Our Germans are better than their Germans

Or so the line from The Right Stuff goes.  And it was true.  We had the best of the best.  We had Werner von Braun.  Between von Braun and the American brain trust, we went headlong into the space race.  We had to beat those Commies, dammit!

Our best German.

Things didn’t go well.  The centrally planned Soviet system put all available resources into the space race.  They launched a satellite before us.  They put a man in space before us.  They orbited the earth before us.

We caught up, though.  Low earth orbit is the easy part.  The rockets are smaller and there’s not much to do once you’re up there.  Keep the proper orbit, reenter the atmosphere at the proper angle and speed and everything is good.

The moon, though, is a different beast.  It was also the ultimate prize in the space race.  Landing on it required not just one, but two modules.  You had to detach and reattach the modules in orbit.  You had to land and take off from a foreign body at just the right speed, distance and time so you can meet back up with the Command Module.  Then you had to make it home and land.  You had to survive.

For this, you needed better Germans.  Ones that can design the Saturn V. Not with PCs on their desks, finite element analysis software, or even calculators as we know them. Reference books weren’t available. These guys were writing the books as they went. It was experimentation, slide rules, hand calculations, and best guesses.

Today we are talking about going back to the moon and beyond. Who knows if we’ll actually do it. Times are different. However, the spirit of adventure and exploration that pushed us to go to the moon in the first place is still there. Now we just need the fortitude and better Germans.

  • Deartháir

    From the legendary Tom Lehrer:

    "And what is it that put America in the forefront of the nuclear nations? What is it that will make it possible to spend 20 billion dollars of your money to put some clown on the moon? Well, it's good old American know-how, that's what. As provided by good old Americans like Dr. Wernher von Braun.

    Gather round while I sing you of Wernher von Braun,
    A man whose allegiance
    Is ruled by expedience.
    Call him a Nazi, he won't even frown.
    "Hah! Nazi Schmazi!" says Wernher von Braun.

    Don't say that he's hypocritical,
    Say rather that he's apolitical.

    "Vunce ze rockets are up, who cares vhere zey come down?
    Zat's not my department," says Wernher von Braun.

    Some have harsh words for this man of renown,
    But some think our attitude
    Should be one of gratitude,
    Like the widows and cripples in old London town
    Who owe their large pensions to Wernher von Braun.

    You too may be a big hero,
    Once you've learned to count backwards to zero.
    "In Cherman or Inklish I know how to count down,
    Und I'm learning Chinese," says Wernher von Braun.

    • Mason

      That says it all.

  • P161911

    Reminds me of the essay question on my AP European History exam way back when. "Compare and contrast Capitalism with Communism in Europe?" I wrote a comparison on the Trabant and the gullwing Mercedes 300SL. I passed.

  • I have been to the Robert H. Goddard museum/planetarium probably a dozen times (hey, being a kid in Roswell, NM, there was nothing else to do). There is a fair section of it that is devoted to the space race and ze moon. Cool stuff.

    Good job 'neerd!

    • Deartháir

      Roswell, NM? Really?


      • I will stab you.

        • Deartháir

          Best response I've seen in a very long time. Still laughing.

      • dwegmull

        From your (and my) point of view, all US citizens are aliens…

  • jjd241

    Yeah, those Gerry's could set up a soundstage in Arizona better than anyone!

  • Luke Nilsen

    There is a line in rocket evolution in both the US and former Soviet that never touched anything German if you look at the technological history prior to ww2. The rocket that made Von Braun famous and provided the engine and propellant technical basis for all his subsequent work was impossible without Isayevs regenerative cooling(for which ppl keep giving germans credit),was so heavily based on the work of Robert Goddard the Peenemunde Germans had to pay him for his patent use. Goddard helped develop the XLR11 that later powered the X1 at the same time,during ww2(which was a more reliable and efficient but lower thrust engine). Both the X1 and A4(V2) were shaped like 50 caliber bullets because they were known to be stable at supersonic speed but no one knew why. The saturn 5 first stage tanks and structure-(and thereby mass limits etc of the rest) was Von Brauns only real contribution to Apollo,he didnt design the rocketdyne F1 engine,have the expertise/start over again and design the liquid hydrogen upper stage technology that make it a viable moonship design. Also computers and materials that were beyond ww2 Germany,Von Braun and his collegues, made his later designs viable. It doesnt take away from their achievements to admit there is a real problem with calling them the singular origin of everything.