Parallels Between the Sputnik and 9/11 Crises

Sputnik 1 changed the direction of space policy in the United States after its launch on October 4, 1957.

Is there a relationship between the so-called “Sputnik moment” in October 1957 and the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks? Yes, at several levels there are intriguing parallels between the Sputnik crisis of 1957-1958 that Eisenhower faced and the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the United States made on September 11, 2001.

In both instances, these events signaled that the U.S.was not immune from serious challenge to its society and national power. One was a symbolic attack on American might, the other a literal attack. Both sparked a response that led to serious changes in the direction of the nation, and some might argue that in both instances some of the response was ill-conceived. For example, Eisenhower was forced to respond with many actions that he believed ill-considered, among them the creation of NASA. In addition, Sputnik led directly to several critical efforts aimed at “catching up” to the Soviet Union’s space achievements.

On the whole, however, the actions in the aftermath of Sputnik proved acceptable both from a political perspective and for the long-term health of the United States. These included:

    • A full-scale review of both the civil and military programs of theUnited States(scientific satellite efforts and ballistic missile development.
    • Establishment of a Presidential Science Advisor in the White House who had responsibility for overseeing the activities of the federal government in science and technology.
    • Creation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency in the Department of Defense, and the consolidation of several space activities under centralized management.
    • Establishment of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to manage civil space operations.
    • Passage of the National Defense Education Act to provide federal funding for education in the scientific and technical disciplines.

In the case of Sputnik it was a technological challenge and the response involved a broad reorientation of government programs aimed at rectifying the perceived weakness. Sputnik rather “inspired” politicians to fund science as never before. In the case of 9/11 it was a direct security weakness that needed to be addressed. There were hearings and finger-pointing and an opening of floodgates of government funding for all manner of presumed security-enhancing programs. Whereas the Sputnik crisis allowed the scientific-technological community into the White House as never before and opened the public treasury to funding for all manner of efforts never given serious consideration before, the 9/11 tragedy did the same for security and intelligence specialists.

From left to right: Russian Premier Nikolai Bulganin, United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower, French Premier Edgar Faure, British Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden at the 1955 Geneva Conference. At this conference Eisenhower put forth the “Open Skies” plan.

From left to right: Russian Premier Nikolai Bulganin, United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower, French Premier Edgar Faure, British Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden at the 1955 Geneva Conference. At this conference Eisenhower put forth the “Open Skies” plan.

Interestingly, in both instances the president took criticism for failing to anticipate and react to the challenge, and thereby mitigating it or at least minimizing its impact. Eisenhower’s supposed complacency in failing to anticipate Sputnik, and his slowness to react afterward, tarred his administration and his image for a generation. Whether he deserved that criticism is questionable, but his failure to recognize the obvious concern of the public was a shortcoming of consequence. Refusing to overreact served his and the nation’s long-term needs well. Similarly, George W. Bush received criticism for the 9/11 attacks and failure to prepare for such an eventuality. Like Eisenhower, Bush responded with a range of changes to the federal government to enhance intelligence gathering and national security:

    • Passage of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
    • Establishment of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC) to coordinate the analysis of all domestic counterterrorism intelligence.
    • Creation of the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) to integrate information on various terrorist watch lists.
    • Consolidation of oversight of intelligence assets under a single individual.
    • Passage of the Patriot Act of 2002.
    • Other reorganizations within and among various federal agencies.
The 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.

The 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.

Unlike Eisenhower, Bush aggressively championed these changes and generally appeared to be leading in their adoption rather than opposing some of them. This perception was misleading in both instances, for Eisenhower was fully committed to many of the reforms undertaken during his administration and Bush was opposed to some of those for which he has been applauded, especially the creation of an intelligence “czar” to oversee all intelligence organizations in the government.

In an irony of the first magnitude, Eisenhower believed that the creation of NASA and the placing of so much power in its hands by the Kennedy administration during the Apollo program of the 1960s was a mistake. He remarked in a 1962 article: “Why the great hurry to get to the moon and the planets? We have already demonstrated that in everything except the power of our booster rockets we are leading the world in scientific space exploration. From here on, I think we should proceed in an orderly, scientific way, building one accomplishment on another.” He later cautioned that the Moon race “has diverted a disproportionate share of our brain-power and research facilities from equally significant problems, including education and automation.” He believed it was used to overreact to the perceived threat. President Bush, on the other hand, embraced the use of American power in the aftermath of 9/11 and engaged in actions that some believed an overreaction to the perceived threat, especially the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

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Cook versus Peary: Writings on the Controversy

The wording of a sign erected by scientists near their North Pole camp in 2003 had to be changed because the ice was drifting 400 yards an hour. (Credit: Andrew C. Revkin/The New York Times)

The wording of a sign erected by scientists near their North Pole camp in 2003 had to be changed because the ice was drifting 400 yards an hour. (Credit: Andrew C. Revkin/The New York Times)

Several people suggested that I offer some comments on the state of literature on the Robert Peary/Frederick Cook controversy of who reached the North Pole first. Of course, I am of the opinion that the evidence for either of them reaching there in either 1908 or 1909 is flimsy.

Each of the explorers published their own accounts of the effort. Frederick A. Cook, My Attainment of the Pole: Being the Record of the Expedition That First Reached the Boreal Center, 1907-1909 (New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1912), with many subsequent editions offers his assessment. The Peary case is made in Rear Adm. Robert E. Peary, The North Pole: Its Discovery in 1909 under the auspices of the Peary Arctic Club (New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co., 1910). The account of Peary’s longtime associate, an African American named Matthew Henson, is detailed in A Black Explorer at the North Pole, foreword by Robert E., Peary and Introduction by Booker T. Washington (New York, 1912, reprint Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989).

True North: Peary, Cook, and the Race to the Pole (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2005), by Bruce Henderson, tells the story of intense hatred and jealousy between Americans Robert E. Peary, the supposed discoverer of the North Pole in 1909, and his former colleague, Frederick A. Cook, who claimed to have reached there a year earlier. Attacks on the generally accepted Peary account began in 1911 with a book by the rival claimant, Frederick Cook, in his My Attainment of The Pole, and has been played out ever since.

In True North the author marshals evidence to support the claim of Cook that he reached the pole in April 1908, a full year before Peary. There have been many other books dealing with the debate over who was the first to the reach the North Pole, all of them making a case for one or the other of the rival explorers. Sometimes the prose is laced with vitriol.

Some of those other works include: John Edward Weems, Peary: The Explorer and the Man (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1967); Theon Wright, The Big Nail: The Story of the Cook-Peary Feud (New York: John Day Company, 1970); Dennis Rawlins, Peary at the North Pole, Fact or Fiction? (Washington, DC: Robert B. Luce, 1973); William R. Hunt, To Stand at the Pole: The Dr. Cook—Admiral Peary North Pole Controversy (New York: Stein & Day, 1981); Wally Herbert, The Noose of Laurels: The Discovery of the North Pole (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., 1989); and Fergus Fleming, Ninety Degrees North: The Quest for the North Pole (London: Granta Books, 2001)

I especially enjoyed Robert M. Bryce, Cook & Peary: The Polar Controversy, Resolved (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1997). At more than 1,000 pages, it may be used a door stop if needed, but I recommend it as by far the most detailed and comprehensive, as well as exhaustive and exhausting, discussion of the controversy every undertaken. Larry Schweikart’s “Polar Revisionism and the Peary Claim: The Diary of Robert E. Peary,” The Historian 48 (May 1986): 341-58 is an interesting sidelight to the story. Clive Holland, ed., Fartherest North: The Quest for the North Pole, 1818-1909 (New York: MacLelland and Stewart, 1988) tries to place the controversy in the context of other explorations.

I also found helpful these books: Pierre Berton, The Arctic Grail The Quest for the North West Passage and the North Pole, 1818-1909 (New York: Penguin Books, 1988), with many reprints. Perhaps the most entertaining of all stories about the quest for the North Pole is Chauncy Loomis, Weird and Tragic Shores: The Story of Charles Francis Hall, Explorer (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971).

Definitively concluding which explorer, if either, was first to reach the North Pole continues to be debated in the popular media. Although Peary received great acclamation in his lifetime for his polar exploits, most current observers view the claims of both Peary and Cook to have reached the North Pole with skepticism. More than a century after the controversy first erupted it seems that neither claim holds up well.

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “Eismitte in the Scientific Imagination”

EismitteEismette in the Scientific Imagination: Knowledge and Politics at the Center of Greenland. By Janet Martin-Nielson. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Eismette means “middle ice” in German, and this book is about the quest to reach that middle point on the Greenland ice sheet and to learn the knowledge that might be gleaned about it. Janet Martin-Nielson has written a fine study of the four major efforts to reach that middle point. Although explorers had been enamored with this location for centuries, the first expedition to reach it was led by the German explorer, Alfred Wegener, who undertook an expedition there in 1930-1931. They came overland using dogs and sledges, established a makeshift camp, and wintered there while taking meteorological readings, ice samples, and other research. They ran out of supplies and Wegener died during the expedition but the harvest of data was very real.

Wegener’s was the last expedition of its type, all that came afterward used motorized vehicles and airplanes to support the effort. With the use of this technology, those efforts yielded massive amounts of scientific data, reduced the risks to members of the research teams, and allowed for the establishment of a near permanent station on the middle ice.

The second expedition, under the leadership of Paul-Emile Victor, the French undertook the Expéditions Polaires Françaises between 1949 and 1953. Using surplus World War II tractors designed for harsh climates the expedition pushed its way to the Eismitte, established one of the more impressive stations in the Arctic, and systematically collected scientific data for years. Resupplied by airdrops Victor’s expedition reaped a treasure of data and reestablished a post-way France which still had designs on maintaining its empire as force to be reckoned with at the Poles.

The third expedition, Project Jello, was operated by the Americans at the Eismitte for several years beginning in 1955. As much as anything this was an offshoot of the Cold War situation, as the Poles became locations of competition and strategic surveillance between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Americans did not so much accommodate to the harsh environment as overcome it with their wealth and their technology. At its height of operations these stations involved several hundred people and data collection emphasized geodetic, magnetic, and other studies that would aid in ballistic missile accuracy. At sum, the American effort was a triumph of technology and logistics, lessons also proved out in Antarctica during this same era and improved upon by all scientific expeditions since that time

The fourth effort was the Expédition Glaciologique Internationale au Groënland between 1956 and 1960. This expanded on the American work, casting it into a larger international context. In very case, the scientific knowledge about this planet, and especially about Polar Regions, expended through this work. As Janet Martin-Nielson concludes that research “from the early days of the first overwinter of the ice sheet in 1930-1931, shed light on the shape, movement, and melt of Greenland’s ice, on the circulation of contaminants through the atmosphere, and on the earth’s climatic past” (p. 122).

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Recalling a Century Old Controversy: Did Cook or Peary Reach the North Pole First?

The wording of a sign erected by scientists near their North Pole camp in 2003 had to be changed because the ice was drifting 400 yards an hour. (Credit: Andrew C. Revkin/The New York Times)

The wording of a sign erected by scientists near their North Pole camp in 2003 had to be changed because the ice was drifting 400 yards an hour. (Credit: Andrew C. Revkin/The New York Times)

The short answer is, probably neither. I have argued for years that exploration has been driven by the three “G’s”: God, gold, and glory (not necessarily in that order). The search for resources, in some cases literally gold, sparked much of the European expansion beginning in the fifteenth century and at a personal level it prompted considerable individual initiative. But glory, either geopolitical or personal, and the quest for converts to whatever the religion of the explorers also fueled the effort.

Except for the God part, the quest for gold and glory certainly sparked the efforts of two Americans, Robert E. Peary and Frederick A. Cook, to reach the geographical North Pole in the first decade of the twentieth century. Both sought fame and with it wealth.

Robert E. Peary at Cape Sheridan, Ellesmere Island, Northwest Territories, Canada, in 1909.

Robert E. Peary at Cape Sheridan, Ellesmere Island, Northwest Territories, Canada, in 1909.

Peary and Cook started out as friends, not unlike Sir Richard Burton and Sir John Speke in Africa a half century earlier. Peary was the older of the two, a veteran of earlier Arctic expeditions, and the leader of the 1891-1892 northern Greenland expedition where Cook served as physician and ethnographer. When Peary shattered his leg on the expedition Cook set it and ensured that it healed properly. Cook also undertook systematic investigation of the native population, still some of the earliest efforts to study the Inuit of Greenland.

Cook went on thereafter to participate in Adrien de Gerlache’s 1897-1899 Belgian Antarctic Expedition, the first expedition to winter over at the Antarctic continent. Cook and Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen became friends on this expedition. Cook led two expeditions to Mt. McKinley (Mt. Denali) in 1903 and again in 1906; during that later expedition he claimed to have made the first ascent to the summit of the mountain. Subsequent analysis has determined that visual and navigational evidence from the 1906 Cook ascent does not support a conclusion that he reached the summit.

For his part, Robert Peary, a U.S. naval officer on leave from active duty undertook several expeditions to the Arctic after the Greenland expedition. He undertook an 1898–1902 expedition to the northwestern tip of Greenland where he explored parts of Ellesmere Island. In a 1905-1906 expedition Peary sported a new Arctic exploring vessel, the SS Roosevelt, which established a record by reaching the “farthest north by ship.” Peary claimed on this expedition that he achieved a latitude of 87°06′. In the summer of 1906 Peary also claimed to have sighted a far-north “Crocker Land,” later overturned when another expedition in 1914 found that Crocker Land did not exist.

By the first part of the twentieth century, therefore, both Cook and Peary established themselves as seasoned and renowned explorers—albeit ones with a checkered record of accomplishment—and had set their sights on reaching the geographical North Pole. Frederick Cook began his assault on the Pole in 1908 and after having been gone for nearly two years announced in September 1909 that he and two Inuit guides had reached the geographical North Pole on April 21, 1908. Since the Pole constantly shifts with its ice drift, he was a bit cagey with how he characterized this success. His delay in returning had been caused by bad weather, the problem of drifting ice, and the late season that required him to overwinter in the Arctic.

Admiral Robert E. Peary’s crew, pictured here in the vicinity of the North Pole, included Inuits Ooqeah, Ootah, Egingwah, and Seeglo and fellow American Matthew Henson.

Admiral Robert E. Peary’s crew, pictured here in the vicinity of the North Pole, included Inuits Ooqeah, Ootah, Egingwah, and Seeglo and fellow American Matthew Henson.

Robert Peary undertook his expedition in 1908; wintering at Ellesmere Island and assaulting the geographical North Pole the next spring. He claimed to have reached there on April 6, 1909, establishing “Camp Jesup” within 5 miles of the drifting North Pole. When he heard of Cook’s announcement Peary as livid and denounced Cook as a fraud. Peary’s claims were largely supported, while Cook’s were dismissed. Each published their own versions of these expeditions, and in the years since supporters, detractors, and historians have continued to debate the quality of their accounts. Most people at the time and since have credited Peary as the first to reach the North Pole, and much criticism has been aimed at Cook for fabricating his story. Because of this controversy Roald Amundsen took special care to document every aspect of his expedition to reach the South Pole in December 1911.

Frederick Cook in arctic gear, 1909.

Frederick Cook in arctic gear, 1909.

Each had their cases to make, but neither succeeded in documenting to everyone’s satisfaction that they had reached the North Pole. Cook claimed that his documentation had been lost in Greenland, in no small measure because of Peary’s refusal to bring it back on the Roosevelt when one of his colleagues had asked for Peary’s assistance. Peary, for his part, refused to allow anyone to see the majority of his records; something that the National Geographical Society continued to do until long after his death in 1920. In the second half of the twentieth century arguments on both sides of the cases continue to fuel book sales. It seems that probably neither explorer reached “True North” in the 1908-1909 time frame.

Both got close, no doubt; both claimed to reach it either through oversight/error or fraud/subterfuge. Both were driven to be the first and it is easy to see how they could have fudged readings and overstated positions. On the other hand, I have no doubt from what I have learned about both that they would willingly alter the truth for their benefit. They did so many other times that it is impossible not believe them capable of it here. Based upon modern analysis and an expedition that sought to recreate the Peary route, it now seems dubious that Peary could have achieved the distances per day that he claimed, and it is equally doubtful that Cooke, with a record of fraud in other settings, reached the North Pole.

There is no dearth of books on this subject, and everyone has an opinion. Some are better informed than others. Many believe that Cook’s claims are more legitimate; those who questioned them initially were motivated either by friendship of Peary or seduced by the prospect of economic gain. There is undoubtedly a measure of truth in that position. But Cook’s reputation as a bit of snake oil salesman, his now debunked Mt. Denali climb to the summit and his being jailed for an oil scam after his exploration days were over are primary evidence, suggests that he may not have been honest in his claims.

What is clear is that Peary is one of the most driven and megalomaniacal people of the twentieth century. His campaign to destroy Cook is legendary. For his part, Cook was a natural ethnographer and student of science. He is without question the most vilified of all polar explorers, but how fair are criticisms of him?

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Remembering the Quintessential Yankee

No question about it, Yogi Berra (1925-2015) was an American original. With his passing earlier this week at age 90 it is now more obvious than ever before. As one of the Hall of Fame players from the Yankee dynasty of the 1950s and early 1960s, a team that also included Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford, to a legendary post-baseball career as pundit and sage Yogi (and he needed no other name) was a great and honorable man. He was also a genuine personality.

Who hasn’t heard some of his witticisms (Yogisms): “When you come to a fork in the road, take it,” or “It ain’t over till it’s over,” or “Half this game is ninety percent mental.” And then there is my personal favorite, “We may be lost but we’re making good time.” That last one seems to sum up so much about our modern society. His folksy wit demonstrates a keen mind, one that gets to the heart of any issue. I recently read The Yogi Book containing a lot of his wit and wisdom. It was a fun read, and gave me a renewed appreciation of this Hall of Fame baseball player and folk hero.

Aside from his knack for summing up great philosophical thoughts in pithy phrases, Yogi Berra was also one of the greatest baseball players of all time. Yogi may not have been the leaders of the Yankees in the one of its most legendary dynasties, that was Mickey Mantle, but I believe he was its most essential element.

During his time with the New York Yankees, 1946-1963, Berra played on more pennant winners, 14, and enjoyed more World Series victories, 10, than any other player in Major League Baseball (MLB) history. Was Yogi the greatest catcher ever to play, even more important than Johnny Bench? Was he one of a handful of the most indispensible Yankees ever to take the field? I think so. Along with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and perhaps Derek Jeter, Yogi Berra’s exploits have defined Yankee greatness through the ages.

Not bad for a kid from the Hill district of St. Louis, whose friend and baseball rival Joe Garagiola says was the best to ever play the game. Both played together and against each other while growing up in the Italian section of that city. Both were scouted by the St. Louis Cardinals, but Branch Rickey signed only Garagiola to a Cardinals contract. He did not think Berra had what it took to play beyond the minor leagues.

In a Karmic sort of way that dumb decision ranks right up there with the Cardinals snookering the Chicago Cubs out of Lou Brock by trading Ernie Broglio for him in 1964. As a Cardinals fan I kick myself thinking about how Yogi Berra would have helped them in the 1940s, 1950s, and the early 1960s when they already had a good team that might have become a dynasty to rival the Yankees. With such a talented catcher as Berra on the field with Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, and Red Schoendienst, I would be surprised if they had not won several more championships.

But he became a Yankee, perhaps the quintessential Yankee. Even more than playing catcher better than anyone else of his era, Yogi also excelled both at managing and at life. He took the Yankees to the World Series in 1964, only to lose in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals. At least the Cards got even in that one instance. Yogi was also a good and decent human being, a folksy sage who mentored the young and stayed close to his family.

Yogi Berra had just passed 9oth birthday on May 12. I’m sorry to learn of his passing. Here’s to Yogi’s high quality life. While I am not a Yankee fan I am certainly happy to cheer this one.

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “WarStars”

COVER_72WarStars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination. By H. Bruce Franklin. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2008. Revised and Expanded Edition.

Americans have long viewed as necessary to the survival of the United States an absolute protection from foreign attack. That was one of the reasons that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, was so troubling to the American psyche. This has prompted a never-ending search for security, and a corresponding search for a superweapon that would so demoralize an enemy that it would never attack the United States. From Robert Fulton’s Revolutionary War era submarine to such recent developments as Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), the United States has spared no expense and no measure of effort to ensure its safety.

Bruce Franklin is a cultural historian, not a military of a policy analyst, so don’t look for reasoned discussion of the present-day implications of this quest for security. What he does do, however, is write a compelling cultural history of this aspect of America, demonstrating effectively how the U.S. has pursued the ultimate defensive weapon, one that would ensure that no one would ever want to attack this nation because of the dire consequences.

I am most familiar with this story in relation to aerospace history, and indeed that is a major part of the story in the twentieth century. Indeed the airplane was supposed to make the nation invincible because no one would accept the dire losses that would result from any conflict. It would make war, in the words of many aviation enthusiasts, obsolete. Guess what, it didn’t. There is considerable literature, film, art, and the like that spoke to that belief.

We have seen the same in the context of nuclear weapons, and their delivery methods by both airplanes and missiles, as something too terrible to contemplate. Cultural outpourings attest to American reactions to this situation in the era since World War II. Franklin is at his best in analyzing film—such as Fail-Safe, On the Beach, and Dr. Strangelove—that called attention to the disparity between the imagined future of the technocrats and the horrors of what might befall humanity. Of course, those might be viewed as “fifth column” efforts to weaken American resolve and strength, and in the 1950s the McCarthy “Red Scare” had elements of this as part of the agenda. Those clamoring for those superweapons, however, always viewed them as way to end all war and ensure the triumph to the American way of life.

Central to this, especially in the post-World War II era, was the nuclear weapons delivered through the modern technology of ballistic missiles. Accordingly, for the first time in human history people hundreds or even thousands of miles removed from the battlefield were now living life as a target. This had a profound impact on American culture as everyone now lived on the receiving end of an attack from space. Franklin explores the manner in which society has dealt with the rising threat of attack from above over time. Thinking about the unthinkable became a central aspect of Franklin’s discussion of the super weapon. It changed not only the dynamic of international relations and cast a long shadow over every confrontation between first-world nations in the post-1945 era, but it also transformed American culture.

Franklin published the first edition of this book in 1988, before the collapse of the Soviet Union. It received good reviews at the time, but the position of the champions of the superweapon in American culture found the greatest evidence of their belief with SDI and the Soviet collapse. Ronald Reagan, it seems, had won the Cold War after 40 years of stalemate. SDI and other military measures, in their minds, bankrupted the Soviet Union, despite the reality of many internal reasons ranging from economic crisis to imperial overstretch to the incursion of knowledge that a better future might be achieved by pursuing a different political agenda more in synchronicity with rather than in tension with the West. Indeed, it may be that Reagan’s most important role in helping to end the Cold War may have had nothing to do with the pursuit of a superweapon. Instead he was astute in allowing the internal situation in the Soviet Union to play out and was helpful by working with Gorbachev on arms control and the reduction of nuclear weapons.

A new edition of WarStars was published in 2008. This is the version of the book that I read. It is a solid work, exploring the cultural history of the search for security by emphasizing “peace through strength.” It is an important study, worthy of anyone’s consideration.

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The World’s Spaceports

In the more than fifty years since the beginning of the space age, the most remarkable and visible installations created have been the launch facilities. These spaceports are not numerous, with only 24 active sites worldwide, but many of them are sites where history was made.

This map shows the launch sites, current, abandoned, and projected as of 2008.

There are the well-known launch sites, such as those at the Kennedy Space Center on the east coast of Florida, that are open to the public. Others are top secret closed sites shrouded in mystery, such as the Palmachim launch site in Israel. Most of these spaceports are national facilities, located at various places around the globe in response to political realities and geographical considerations.

This launch of the Titan IVB/Centaur launch vehicle from the Cape Canaveral Air Station, Florida, started the Cassini orbiter and its attached Huygens probe to Saturn. Launched on October 15, 1997, from Launch Complex 40 it would undertake a 2.2-billion mile journey that included two swingbys of Venus and one of Earth to gain additional velocity, arriving at Saturn in July 2004 where it entered orbit and soft landed Huygens on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons.

Each of these sites offers the capability to launch satellites into various orbits around the Earth, most often in a west to east equatorial orbit, but for national security satellites usually in a polar orbit. Some launch sites also have concentrated on non-orbital flights, engaging in sounding rocket research to the upper atmosphere, such as that conducted at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the coast in Virginia. Since 1957, more than 5,000 satellites have successfully launched into orbit from these various spaceports around the globe.

The busiest spaceports are operated, as should be obvious, by the most aggressive nations involved in spaceflight. The space programs of the United States and Russia (formerly the Soviet Union) have long been comparable in size and operation. But in addition to Cape Canaveral, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Baikonur, and Plesetsk, there is also Kourou, Tanegashima, Sriharikota, Jiuquan, and Xichang among the world’s most busy spaceports.

Not all launch tests were successful. This test of a reentry vehicle in 1963 had to be destroyed by the range safety officer at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

As the twenty-first century progresses, the activity of these current spaceports will probably increase, and new sites will be added to fulfill future requirements for space access.

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Was Billy Martin the Most “Bad Ass” Baseball Manager of them All?


Billy Martin flipping off the photographer taking his Topps baseball card picture in 1972.

Former Braves manager Bobby Cox holds the record for most ejections from a Major League baseball game by a manager; he has 161 ejections. He surpassed former New York Giants manager John McGraw by 29 games; these are the only two managers with more than 100 ejections. Even so, I believe Billy Martin was by far the most “bad-ass” of all managers.

In 1972 Martin managed the Tigers to a narrow victory in the American League East, and they took on the mighty Oakland A’s in the playoffs. When the A’s and Tigers met the collective temper was already high, and it would later become much higher. A’s owner Charlie Finley, always good copy for sportswriters, called Tiger manager Billy Martin “a liar, a phony and a 24-carat kook.” Finley was certainly right about Martin, but he did not call Martin a managerial genius, a true leader, and a drunken brawler, all of which was also true. And the liar, phony, and 24-carat kook comment was also a little like the pot calling the kettle black.

In game two, pitchers Blue Moon Odom for the A’s and Woody Fryman for the Tigers faced each, and the A’s ran wild. A’s shortstop Bert Campaneris led off the game with a single, promptly stole second and then third base, and came home on a Joe Rudi hit. The A’s scored four more runs in the fifth to make this into the only blowout of the series. Frustration ran high in the Tigers dugout, and Billy Martin decided to act. During the A’s scoring binge in the fifth, Tigers reliever Fred Scherman threw two pitches that barely missed Reggie Jackson, sending him diving out of the way. Both sides knew that Martin was sending a message.

A’s Owner Charlie Finley with his manager Dick Williams in 1972. (photo Ron Riesterer/Oakland Tribune)

Martin sent another in the seventh. After Campaneris already had three hits, stolen two bases, and scored two runs, reliever Lerrin LaGrow threw at Campaneris, hitting him on the ankle. Campaneris staggered for a moment in pain, then turned and glared at LaGrow before flinging his bat toward the mound. The bat helicoptered about five feet off the ground toward LeGrow’s left side. The pitcher was no doubt stunned and took a moment to recover, ducking out of the way just in time to avoid contact. The benches quickly cleared, and though no punches were thrown the event puncuated the high tension of the game.

Everyone knew Martin had ordered it, and intended the ankle injury to put Campaneris out of commission for the rest of the series. Joe Rudi said, “I was in the on-deck circle, and I feel the Detroit pitcher threw at him.…when [Billy] Martin gets his ears pinned down, he’s going to do something about it.” Indeed, Martin led the Tigers rush out of the dugout, and appeared to be the only one enthusiastic about a fight. He went straight for Campaneris, who ran for the A’s dugout. Martin had to be stopped by the umpires. Legendary umpire Nestor Chylak, behind the plate for this game, threw both LaGrow and Campaneris out of the game, but not Martin.

Later Martin feigned innocence and put all the inappropriate behavior on Campaneris. “There’s no place for that kind of gutless stuff in baseball,” he said. “That’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen in all my years of baseball…I would respect him if he went out to throw a punch but what he did was the most gutless [thing] of any man to put on a uniform. It was a disgrace to baseball.” Martin had a lot of nerve condemning Campaneris for unsportsmanlike behavior after all of his violence and abuse over the years! No one played a more gentlemanly game, or had a sweeter disposition, than Bert Campaneris. The A’s as a team were known for their fighting with each other, with Finley, and with others, but Campaneris always seemed a center of calm and reflection in a swirling pool. As Campaneris said, “I didn’t mean to throw the bat, but you get mad in the moment and you don’t think about it. As soon as it happened, I wish it hadn’t happened.”

Bert Campaneris

As the playoff moved to Detroit for game three, MLB leaders considered how to respond to the Martin-Campaneris incident. Over the objections of the A’s, American League President Joe Cronin decided to suspend Campaneris for the rest of the championship series. The league also fined Campaneris $500; the question of whether or not to suspend him for the World Series as well was left to MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. But Cronin also decided to suspend neither Billy Martin, who everyone knew—perhaps with a wink and a nod—had engineered the incident, nor pitcher Lerrin LeGrow. “Nestor Chylak said he didn’t think LeGrow was throwing at Campy,” Cronin said, “so he isn’t being punished.” He added, “Martin didn’t hit anybody because the umpires subdued him quickly and there will be no action against him.” It was an unbelievable turn of events, and the A’s were incensed. The team had lost the services of one of its best players, the fellow who kick started the offense and anchored the defense, and Martin got away with it. Owner Charlie Finley called a 3:00 a.m. press conference in his hotel room on October 10th, which lasted until 4:30, to recall in excruciating detail to the media the meeting with Cronin about Campaneris, and to say that his ankle was too bad to play on and that he was returning to Oakland for treatment.

In this tempest entered Bowie Kuhn, who did the A’s a favor by deciding to impose a seven game suspension on Campaneris for the beginning of the 1973 season rather than the 1972 postseason. Charlie Finley, ever the dramatist, held another press conference to tell the sportswriters how he had saved Campaneris for the World Series. He told how he, along with two of his sons and manager Dick Williams, had gone to Cronin’s hotel room about 10 p.m. to talk him out of a suspension. Bill Libby said that Finley told the story with the cadence of a poem, “as if he were reciting The Raven, full of flourishes and leers.” When Cronin opened the door he was wearing a long white nightgown and a sleeping cap, conjuring an image of a man out of his time and place in the “swinging seventies.” The journalists had as much fun with this image as Finley. “Was he carrying a candle,” one asked. “What color was the nightgown,” asked another as someone yelled, “you can be damn sure it wasn’t Finley green and gold.” Finley laughed, and then launched into a tirade against Cronin, against Martin, and against the Tigers that lasted more than an hour.

As it turned out, Cronin changed his mind and then urged Kuhn to be lenient with Campaneris. He told Kuhn that the player was universally liked, had never been in such a fight before, and deserved to get into the World Series. Kuhn acceded to Cronin’s change of heart by allowing Campaneris to play in the World Series, claiming that he did not want to deprive the A’s fans of their star.

A’s manager Dick Williams recalled that Martin was crazy like a fox in this incident, getting Oakland’s best leadoff man out of the series, firing up his team, and demoralizing the A’s all at the same time. This one incident had turned the advantage to the Tigers. The A’s lost the next two games in the league championship series with scores of 3-0 and 4-3, before taking out the Tigers 2-1 in the final game of the playoff series. All through this tension, Williams said that he slept like a baby, “That is, I woke up every two hours crying.”

Billy Martin, so it seemed, was crazy like a fox but in the end it didn’t work.

Posted in Baseball, Charles O. Finley, Oakland A's | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wednesday’s Book Review: “Junk Science”

Junk ScienceJunk Science: How Politicians, Corporations, and Other Hucksters Betray Us. By Dan Agin. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2006.

I love these type of books because they allow me to feel superior. I and the author, at least in our own minds, have a clear understanding of the realities of the world not present to others less well-read, less-inquisitive, and less-focused on the natural world and humanity’s place in it. Dan Agin, associated with the University of Chicago and an editor for ScienceWeek, pulls no punches in going after people who refute the place of science in modern life. He finds that businesses for their profits, politicians for their next elections, and religious groups for their peculiar beliefs attack scientific findings on a relentless basis. Agin is at his best in going after Christian fundamentalists, but he does not mince words in others areas.

There are seven parts in this book. In them Agin discusses science and dogma, consumerism and science, medical issues and pseudoscience, climate change and environmental science, religion and evolutionary biology, genetics and race, and the failures of all to stem the tide of anti-intellectual claptrap being passed off to people everywhere. He views all of the current controversies as a set of political problems. They have to be solved or humanity is doomed. It’s just a question of when.

He rallies support for the educational system, which he views as the last bastion separating humanity from nonsense. He asks quite pointedly, and not without a lot of alliteration: “Are the schools to be bazaars of babble, where myths and delusions with or without religious vintage are taught to children as ‘science’ alongside real science?” (p. 200) Agin makes the case that everyone is at fault. He singles out for denunciation industry, which he claims has operated repeatedly as if “social responsibility reduces profits” (p. 278). He questions if that is truly the case, but corporations have acted again and again to avoid social responsibility to the detriment of all. Government is just as bad, in Agin’s view, finding “many examples of modern government twisting science in various domains, including nutrition, environmental pollution, medical care, health care, support for antievolutionism, twisting of the facts concerning human cloning, global warming, missile defense, defense against terrorism, and so on” (p. 282).

The religious war against science is especially troubling, and those embracing anti-science perspectives based on their religious conceptions are damaging not only themselves but all others that they are able to foist their ideas upon. “During the past decade in America,” he writes, “we seem to be stepping backward, with some religionists advocating use of the Bible as a science text in public education” (p. 284). Religionists are aided in this effort by politicians who seem incapable of dealing with polarizing positions on science. The media is no help, despite their role as a watchdog. “He asks sadly: “Can we expect these people to be sophisticated enough to protect the public against junk science hawked in the interest of political of social or commercial agendas? (p. 287). Finally, our educators and scientists have failed as well; they have not insisted on an appreciation of science, the scientific method, and the questioning nature of life as fundamental to all Americans.

This is a straightforward reading experience. It should make those questioning scientific results on the basis of their preconceived beliefs uncomfortable. Instead they will probably ignore or denounce it.

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Visualizing Apollo’s Exploration and the Idea of Progress

Buzz Aldrin at the Flag, an iconic image from Apollo 11. This image also circled the globe immediately after its release in July 1969 and has been used for all manner of purposes since that time. The flag in this image proved a powerful trope of American exceptionalism.

For all but a handful of space travelers the voyages of exploration into space were events participated in vicariously by the  billions of humans living on Earth. It has brought a connectedness and reinforced a common set of values among many Americans, no doubt. Most importantly, I would assert, the power of space imagery has served very specific needs for the United States, and it has largely been mobilized to concretize those issues in the period since the last flights.

This imagery fundamentally documented in graphic detail scientific aspects of these missions. Second, these images served the important task of demonstrating quite effectively the vicarious nature the exploration. Third, all of this spaceflight imagery signaled a public message of progress and a prosperous future. At one level they served as harbingers of economic activities that would ultimately exploit the universe as it came under human control.

Finally, and most importantly, all of this imagery served a very specific national sense by highlighting prestige and honor in demonstrating the verisimilitude of the accomplishment. These images bespeak the expansive manner in which the United States took its measure among the nations of the globe. In creating such powerful and unique images, the United States stood to gain in the eyes of the world penultimate stature. Especially in the case of the voyages of Apollo but also in other settings and projects, the imagery offered an archetypal statement of American ingenuity, technological virtuosity, national exceptionalism, and the power of the state to accomplish useful things. It represented one aspect of the manner in which the U.S. stood at the center of a developing global culture with consumerism, capitalism, and other “isms” at its core.

As art historian Laura M. André has suggested in the context of Apollo photography but it may be extended to the full range of spaceflight imagery, “in the midst of the Cold War, NASA and the western mass media took full advantage of these neat, coincidental alignments of ideology and event, naturalizing the first manned lunar orbit as a victory not only for the United States, but also for democracy, Judeo-Christian values, capitalism, and, of course, the patriotic American heroes who made the dangerous journey.” This, of course, came despite its origins as a struggle for world domination between two superpowers. She overstates, but barely so, that the imagery that has become so iconic over time proved “merely ironic by-products of a bellicose endeavor—the Cold War space race.”

“Earthrise,” one of the most powerful and iconic images from the Apollo program, was taken in December 1968 during the Apollo 8 mission. This view of the rising Earth greeted the Apollo 8 astronauts as they came from behind the Moon after the first lunar orbit. Used as a symbol of the planet’s fragility, it juxtaposes the grey, lifeless Moon in the foreground with the blue and white Earth teeming with life hanging in the blackness of space.

In many ways this suggests a dominant narrative of the idea of progress, an amorphous concept but one that is central to American national identity, present throughout the imagery of spaceflight. The imagery supports the assertion of anthropologist Taylor Dark:

The idea of progress has typically advanced three claims: 1. There are no fundamental limits on the human capacity to grow, however growth is defined; 2. Advancements in science and technology foster improvements in the moral and political character of humanity; and, 3. There is an innate directionality in human society, rooted in societal, psychological, or biological mechanisms, that drives civilization toward advancement.

Although progress had been present earlier in the works of space advocates it emerged full blown in the heroic age of spaceflight when enthusiasts believed they were on the verge of a new golden age in which anything could be accomplished. Spaceflight’s transcendental qualities were not lost on those who believed that the human race could eventually attain this end. Movement into space, first with exploring expeditions and later with colonies, offered an opportunity for humanity to move outward and start anew on a pristine planet. Apollo had shown it was possible. It suggested that America had both the capability and the wherewithal to accomplish truly astounding goals. All it needed was the will. As Senator Abraham Ribicoff mused in 1969, “If men can visit the Moon—and now we know they can—then there is no limit to what else we can do. Perhaps that is the real meaning of Apollo 11.”

The essence of progress present in Apollo imagery is unmistakable, along with the dominant narrative of American triumph, exceptionalism, and success so much a part of the interpretation of space exploration in American history. From an advertising perspective, the linkage of individual corporations to this grand endeavor was an easy sell. Is it any wonder that it would be central to positive elements of the American culture in the last half century?

This impressive lunarscape, with an Apollo 17 astronaut and the lunar rover small at the center of the image, suggests the awesomeness of the “Magnificent Desolation” of the Moon.

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