Thursday, January 7, 2010

Missile #27

The year I was born, there were no satellites up in orbit. There were no Artificial Moons circling the Earth. 

Yeah? So what?

Then, when I was still just a itty bitty teeny tiny little baby, on October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik. And a month later, a larger and heavier satellite called (surprise!) Sputnik 2 carried a dog named Laika into space.

Laika died.

That's kind of sad, but then 22 astronauts and cosmonauts have died since then, and an even larger number of ground crew. Going into space is dangerous. 

But that's not what I want to talk about.

Few people know October 4, 1957 is a historic date. I think it is because people just don't care. Really. Even fewer people know that September 20, 1956 could have been a historic date. That was the date that the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) sent aloft Missile 27 from Cape Canaveral. This was an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) test. The rocket reached an altitude of 600 miles, and splashed into the Atlantic Ocean some 3,300 miles away. The launch team was not authorized to orbit a satellite, and besides no one had asked them to do it. So the team replaced the solid rocket fuel in the fourth stage of the missile with sand.

History records the result. A great deal of pants shitting occurred on or about the date of Oct. 5, 1957.

As is customary, the media was the first to shit itself, as usual. "SOVIETS CAN HIT US FROM SPACE WITH BOMBS! NOT A DAMN THING WE CAN DO ABOUT IT!"

And they made such a hue and cry, such a wailing, such a tumult, such a dancing about of the Shitty Pants Dance, that everyone couldn't help but notice - which is what the media does, right?

Congress, not to be outdone, upped the ante, and called many special press conferences to show that they too, had done a spectacular job of projectile pooping, staining their undies right down to their socks.

Naturally the public took its cue, and soon practically every horizontal surface was damp and soiled.

Poor old President Eisenhower. He now had to respond to all this. But there were things he knew which he could not tell the media or the public. Things he knew that a select few in both the House and the Senate were aware of. (That time being a different age, when duplicity and deceit were highly valued, and thus used more sparingly, those in Congress who were In The Know were not inclined to do the Shitty Pants Dance). 

What things did Eisenhower know? Consulting with his administration, he knew that the US missile programs were doing fine, thank you, on par or well ahead of the Soviets. Eisenhower knew, from U2 high altitude spy plane overflights of the Soviet Union, that the state of Soviet armaments and preparedness was just barely above donkey cart mode. In short, he knew that Sputnik did not constitute an immediate threat to the security of the United States. He knew that there was no such thing as a Missile Gap. (This fact, of course, did not stop John F Kennedy from instilling fear in the American public in a cheap ploy to get elected by LYING about the Missile Gap, or for that matter, a generation later, for Ronald Reagan to LIE about a similar Missile Gap when the Soviet Union was on the ropes, a shattered starving skeleton of itself, or for one more matter, for George W Bush to LIE about WMDs existing in a basket case of a nation, but that's for another rant). 

He held a press conference in an attempt to quell the fears of the American people. He utterly failed to calm the hysteria, and in fact, came across as perhaps a little too detached and clueless. The media was telling the public that, because we are now not safe something had gone wrong, and someone was at fault and to blame, and then things must be fixed. And the public, paradoxically, individually calm and relatively intelligent, but collectively stupid and anxious, desperately needing something, anything, to be done, demanded that something be done, even if the thing to be done was pointless, useless, and a waste of time and monies.

Sound familiar? War on Terrorism, maybe? Perhaps?

Well, fear not, things turned out well for the USA! Not now, silly. We are doing exactly what the terrorists want us to do - waste blood and treasure. Things turned out well back then. 

In the end, the Russians had actually done the US a good turn. NASA and DARPA was established, Congress authorized a big budget increase for science and engineering education, not to mention funding for corporate and university R&D, and kids across the country went space crazy. And we spent ten trillion dollars on the best damn Mutual Assured Destruction 20,000 warhead missile system not seen since the Dinosaurs had their Comet War.

Makes you proud, don't it?

1 comment:

  1. Proud and free, right?

    Keep it up John. You entertain me greatly.