in specialist fields like rocketry, aviation [TSAGI] and many more.

I will leave the story at this point, but perhaps some interesting and hitherto unfamiliar aspects of the early space race have been presented.

There is still much more ground to cover before we get to the moon race, but it is worth noting that the R7 Semyorka evolved into the Soyuz launch vehicles, which have made nearly 2,000 spaceflights to date and are still carrying cosmonauts and astronauts to the space station.

There are many interesting technical details here, as the engines on the Semyorka-Soyuz are remarkably similar to the original V2. The Russians simply refined this basic engine technology and literally perfected it. However, the advanced closed-cycle engines would come along later, for larger and more demanding launches.

By comparison, the US space program was far more discontinuous. Neither the V2 nor the early Atlas technology was ever refined or taken to its logial evolutionary limit. The same was true for the Saturn V of the Apollo program, which was abandoned after just 13 flights. And so on down the line.

There is still lots of very interesting technical discussion engines to explore. And engines are of course the heart of any spacecraft---in the same way a turbojet engine is the beating heart of an aircraft.

Posted by b on July 9, 2021 at 16:17 UTC | Permalink

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Look friend [@ 300], I'm not going to argue pure silliness with a combative person who makes egregious errors of distance measurement.

Circumnavigating the globe at the 30'th parallel is NOT the same distance as circumnavigating the globe at the equator. It is thousands of kilometers less.

Houston is at about the 30'th, Honolulu is at 21. Go to google maps and measure the distance from Houston to Cairo, 11,000 km, then Cairo to Honolulu, 14,000 km, for a total of 25,000 km.

I flew long haul for 20 years. This is called the great circle route, which means if you flattened the globe it would be a straight line.

Google maps won't let you measure direct great circle route from Houston to Honolulu, but it would be LESS. That's because the great circle route would take you somewhat south of Cairo on your way to Honolulu.

These are very basic facts of the physical characteristics of the earth. I see no point in replying to further petulant inquiries about things like aerodynamics [which you obviously have no clue about], when you cannot even ascertain a straight line distance between two points on a globe.

I will not be responding further to your harangues!

Posted by: Gordog | Jul 14 2021 4:21 utc | 301

Ric G says this (and more, thanks Ric).

No one has used this argument to my knowledge.

The photos of the moon landing seem provably fake. There was tons of trai ni g videos and simulations on tv, created great excitement. I remember a show narrated y the voice of Walter Cronkite. “In The 21st Century” which showed astronauts in spacesuits in a swimming pool simulating zero gravity. They had hoses coming out of the pool to give them air to breathe. I assume the suits were at least waterproof.

Here is A bit of Ric G’s comment:

I would be happy if NASA said, 'we went to the moon but it was a pretty basic scientific process, only of interest to the die-hards of science, and we had 300 million Homer Simpsons, outside the door, who wanted to see a super bowl show, so we gathered together a heap of footage we had shot on earth, from all our testing processes, and we made a movie out of it.

Posted by: jonku | Jul 14 2021 7:13 utc | 302

My point is that the fake pictures do not prove that they did not go to the moon.

That proof is difficult and we await the evidence.

Loss of the original videotape of the post-landing shenanigans such as bouncing around and flags and so on could be explained by low bandwidth radio/tv signals being replaced by canned footage.

US glory on live television, over Soviet-style austerity to complete the mission itself.

I await further clarification.

Posted by: jonku | Jul 14 2021 7:22 utc | 303

There is a 'Wurlitzer effect' in groupthink and (weak)conspiracy thinking on which propaganda also thrives: quantity over quality. When ASPI, GPPI or ADL collect a mass of claims and publish them with weak vetting (honest or not) one quickly builds up immunity for reversal of the overall claim: "yeah ok this claim may not be true but what about this then?" So you keep chasing around putting down claims but once a critical mass is reached the overall claim is immune even if each of the claims is weak.

I noticed the same pattern in miniature in the Belarus Ryanair incident. The initial claim of 'forced diversion with the intent to capture Protasevich' was quickly supported by a set of 'smoking guns': arguments about Belarus showing their hand which each by themselves were weak but together quickly built up immunity for the initial claim. In this case I would say it was 90% groupthink and 10% propaganda because people really didn't need help to assume evil intent as was visible from the interviews.

Posted by: Tuyzentfloot | Jul 14 2021 8:01 utc | 304

A case which you could call 100% groupthink is the 'mass graves of native children near canadian residential schools'. The mainstream consensus is 'catholic schools bad, policy against natives bad'. Okay, there are good reasons for that, but this becomes the context against new claims are readily accepted and amplified. It's a recipe for bullshit demonisation. There is now a fourth claim of a mass grave. There will be more and the trend is set. Some claims will turn out to be completely baseless, others heavily overstated but this will not reverse the general wave of outrage. Mini-wurlitzer.

Posted by: Tuyzentfloot | Jul 14 2021 9:35 utc | 305

S @ 283 wrote:

Δv = vₑ ⋅ ln(m₀ / m₁) = vₑ ⋅ ln(m₁ / m₂) , i.e., m₀ / m₁ = m₁ / m₂ ,

where m₀ is the starting mass, m₁ is the mass after the rocket has accelerated to orbital speed, and m₂ is the mass after it has decelerated back to 0 (dry mass). It then follows that (m₀ − m₁), i.e., the amount of fuel spent speeding up, is (m₁ / m₂) times greater than (m₁ − m₂), i.e., the amount of fuel spent slowing down:

Let's say it takes >90% of the weight in fuel to go one way, then it also takes >90% of the weight in fuel to decelerate back (we are ignoring atmosphere). To make that happen the structural weight of this hypothetical one stage rocket would have to be less than the 1% of the total weight of the rocket at launch. It is not possible to build a rocket that is 99+% fuel and expect it to go into orbit and return. Even going one direction where more than 90% of the weight has to be fuel is not very practical.

Posted by: jinn | Jul 14 2021 12:24 utc | 306

The discussion on rockets is sometimes about crude principles and sometimes about decent approximations so I'll list a very crude example which I found helpful: Imagine a 'unit rocket' which can burn up completely. If you tape 10 of them together and only ignite 9 you can take the 10th rocket up to a certain speedX. Ignore gravity and atmosphere. Then if you want to take a single rocket intact up to twice that speed how many rockets to you have to start with? 100. They bring 10 rockets intact to speedX and these bring the 1 rocket to speed2X. The same if you want to bring a single rocket to speed X and back to 0: also 100 rockets.
And if you want a single rocket to reach speedX, then slow down to land somewhere, and then have it relaunch to speedX , return and slow down and land again? You need 10000 unit rockets.
Now that one rocket which you are moving around , since you're not firing it anyway you can slyly replace it by a box of sweets if you want. Since that is the stuff you actually want to transport.

That should get across the basic idea that with rockets if you want to get more speed out of them things go south pretty fast.

Posted by: Tuyzentfloot | Jul 14 2021 13:03 utc | 307

Thanks for the comment jonky at 302

Perhaps NASA did go to the moon but they did not have the media equipment, in real time, to present this experience to the world.

Let us assume that NASA wanted to make a media event to justify their budget, to give pride to all NASA departments, to fulfill Homer's expectations of the super bowl, to create a audio/visual experience in real time for all the TV audiences around the world in all PAL/NTSC formats, and to create 'eyes on screens' so the advertisers can sell burgers/cars/washing powder.

The perfect solution then is to use the film tapes from training, create a movie, and then shine it onto a backlit screen so that all the TV stations can mount their cameras in front of the screen and film in their own PAL/NTSC formats. Idiot proof and everyone looks good!

Apollo moon mission camera gear

An earthbound Australian TV camera of the era

The video from the first moon landing was recorded at ten frames per second in SSTV (Slow Scan television) with a special camera.

For each lunar landing mission, a camera was also placed inside the Apollo Lunar Module (LM) descent stage's modularized equipment stowage assembly (MESA). Positioning the camera in the MESA made it possible to telecast the astronauts' first steps as they climbed down the LM's ladder at the start of a mission's first moonwalk/EVA. Afterwards, the camera would be detached from its mount in the MESA, mounted on a tripod and carried away from the LM to show the EVA's progress; or, mounted on a Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV), where it could be remotely controlled from Mission Control on Earth.

A remotely controlled LRV camera from the earth base! I am deeply impressed! (cough)

Q: In the 1969 moon landing, why wasn't the original footage shown live on TV? Why was it filmed from a screen, then transmitted?
In 1969, there were at least 15 major TV transmission standards (and countless variants and color derivatives) in use around the world. All were analog, meaning that the sensing, modulation, transmission, decoding, and display, were all intimately related, essentially forming a simple circuit from studio to home.
The technology did not yet exist to electronically convert from one analog standard to another. Even video taping systems were custom adapted to each standard, for example recording the 30 frames per second used in US NTSC broadcasts as 30 stripes per second across a magnetic tape. How exactly would you convert that to a system that uses 25 lines per second, lines with a different number of pixels, a different interlacing scheme, different interframe spacing, and different frequencies throughout?
To solve the problem, NASA contracted with RCA to provide machines capable of converting the custom, low resolution, slow-scan signals from the moon to the NTSC broadcast format used in the US (and Japan).
Lacking any electrical means of signal conversion, RCA took the direct approach. A then state of the art TK-22 camera was mounted in front of a high quality slow scan TV display, inside the dark interior of the RCA Apollo Slow Scan Converter:

And then surprisingly, all the original moon landing footage is lost and all that is left is the TV footage created by filming the moon presentation upon a screen!

In 2009, it was widely accepted that the original tapes were more than likely erased and later filmed over.
This was reportedly due to a discovery by a NASA engineer named Richard Nafzger, who believed that these historic tapes were thrown into a pile of over 200,000 vintage NASA tapes that were eventually erased and reused to help save money during the 1970s and 1980s.

On July 20, 1969, people gathered in front of their television sets, gazing at the remarkable images moving across the screen.
Here was a man walking on the Moon right before them. The incredible video playing showed astronaut Neil Armstrong gliding across the surface of the Moon–the first person to ever do so.
The Apollo 11 tapes showing this miraculous event were intended to be used as a backup format in case the live television event didn’t broadcast the moon-walking well enough.

So there we have it Sherlock, even if we went to the moon, the media events would have been earth bound creations!

And surprisingly, here is a pic of a moon scene with stars, considered to be impossible!

Posted by: Ric G | Jul 16 2021 3:56 utc | 308

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