Benjamin Dahl

Dahl 1

Elton John Might Be A "Rocket Man," But He Is No Cosmonaut

Ignition! The space shuttle rockets away from the Earth at inconceivable speeds, hurdling ever-closer to the great beyond. Booster rockets fall away, jumper rockets come to life, and the skyscraper-sized vehicle becomes nothing more than a spec in the sky. Emotionally overcome with wonder, awe, and amazement, you stare at the heavens and let the feelings wash over you. Throughout history, people have wondered about life outside of this planet, solar system, and galaxy; for many people this manifests as the desire to become an astronaut. If this was happening prior to the end of the Cold War, the United Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) was the place to be. After the fall of the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War, the Soviet space program was dissolved and the United States became superior in the field of space aviation. It was not the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. that caused the downfall of Soviet space aviation; it was a combination of horrendous leadership and pride. After World War II, the United States and the U.S.S.R. emerged as the world’s only superpowers. Wikipedia describes a superpower as, "A superpower is a state with a leading position in the international system and the ability to influence events and project power on a worldwide scale; it is considered a higher level of power than a great power" (Superpower). In light of this fact, or perhaps because of it, they were locked in a battle


Dahl 2 for military superiority. Space aviation technology was viewed not as a scientific application, but a military one. These views ultimately benefit the space race because it meant increased funding and manpower for the United States and Soviet programs. Anatoly Zak is a native of the Soviet Union and has contributed works for practically every major space publication. He was the contributing editor for Astronomy and Cosmonautics for the Moscow Polytech Society and currently works with IEEE Society and Air & Space Smithsonian. Zak publishes RussianSpaceWeb.Com which provides a wealth of information about space aviation and aims to, as he describes, “preserve and popularize the history of space exploration and to promote the cooperation in space” (Zak). The year is 1957 and, according to Zak, it will be remembered in history as a vanguard year for space aviation, particularly for the Soviet program. The importance of this year begins on May 15th with the failed test launch of the R-7 Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). The test was completed successfully in August and marked the official beginning to the space race between the United States and the U.S.S.R. The Soviets also successfully launched the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik-1, on October 4th. On November 3rd, Sputnick-2 was launched and carried the dog Laika into space, the first time an intelligent biological being was propelled into space. Throughout the course of 1957, the United States had four failed test launches: two Vanguard rockets, an Atlas rocket, and the Vanguard (TV-3) satellite (Zak). If the Soviet successes alone


Dahl 3 were not enough, the utter failure of their only competition, The United States, was sure to cement their position as the primary space-faring nation of the era. After the success of their rockets, the Soviets began focusing on the super ordinate goal, the Moon. In 1959, the Luna-1 and Luna 2 were launched and became the first object to escape Earth orbit and land on the Moon, respectively. At this point in time, The United States had only managed to get a satellite into orbit and establish the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). As the world rolled into the new decade, the Soviet space program was clearly dominating the field of space aviation (Zak). John F. Kennedy, the U.S. President at the time, gave a speech in 1962 that would begin a chain reaction that would change everything. President Kennedy said: But this city of Houston, this state of Texas, this country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward-and so will space. We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too. It is for these reasons that I regard the decision last year to shift our efforts in space from low to high


Dahl 4 gear as among the most important decisions that will be made during my incumbency in the office of the Presidency. But if I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun--almost as hot as it is here today--and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out--then we must be bold. (John F. Kennedy Speech "We choose to go to the Moon…") Kennedy understood the importance of getting a man on the Moon and was willing to throw all of his influence behind being the first to do it. Unfortunately for the Soviets, their leadership did not have the foresight that President Kennedy did. As detailed on Wikipedia: Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev did not relish "defeat" by any other power, but equally did not relish funding such an expensive project. In


Dahl 5 October 1963 he said that the USSR was "not at present planning flight by cosmonauts to the Moon", while insisting that the Soviets had not dropped out of the race. (Moon Landing) With Khrushchev's non-committal stance on a manned moon landing, and even with the clear commitment from the United States, the Soviets still continued to outdo the United States. Voskhod-1 and Voskhod-2 both successfully orbit the Earth and Alexei Leonov performs the first "spacewalk" aboard the Voskhod-2. In 1966, The Soviets managed to orbit the Moon and perform one successful soft landing on the lunar surface (Zak). The chain reaction that Kennedy initiated with his promise of having a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s reached critical mass on July 21, 1969. Three men: Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin, Jr, changed history with the Apollo 11 mission. Wikipedia elaborates: The Apollo 11 mission was the first manned mission to land on the Moon. It was the fifth human spaceflight of the Apollo program and the third human voyage to the moon. Launched on July 16, 1969, it carried Commander Neil Alden Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin Eugene 'Buzz' Aldrin, Jr. On July 20, Armstrong and Aldrin became the first humans to land on the Moon, while Collins orbited above. (Apollo 11) The United States had done what Kennedy had promised years before and, in doing so, delivered a crushing blow to the Soviets, who abandoned the Moon after their failure.


Dahl 6 Soviet space aviation would continue on for a number of years after the loss to the U.S., but things would never be the same. One of the greatest achievements of the Soviet space program, after its success in the late 1950s, occurred on February 20th 1986 with the launching of the Mir space station. The Soviets already had a space station in orbit, Salyut-7, but Mir represented a commitment to international space exploration. Mir was constructed over a ten year period and composed of nine different modules (Zak). The most important facet of Mir was that it represented the Soviets beating the United States after their bitter defeat with the Apollo 11 mission. The Soviet program was still in dire straits due to the political instability growing throughout the U.S.S.R. As if Khrushchev's lack of support for the Moon Race was not enough, Mikhail Gorbachev continued to turn things in Soviet Russia "on their head." Beginning in 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev began seeking to pass reforms aimed at making sweeping changes within the government. Perestroika, economic restructuring, and glasnost, political openness, were the two most influential of these reforms. These two initiatives, coupled with personally installing himself as President, runs contrary to almost everything that is considered to be Communist. Interest in the great beyond was being abandoned to focus on domestic initiatives. James Oberg, a writer for Omni, describes this best when he writes, "When the first spaceman actually becomes "stranded" this year (1991), the cause was entirely terrestrial: His country had run out of money" (Oberg 1). Everyone at home was so focused on what was happening around them that they forgot about Krikalev who was orbiting the Earth


Dahl 7 every ninety minutes. This is just one of the events influenced by the domestic fallout occurring. Individual power was being provided to the citizens and the states which began to rebel against the central government. After a period of a few years, the U.S.S.R. began a downward spiral that ultimately resulted in a failed military coup-de-etats in Moscow. After the coup, the U.S.S.R. was officially dissolved and became the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Ukraine. Each of these entities had their own separate space programs and operating imperatives. According to Vera Rich, in an issue of New Scientist, "Russia has set up an independent space agency to take over most of the old Soviet space programme only weeks after it agreed to join the proposed joint space programme of the Commonwealth of Independent States" (Rich 13). Unfortunately, the Russian program would never excel to the extent that the Soviet program previously had. Outside of Mir, a Soviet space endeavor and not a Russian or Ukrainian one, nothing transpired after the fall of the U.S.S.R. and the establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States (Zak). Up to this point, the history, including successes and failures, of the United States and the Soviet space programs have been investigated. Additionally, there is obviously the correlation between the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. in 1991 and the demise of the Soviet space program which could be attributed as its downfall. However, in order to fully appreciate the situation, the relationship between the fall of the U.S.S.R. and the Soviet space program needs to be examined from a different perspective.


Dahl 8 Steven Levitt, a Harvard scholar and famous economist, has an interesting prerogative about the application of finite principals to historical events. In his book Freakonomics, he writes about the extremely high crime rate in the 1990s and how it dwindled near the end of the decade. Many economists, politicians, and other influential figures argued that the cause was due to the revival of the economy in the United States. In Economics there is a principle that dictates that correlation does not prove causation. Levitt explains this best: But just because two things are correlated does not mean that one causes the other. A correlation simply means that a relationship exists between two factors - let's call them X and Y - but it tells you nothing about the direction of that relationship. It's possible that X causes Y; it’s also possible that Y causes X; and it may be that X and Y are both being caused by some other factor Z. (Levitt 10). Levitt then argues that the crime rate ultimately dwindled because of the famous Roe v. Wade abortion case. The legalization of abortion significantly reduced the pool of at-risk criminals and this is what ultimately led to the reduction of the crime rate. This is significant because Roe v. Wade happened twenty years before the drop-off in the crime rate (Levitt 5). Applying a similar non-conventional mode of thinking to the Soviet space program allows the other perspective to be visualized. Just because the United Soviet Socialist Republic was dissolved in 1991, along with the Soviet space program, this does not mean that the correlation proves causation. It was not the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. that caused the downfall of Soviet space


Dahl 9 aviation; it was a combination of horrendous leadership and pride. Nikita Khrushchev refused to commit to the Moon Race like President Kennedy; Mikhail Gorbachev tried to "fix what wasn't broken" when he tried to kill Communism. In addition to this, President Kennedy made good on his promise to get the United States onto the moon first. Broadcasting an event like this over international airwaves, the Aldrin walk is still available on the internet, was ultimately the catalyst that destroyed Soviet space aviation. Arguably, even with the Moon landing and the horrible leadership, The Soviets have done amazing things involving space and contributed more from a quantitative standpoint than anyone else. Mir is still in orbit and was the stepping stone for the International Space Station; Soviet rockets were the benchmark for close to twenty-five years. Applying Levitt however opens up the possibility that the problems were much deeper and the actual dissolution in 1991 was merely the point where people began paying attention. People will quickly jump to attribute failures with the event historically closest. In the case of crime, it was attributed to the bull nature of the economy; in the case of Soviet space aviation, it was the collapse of the U.S.S.R. in 1991. The collapse of the United Soviet Socialist Republic did not kill Soviet space aviation Khrushchev, Gorbachev, and Kennedy did.