Thursday, January 31, 2008

Hydrogen bombs on the moon

With the space race on between America and the Soviet Union in the late 1950s, writers and publishers tapped into the space age reader market. I like books from that era when manned space exploration had not yet begun. With nearly 50 years of hindsight to work with, and having worked at NASA myself, it's interesting and fun to read about the visions and dreams along with the fears and reservations that characterized the cradle of space exploration.

Children's books were also included in the mix. One I found not long ago is Rockets into Space, by Alexander L. Crosby and Nancy Larrick, Random House, NY, 1959. It seems to be geared toward 8 to 12 year-olds. It's pretty much a primer on rockets, satellites, man's desire to explore space, and how all that might be accomplished. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on building a space station and using it as a platform for traveling to Mars. Wow! They were thinking it out that far before man had ever left earth?

Some 30 years later, President Bush (the elder) had proposed an initiative to build Space Station Freedom and then go back to the moon and on to Mars. I think his timetable had us there by now or not long from now. Point is, that serious talk and action about getting a space station into orbit took another 30 years from the time it was talked about in this kid's book in 1959.

One thing in the book that did not happen, thankfully, is outlined in Chapter 11, Why Do We Care? Essentially, it asks why should we spend all the money and effort to go into space and even to the moon (a few years before President Kennedy declared we would do it before the 1960s ended... and we did!). The answers are adventure, knowledge, wealth, and military. Adventure and knowledge are self-explanatory.

Wealth? Well, say the authors, we don't know what kind of metals and minerals we may find on the moon. Schoolgirls one day may be wearing engagement rings made from precious gems found on the moon.

But Military is the one that will make you roll your eyes and chuckle. The authors raise the possibility of the Soviets getting to the moon first and using it as a base to fire missiles at their enemies, meaning the Americans. Talk about your Cold War paranoia! Sounds like the payload getting ahead of the rocket booster, to update an old idiom about the cart and the horse. Scare the kids with lunar annihilation and scare the rest of us by putting the U.N. in charge of the moon!

The rest of the chapter is too good not to include so here are the last several paragraphs:
The moon looks beautiful to us now. We would feel differently if it were loaded with hydrogen bombs that could be aimed at the earth.

Of course that need not happen. Mr. Pendray and other thoughtful people say the moon should be ruled by the United Nations. No one country should control the moon.

If the United Nations had charge of the moon, all countries could use it for scientific experiments.
Yeah right.

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