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The Dawn of the Space Age begins with exciting tales of the earliest developers of rudimentary rockets and the deadly battles they fought in China between 228 and 1600 A.D. A historical fiction approach brings long–ago characters and events to life. Palace intrigues, treachery, and warmongering are interwoven with vivid depictions of courage and bravery to showcase the gradual progression of the science of rocketry from fireworks displays to effective weapons in the battlefield. Readers in the West will learn something about the Eastern mindset, where over half the world’s population lives today.

The tremendous achievements of the Wright Brothers – Wilbur and Orville – in the early 1900s serve as a useful backdrop for showcasing the difficulties in developing completely new technologies for practical use. The Wright Brothers had to go abroad to France before World War I to garner enough support and funding to mature airplane science to the point that the U.S. Army took notice. Building on the Wrights’ successes, Ludwig Prandtl in Germany and Theodore von Kármán in the United States made pioneering developments in aerodynamics which are crucial to rocket flight.

The invention of the airplane inspired early innovators in the 1920s – 1930s to lay the foundation for the giant aerospace conglomerates of today; including William Boeing. (Boeing Company), Allan Loughead and Glenn Martin (Lockheed Martin), Jack Northrop and Leroy Grumman (Northrop Grumman), James McDonnell and Donald Douglas (McDonnell–Douglas). These stalwarts were very foresighted and willing to take calculated risks.

The ingenious Dr. Robert Goddard, widely acknowledged as the inventor of the modern rocket, developed a sound theory and conducted pioneering flight tests in the 1920s – 1930s, while overcoming many failures. However, Goddard’s rockets were not taken seriously enough in the United States to enable the development of practical missiles and launch vehicles. But Germany sure took notice. World War II gave the biggest impetus ever to advancing rocket science and related technologies. The Nazi war machine funded Dr. Wernher von Braun and his cohorts to develop not just working missiles and launch systems, but rocket–driven weapons such as the V–1 and V–2 which killed thousands during World War II.

Fortunately for America, von Braun and key members of his team decided to seek asylum in the United States when the war ended. Now the country took up the engineering of rockets in earnest. Von Braun went on to lead the American space program during the crucial decades of the 1950s – 1960s. He did more to advance missiles, rockets, spaceflight, and enable manned landings on the moon than anybody else in America, alive or dead. Six astronauts flew solo on six Project Mercury flights (1961–1963). Three of them joined another 13 astronauts to orbit Earth on 10 two–person Project Gemini flights (1965–1966). Without a single failure.

The Soviet Union captured (the proper word) their fair share of German rocketeers, including the influential Helmut Gröttrup. Their approach was a bit different. They learned everything possible from the German expatriates, but soon undertook rocket and missile development using indigenous experts like Sergei Korolyov and Valentin Glushko. Like von Braun, Korolyov was ingenious in his own right, and led the development of Soviet rocket science until his untimely death in January 1966. Engineers and scientists are today’s “unsung heroes.” They work in the shadows, without any public acclaim or recognition; yet the technologies they develop touch every facet of our daily lives. As an extreme example, Korolyov practically carried the entire Soviet space program on his shoulders, yet the Soviet media did not even acknowledge his existence, and his very name was hidden from public view and guarded as a state secret while he was alive!

The Soviet Union captured an early lead over their archrival superpower during the Cold War, and achieved an embarrassing (for the United States) plethora of civilian space firsts: first Earth orbiting satellite (Sputnik 1, October 1957), first probe to impact the Moon (Luna 2, 1959), first images of the Moon’s far side (Luna 3, 1959), first manned spaceflight (Yuri Gagarin, 1961), first spacecraft to another planet (Venera–3 hit Venus in 1965), first manned space station (Salyut 1, 1971), to name a few.

 

Sergei Pavlovich Korolyov

Valentin Petrovich Glushko

Korolyov’s R-7 rocket launches Sputnik 1, the world’s first satellite, into orbit from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on October 5, 1957. Photo credits (in order): Library of Congress (2), National Air and Space Museum, NASA, Clark University Archives, U.S. Air Force (2), Ruptly GmBH, Wikipedia, Science Photo Lab, Associated Press, NASA (2).

 

 

Backed by thousands of rocket fire arrows, Chinese Generals Yú Dàyóu, Qi Jiguang, and the boyish-looking Tan Lun prepare to lead their troops into battle, October 19, 1558.

 

Orville Wright

Wilbur Wright

With an anxious Wilbur looking on and Orville at the controls, the world’s first powered airplane takes off from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on December 17, 1903.

 

Dr. Robert Hutchings Goddard

Goddard poses with the world’s first rocket which he launched on March 16, 1926. Note the backwards configuration—the rocket is on top, receiving its fuel by two lines from tanks at the bottom.

Dr. Theodore von Kármá

World’s first successful jet-assisted takeoff (JATO) aircraft(the Europe)
launch, August 16, 1941. The acronym JATO is a misnomer, Von Kármán’s booster rockets should have been dubbed RATO, for rocket-assisted takeoff.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Wernher von Braun, Director of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, May 1964.

Von Braun’s V-2 launches from Peenemünde, Germany on June 21, 1943. The missile exploded after 75 sec.

 

Juno 1 launches the first U.S. satellite, Explorer I, into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida on January 31, 1958.