Wednesday’s Book Review: “Flying Man: Hugo Junkers and the Dream of Aviation”


flying-manFlying Man: Hugo Junkers and the Dream of Aviation. By Richard Byers. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2016.

There is no doubt but that Hugo Junkers is a major figure in the history of aviation in the first third of the twentieth century. He pioneered much of the efforts in Germany before World War II in the construction of all-metal, single-wing airplanes. His ideas found expression in the firm he founded, Junkers Flugzeug-und Motorenwerke AG, and he served as a counterbalance to such ideas as those of Count von Zeppelin who advocated light-than-air aviation. The Junkers trimotor passenger and freight airliners helped to advance air transportation with Lufthansa through Europe. Never a Nazi, he was ousted from leadership of his firm by Hitler’s henchmen in 1934 and died the next year.

Notwithstanding his significance, there is not much serious historical work in English concerning Junkers and his company. Accordingly, this new book by Richard Byers is a most welcome corrective to that dearth of knowledge. The author notes that his objective is to advance understanding beyond the specialists of early twentieth century Germany of Jugo Junkers’s life and work. For those of us who specialize in in aerospace history, what we know about Junkers is filtered through a few translated works, basic journalistic accounts of aviation, and nothing that might be characterized as scholarship. Byers has researched deeply in German sources, and presents here a fine analysis that is well-written, easy to comprehend, and sophisticated in analysis.

The author does a good job of placing Junkers in the context of other works in the field—none of them compete with this study—and this is a useful expansion of what was previously known about Hugo Junkers and his aviation company. Byer’s does much to rescue his protagonist from obscurity in the English-speaking world. It does for Junkers what Marc Dierikx did for Antony Fokker in Fokker: A Transatlantic Biography (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997).

This book is a fine addition to historical literature and a welcome study of an important but little-known topic.

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National Geographic “Mars” Series Premiers November 14


National Geographic is premiering a new documentary/action film about humans going to Mars on the evening of  November 14, 2016, 9 pm EST airtime. The information on this series is here. Executive Producer Ron Howard is behind this unique series mixing life action about a proposed 2033 landing on the Red Planet with interviews with many involved in space issues. I am one of the interviewees, but the airtime for Elon Musk, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Robert Zubrin, and John Logsdon is much greater. I hope you will tune in, and let me know what you think about this series and its unique approach.

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Remembering the Gemini Program


A great image of the Gemini spacecraft from the other Gemini closing in during the rendezvous.

A great image of the Gemini spacecraft from the other Gemini closing in during the rendezvous.

Since it is the fiftieth anniversary of the the end of the Gemini program in 1966, with the flight of Gemini XII on November 12-15, I thought it appropriate to reflect on what I refer to as the middle child in the heroic age of space exploration.

Even as the Mercury program was underway in 1961-1963 and work took place developing Apollo hardware, NASA program managers perceived a huge gap in the capability for human spaceflight between that acquired with Mercury and what would be required for a Lunar landing. They closed most of the gap by experimenting and training on the ground, but some issues required experience in space. Three major areas immediately arose where this was the case. The first was the ability in space to locate, maneuver toward, and rendezvous and dock with another spacecraft. The second was closely related, the ability of astronauts to work outside a spacecraft. The third involved the collection of more sophisticated physiological data about the human response to extended spaceflight.

To gain experience in these areas before Apollo could be readied for flight, NASA devised Project Gemini. Hatched in the fall of 1961 by engineers at Robert Gilruth’s Space Task Group in cooperation with McDonnell Aircraft Corp. technicians, builders of the Mercury spacecraft, Gemini started as a larger Mercury Mark II capsule but soon became a totally different proposition. It could accommodate two astronauts for extended flights of more than two weeks.

It pioneered the use of fuel cells instead of batteries to power the ship, and incorporated a series of modifications to hardware. Its designers also toyed with the possibility of using a paraglider being developed at Langley Research Center for “dry” landings instead of a “splashdown” in water and recovery by the Navy. The whole system was to be powered by the newly developed Titan II launch vehicle, another ballistic missile developed for the Air Force. A central reason for this program was to perfect techniques for rendezvous and docking, so NASA appropriated from the military some Agena rocket upper stages and fitted them with docking adapters.

Problems with the Gemini program abounded from the start. The Titan II had longitudinal oscillations, called the “pogo” effect because it resembled the behavior of a human on a pogo stick (then a popular toy). Overcoming this problem required engineering imagination and long hours of overtime to stabilize fuel flow and maintain vehicle control. The fuel cells leaked and had to be redesigned, and the Agena reconfiguration also suffered costly delays.

NASA engineers never did get a paraglider to work properly and eventually dropped it from the program in favor of a parachute system the one used for Mercury. All of these difficulties shot a $350 million program to over $1 billion. The overruns were successfully justified by the space agency, however, as necessities to meet the Apollo landing commitment.

By the end of 1963 most of the difficulties with Gemini had been resolved, albeit at great expense, and the program was ready for flight. Following two unoccupied orbital test flights, the first operational mission took place on 23 March 1965. Mercury astronaut Grissom commanded the mission, with John W. Young, a Naval aviator chosen as an astronaut in 1962, accompanying him.

This Gemini V mission patch draws a direct connection to American westward expansion of the nineteenth century.

This Gemini V mission patch draws a direct connection to American westward expansion of the nineteenth century.

The next mission, flown in June 1965 stayed aloft for four days and astronaut Edward H. White II performed the first extra-vehicular activity (EVA) or spacewalk. Eight more missions followed through November 1966. Despite problems great and small encountered on virtually all of them, the program achieved its goals. Additionally, as a technological learning program Gemini had been a success, with 52 different experiments performed on the ten missions. The bank of data acquired from Gemini helped to bridge the gap between Mercury and what would be required to complete Apollo within the time constraints directed by the president.

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement”


White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement. By Allan J. Lichtman. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2008. 570 pages. ISBN-10: 0871139847. $27.50 Hardcover with dustjacket. References, illustrations, index.

This history of the evangelical Christian movement in the twentieth century is an important contribution to understanding both the recent political arena and the culture wars. It approaches history with a decided present-tense interest in helping to explain current issues.

Author Allan J. Lichtman, professor of history at American University in Washington, D.C., demonstrates how conservative religious traditions coalesced in the first half of the twentieth century around issues of morality and society ranging from marriage patterns to economic priorities.

The author’s assertion that this was born out of the split between the modernists and the traditionalists is not new, but his positioning of the movement in the context of a larger pro-business, mainly Protestant, coalition of interests is path breaking. Moreover, the rise of intellectuals and financiers such as J. Howard Pew, Frank Gannett, the Du Ponts, William F. Buckley, and William Kristol gave power to the movement beyond its insular borders as never before in the last half century.

These various groups and individuals disagreed with each other on many issues but were united in their hatred of the modern welfare state put into place in successive Democratic administrations between the 1930s and the 1960s and built a network of organizations to resist what they considered the evils both of social engineering and federal power. They used oftentimes misplaced fears of immigration, race relations, and sexual politics as triggers to create powerful political organizations.

White Protestant Nation offers a well-reasoned, excellently and entertainingly written history of the rise of conservative political power and its ties to religion.

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A Short History of Air and Space Defense in the Cold War


A B-52 strategic bomber is being aerial refueled a KC-135. This refueling capability gave SAC global reach.

04 A B-52 strategic bomber is being aerial refueled a KC-135. This refueling capability gave SAC global reach. The B-52 became a critical part of the nuclear triad in the 1950s and remains an important bomber to the present.

Following World War II, although some demobilization took place, the Cold War precipitated a continuation of an expansion of military aerospace activities and fostered the search for a truly effective air and space defense for the United States. In the process the air arm became an independent service, the United States Air Force, through the National Security Act of 1947 and the creation of the Department of Defense (DOD).

The military air and space component in the Cold War has involved a broad range of activities. The development, training, equipping, and employment of aerospace military power extended from aircraft to missiles to satellites to other systems of both a passive and active nature. Much of this has been carried out in a highly classified environment, such as satellite reconnaissance, with neither details nor records of government available for ready inspection. All have been justified as a means of maintaining the integrity of the nation against an aggressive threat from the Soviet Union and other global rivals.

In this context national air and space defense evolved along a two pronged but complimentary path, and it became all the more serious in 1949 when Soviet Union tested its first nuclear weapon. The first of these, and the more public of the two, involved the development of a strong capability to strike any potential enemy either before that enemy had a chance to inflict significant damage on the United States through its own attack or in retaliation for a nuclear attack. Although American leaders always denied the possibility of making a first strike against a foreign nation with nuclear weapons, war plans were always maintained and updated that offered a first strike scenario and on at least one occasion during the Kennedy administration of the early 1960s the National Security Council considered seriously the option of launching a nuclear attack against the Soviet Union before it had the ballistic missile capability to respond effectively.

Artist's concept of an Ohio-class SSGN launching Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles.

Artist’s concept of an Ohio-class SSGN launching Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles.

Nonetheless, the very public idea of massive retaliation for any attack on the United States was an important part of the overall air and space defense strategy of the United States. The intent was to develop and maintain the capability, regardless what might have been inflicted on the United States in a nuclear attack, to strike against an enemy and to ensure its destruction as well. This doctrine of deterrence guided significant expenditures for weapons systems within the DOD from the 1940s to the late 1980s.

It ensured the development of what was known as the nuclear triad: U.S. continental-based, long-range strategic bombers; U.S. continental-based, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM); and sea-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles (SLBM) carried on submarines and therefore mobile. All of these could strike the Soviet Union–or anywhere else on the globe–with nuclear weapons and therefore ensure an enemy’s destruction despite a United States in ruins. Sometimes referred to as mutual assured destruction, this doctrine was known by the most appropriate acronym ever coined by the military—MAD.

It led to the development of an exceptionally capable strike force. The first truly capable intercontinental bomber, the B-36, came into the Air Force inventory in the latter 1940s, and the most famous and extraordinary strategic bomber ever was the B-52 “Superfortress” which became operational in the mid-1950s and served through much of the 1980s. Additionally, the B-1 was developed in the 1970s and the B-2 stealth bomber in the 1980s. Land-based ICBMs were developed in the 1950s and first became operational in the first part of the 1960s, particularly the Atlas, Titan, and Minuteman. The most recent ICBM to be developed was the M-X Peacekeeper in the later 1970s and early 1980s. The SLBM efforts involved development of the Polaris in the 1950s and the Trident in the 1960s and the nuclear submarines that carried them on their deadly mission.

The Convair B-36 "Peacemaker" was a strategic bomber built by Convair and operated solely by the United States Air Force from 1949 to 1959.

The Convair B-36 “Peacemaker” was a strategic bomber built by Convair and operated solely by the United States Air Force from 1949 to 1959.

To execute this deterrent mission, the DOD created such organizations as the Strategic Air Command (SAC) in the latter 1940s, and places in command General Curtis E. LeMay, as coarse and irascible officer as the Air Force had, but he got results. LeMay fully understood that the nation’s first line of defense—indeed in many respects it was the only line of defense—was the nuclear deterrent that SAC was charged with maintaining. The command, he knew, had to be prepared to carry out effectively its nuclear mission at any time for the deterrent to have any viability.

“A” Section at SF-88L, circa 1959. The four Nike Hercules missiles are arrayed for the photographer’s benefit, in a non-launching configuration. The cantonment of Fort Cronkhite is visible across the lagoon. This famous view of SF-88L was used time and time again to illustrate the Nike missile defenses of the Bay Area. U.S. Army photograph. (Golden Gate National Recreation Area, TASC Collection)

Four Nike Hercules missiles arrayed in San Francisco Bay area in 1959.  The cantonment of Fort Cronkhite is visible across the lagoon.  (U.S. Army)

LeMay, therefore, refined the procedures for strategic bombardment, both with ICBMs and strategic bombers, and made them increasingly more effective. The preparedness of SAC to execute its mission became legendary and set standards of excellence still idealized within the Air Force, as it maintained a state of extreme readiness from the late 1940s through the early 1980s.

Less public, but perhaps more critical to air and space defense, was the development of early warning and interception systems by the United States. The first successful one was the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line created beginning in 1954 across the most northerly practicable part of North America. Its purpose was to provide radar and other electronic surveillance of the Soviet Union to monitor technological progress and, more important, any possible hostile actions against the United States and its allies.

The capability of this string of listening posts across the Arctic was to be 100 percent detection for all weapons up to 100,000 feet in altitude, which would therefore handle ballistic missiles and bombers. A joint project, the United States provided the funding and supervision of the construction. The Canadians, with a similar system already in place in certain parts of its nation, would link with the DEW Line for an unbroken surveillance sequence in the Arctic. This system was constructed quickly in the next two years, coming on line in 1957, and served its purpose throughout the Cold War. It was still operational, although its capabilities had been upgraded, as late as 1993.

To manage the DEW Line, and to respond to any threat detected, the United States and Canada created the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) in 1957, with Aerospace being substituted for Air in the name in 1981. Based at Cheyenne Mountain, a few miles outside Colorado Springs, Colorado, for more than three decades NORAD provided integrated command of air and space defense forces of the two nations. It directed dedicated interceptors, other fighters, surface-to-air missiles (SAM), air and space detection and control centers, and other facilities to defend the continent against attack.

A rough map of the three warning lines. From north to south: the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line, Mid-Canada Line, and Pinetree Line.

A rough map of the three warning lines. From north to south: the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line, Mid-Canada Line, and Pinetree Line.

Another major component in the air and space defense system of the United States was the strategic reconnaissance efforts of specialized aircraft and space satellites. Both the U-2 and the SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft served effectively as high-altitude, high-speed assets that could overfly the Soviet Union or other nations and return imagery to U.S. military analysts.

Under development in the latter 1950s, Project CORONA was the first successful reconnaissance satellite program of the nation. Essentially, the objective of this effort was to obtain high quality satellite photographs of the Soviet Union and thereby ensure that the United States would never suffer another Pearl Harbor. As part of this effort, the first satellite, launched 18 August 1960, reached orbit and then correctly returned its reentry vehicle containing photographs of the ICBM base at Plesetsk and the bomber base at Mys Schmitda in the Soviet Union where it was plucked from the Pacific Ocean by Navy frogmen. After this flight, CORONA became an operational mission and functioned through 1973 when it was succeeded by later generation reconnaissance satellite projects.

But strategic deterrence, air and space reconnaissance, and NORAD’s warning and response capability seemed insufficient to guarantee the safety of the United States against a determined enemy and this prompted national security official of the Reagan administration in the 1980s to seek an ultimate shield against attack. The result was the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), unveiled by President Ronald Reagan in March 1983. An expansive, technologically sophisticated, and exceptionally expensive research and development (R&D) program, SDI’s aim was to create an array of space-based technologies that could track and destroy incoming missiles.

An artist's concept of a ground / space-based hybrid laser weapon, 1984

An artist’s concept of a ground / space-based hybrid laser weapon, 1984

SDI immediately became controversial, mostly because of its technical complexity and its high price tag. Advocates of the MAD strategic deterrence policy also opposed the effort because it would upset the balance of power between the U.S. and the USSR that had succeeded in avoiding superpower war by holding populations hostage to nuclear forces. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the end of the Cold War, SDI declined in importance and survived only as a modest R&D effort within the DOD in the mid-1990s.

Indeed, with the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s the air and space defense system of the United States underwent substantial changes. NORAD continued to exist for a time but its mandate was narrowed with the realization that there is no major strategic threat, and its response component has been transferred from the active military force to the Air National Guard. The nuclear forces of the DOD have been taken off alert, some of the nuclear weapons destroyed, and the Strategic Air Command inactivated. The DOD component managing SDI has been reduced in size and funding and renamed the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. Finally, public conceptions of air and space defense, such as civil defense in its various capacities, have been minimized.

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Game Seven Excitement, 1985 Style


Cenebrating a championship.

Celebrating a championship.

The seventh game of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians was stupendous. Indeed, the whole series was great. Too bad someone had to lose But this is not the first time there was great drama with the championship riding on the lone.

Let me tell you about one of the weirdest of all time. In 1985 the St. Louis Cardinals played the Kansas City Royals in the I-70 series. It was a titanic struggle with both teams well matched and the Royals seemingly on a mission—just like the Cubs—winning games five and six to set up a dramatic seventh World Series game. This time, however, it was not a heart-throbbing cliffhanger like in 2016. In fact, it was an embarrassment as the Royals shut out the Cards 11-0.

Ace Cardinals pitcher John Tudor started the big game, and the Cards had no better person to go with. He had already won two games in this Series, and it conjured up images of Bob Gibson winning three games in both the 1964 and 1967 Series. But Tudor fell behind early as Bret Saberhagen sailed through the first few innings. The Cards did not even hit it out of the infield. When Tudor gave up five runs, Herzog pulled him and although generally a genial person he was angry, mostly with himself, and proceeded to injure his hand by bashing a locker after leaving the game.

After going through two other pitchers, neither of whom could stop the Royals, and trailing 9-0 in the fifth Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog inserted into the game his other pitching ace, Joaquin Andujar. The Royals then continued their tear, and Andujar responded by putting on one of the most ugly displays ever witnessed in baseball. After home plate umpire Don Denkinger called an obvious ball on Jim Sundberg, Andujar flipped out. He stomped around the mound in what could only be called a temper tantrum and then charged toward Denkinger at the plate. Herzog rushed out to restrain Andujar and ended up arguing with Denkinger. In the end the umpire ejected Herzog from the game.

This made Herzog the first manager, since bad boy Billy Martin managing the Yankees in 1976, to get himself tossed out of a World Series game. Afterward, Herzog philosophized about this turn of events. “I’d seen enough,” he said. “That wasn’t a ball game. Like Casey says, ‘Ain’t no sense livin’ in misery’.” He took the ejection as a reprieve from torture.

After Herzog left the field, Andujar returned to the mound and on the very next pitch, called a ball by Denkinger, he flipped out again. He screamed and jumped up and down on the mound before running in to take a swing at Denkinger. By the time order had been restored, Andujar was also tossed out of the game. It was all over; the Royals added a couple of additional runs but whatever hope the Cardinals might have had for the seventh game, they were destroyed in the fifth inning after Andujar’s antics. One wit dubbed the Cardinals the “Nuthouse Gang” because of their coming apart in game seven. Sports Illustrated writer Ron Fimrite concluded, “The Cardinals were truly a sorry sight this night. Only a few days earlier they had seemed certain Series champions. Now they were exiting as buffoons.”

Joaquin Adujar argues with plate umpire Don Deckinger during his meltdown over a call. After being ejected from Game 7 of the 1985 World Series, Andujar trashed a clubhouse toilet. Ronald C. Modra/Getty Images

Joaquin Andujar argues with plate umpire Don Deckinger during his meltdown over a call. After being ejected from Game 7 of the 1985 World Series, Andujar trashed a clubhouse toilet. Ronald C. Modra/Getty Images

In contrast, that first World Series victory by the Royals proved exceedingly sweet after so many years of near misses. George Brett, who had led the Royals attack with a .370 series average—just three percentage points ahead of teammate Willie Wilson—summed up everything about the victory with an insightful comment. As the bubbly flowed in the victory party following game seven Brett came aside to describe what it meant to him to win this World Series. He shouted above the celebratory clamor taking place behind him, “I know, I know, people were saying, ‘God, we’ve got this damn all-Missouri World Series. Who cares?’ Well, do you think I wanted to be drafted by Kansas City, this little town in Missouri? I’m from L.A. and I wanted to play for the Dodgers. But I’ll tell you something: I’m proud, very proud, to be a Kansas City Royal.” Brett then laughed a big belly laugh and added, “And you know what it is we did, don’t you? We showed’em.”

Never had Missouri enjoyed such fun! Never had its two greatest cities been so proud. Win or lose, both St. Louis and Kansas City had a wonderful time. And George Brett had been right after an ugly game seven, Missouri “showed’em.”

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “The Road to Madness: How the 1973-1974 Season Transformed College Basketball”


the-road-to-madnessThe Road to Madness: How the 1973-1974 Season Transformed College Basketball. By J. Samuel Walker and Randy Roberts. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016.

If you are even a moderate college basketball fan you cannot go wrong by reading this book. It is a well-researched and well-written history of the 1973-1974 NCAA basketball season and the beginnings of the expansion of the NCAA tournament and its transition into full-blown “March Madness.” It tells the story of legendary coaches and teams, including one in his twilight, John Wooden and his UCLA team that had won ten NCAA national championships in a 12-year period (including seven in a row). It discusses the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), which had several great teams—UNC, NC State, Duke, Maryland, and Virginia—but only one of which could participate in the limited NCAA tournament as conference champion.

This was the last year in which that would be the case, and the expansion of the NCAA tournament the next year began the process whereby rivalries and even grudges became common themes of March Madness, as the “Final Four” showdown developed. This is a narrative history, and a very fine one, but also one which asks a significant question, how does a cultural touchstone—in this case the NCAA basketball tournament—emerge from what went before. It pursues the answer with verve and style.

The scholarship is excellent; I especially appreciated the insights offered by the authors’ efforts to blend oral history with scholarly reflection. This is not surprising coming from two very fine historians with a wealth of experience in crafting fine historical narratives. Enjoy.

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The Total Coolness of the Stardust Sample Return Mission


Artist's concept of Stardust nearing Earth.

Artist’s concept of Stardust nearing Earth.

Stardust was the first U.S. space mission dedicated solely to returning extraterrestrial material from beyond the Moon. It was launched on February 7, 1999, on a 3 billion-mile roundtrip it rendezvoused with Comet Wild 2, captured comet and interstellar dust in a unique return capsule, and returned that capsule with cometary samples for analysis by Earth-based scientists. It was the fourth NASA Discovery mission, a series of low-cost missions, following Mars Pathfinder, Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR), and Lunar Prospector. Seven years later, the journey ended with the capsule streaking across the sky and parachuting to a landing on U.S. soil at the Utah Test and Training Range on January 15, 2006.

The Stardust mission originated in response to NASA’s 1994 Discovery Announcement of Opportunity (AO) which invited mission proposals that could be developed under a budget of less than $150 million. While it did not win funding in 1994, Stardust was approved by NASA the next year. While missions with objectives of returning cometary samples had been proposed earlier, it was not until the discovery of extrasolar planets and the existence of thousands—perhaps millions—of small icy bodies in the solar system that the NASA science leadership accepted the necessity of such a comet rendezvous mission.

Stardust as a concept emerged when Dr. Peter Tsou, a scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), operated for NASA by the California Institute of Technology, proposed a cometary sample return using an “Aerogel” substance to capture particles of a comet’s tail. The Aerogel used on Stardust was first discovered in 1931 by Steven S. Kistler of the College of the Pacific in Stockton, California. A silica substance of great resilience, Aerogel had small commercial uses and was only available in small quantities before Stardust. Tsou refined and manufactured the Aerogel used on Stardust at JPL, making it more rugged that what was already available for use in the mission. The success of Aerogel on Stardust prompted its transfer for commercial uses in a host of other settings. Especially, it found use as insulation for buildings and other types of structures.

To accomplish Stardust Tsou brought aboard Dr. Donald Brownlee of the University of Washington, who served as the Principal Investigator for the science mission. The two had collaborated for more than twenty years in the study of cosmic dust and comets and this project offered the opportunity for the first time to recover particles from these icy bodies. They persuaded Dr. Benton Clark of Lockheed Martin to join the team as the chief designer of the spacecraft and a sample return capsule needed to accomplish the mission.

The landing of the Stardust return capsule in the Utah desert in 2006.

The landing of the Stardust return capsule in the Utah desert in 2006.

The Stardust team proposed an elegant, simple, and successful project that involved the launch of a spacecraft to encounter a comet in the outer Solar System so that it flew a return trajectory, a return capsule that could deliver cometary particles to Earth, and an analysis that would answer core questions about the nature of the small bodies in the outer solar system, the origins of the solar system, and perhaps point directions for future research on the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud. They proposed launching on a trajectory for Stardust to encounter Comet P/Wild 2. Using a “tennis racket” arm containing Aerogel that would be exposed to the comet’s tail they could capture tiny particles for later analysis.

Launched on February 7, 1999, the Stardust spacecraft flew on a Delta 2 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Station, Florida. The main spacecraft contained guidance, electrical, propulsion, communication, an array of scientific experiments, and other major systems. Its return capsule consisted of six major components: a heat shield, back shell, sample canister, sample collector grids, parachute system, and avionics.

Stardust used its extraordinary silicon-based solid Aerogel, a spongelike structure that is 99 percent empty space and only slightly denser than air, to capture the cometary particles. It was deployed in a grid system at the end of the spacecraft’s arm; the cometary particle grid held 32 Aerogel tiles. The canister containing the samples was sealed in an exterior shell that protected them from the heat of reentry. For the next seven years it proceeded as intended, capturing cometary material and returning to Earth where its return capsule safely landed by parachute on January 15, 2006.

The Stardust sample return mission turned out well. The material Stardust returned include interstellar dust that is believed to consist of ancient pre-solar material that includes remnants from the formation of the Solar System. Analysis of that material has already yielded insight into the evolution of the planets and the origins of the Solar System. Since 2006 the dust samples have gone to laboratories around the world for scientists to study the chemical composition of the comet and its signature of the early Solar System. The results of these investigations have been significant if not revolutionary.

Scientists found a new type of organic material in the comet dust, material that was volatile in comparison to what we know of these materials on Earth. These appear to be more “primitive” than those found in meteorites reaching this planet. Many scientists believe these samples contain pre-Solar System interstellar materials. They were also surprised to find that Wild 2 contained a diverse array of chemical compositions, suggesting that there had been considerable mixing of solar nebula. What this means, scientists suggest, is that these cometary particles offer a peak into the origins of the Solar System and perhaps the origins of life.

Scientists example the cometary particles returned from space.

Scientists examine cometary particles returned from space.

After the return of the sample from Comet Wild 2 in 2006, the main spacecraft took on another assignment, New Exploration of Tempel 1 (NExT), which led to a rendezvous with comet Tempel 1 in 2011. This allowed scientists to study changes in the comet between the time that the Deep Impact mission encountered Tempel 1 comet on July 4, 2005, and the 2011 encounter. Reaching Tempel 1 on February 14, 2011, the Stardust-NExT mission sent back imagery and data on the comet. With fuel depleted on March 24, 2011, the Stardust spacecraft ceased operations after twelve years of operations. At that time, the spacecraft was approximately 194 million miles from Earth.

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A Breathless Survey of Strategic Air Command (SAC) History


sac_patchDuring the latter 1940s, although some demobilization took place after World War II, the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union precipitated the creation of a strategic force that could strike an enemy with nuclear weapons anywhere in the world. The U.S. Army Air Forces established the Strategic Air Command (SAC) on March 21, 1946, for the specific purpose of executing “long-range offensive operations in any part of the world, either independently or in co-operation with land and naval forces.”

Under its first commander, Gen. George C. Kenney, SAC began the effort of creating a strategic strike force. But armed mostly with B-29s, the nuclear delivery variant—the B-50, any capability to strike an enemy worldwide proved at best a hollow threat. It would take many years to develop the global reach necessary to accomplish SAC’s mission of attacking any potential enemy either before that enemy had a chance to inflict significant damage on the United States through its own attack or in retaliation for a nuclear attack. Not until the mid-1950s did SAC truly possess such a capability.

Although American leaders always denied the possibility of making a first strike against a foreign nation with nuclear weapons, SAC’s war plans always offered that scenario. And on more than one occasion Air Force leaders advocated using it. For example, Gen. Nathan Twining advocated deploying SAC to use nuclear weapons to relieve the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 before the French withdrew from Indochina. He argued that three tactical nuclear bombs would have allowed the French to win the battle and thereby remain in control in Southeast Asia. The use of nuclear weapons in Indochina, Twining also suggested, would have done more than just allow the French to hang on. It would have demonstrated the resolve of the United States to employ these weapons in virtually any combat scenario. Such a demonstration, he believed, would ensure that the Soviet Union would treat the possibility of U.S. interventions in other theaters more seriously.

In the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, Gen. Curtis E. LeMay advocated air strikes against the Soviet missiles in Cuba, but President John F. Kennedy refrained believing that such an action would result in a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. LeMay believed that would have been better than the alternative, which he told the president was “the greatest defeat in our history” as he pounded the table where they met. Political leaders, fortunately, did not accept these arguments. SAC’s ability to decimate the world remained a potent fear in the public consciousness; perhaps most famously stated when film director Stanley Kubrick satirized its first strike mentality in Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, released in 1964.

SAC Command Center

SAC Command Center

Even so, the very public idea of massive retaliation for any attack on the United States carried out by SAC was an important part of the nation’s overall cold war strategy. This doctrine of deterrence guided significant expenditures for weapons systems within the Department of Defense (DoD), with SAC always at the head of the line for new aircraft, missiles, and support elements. Ensuring the health of the so-called nuclear triad of U.S. continental-based long-range strategic bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) operated by SAC, as well as the Navy’s sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) carried on submarines, dominated thinking about cold war nuclear strategy. All of these could strike the Soviet Union—or anywhere else on the globe—and therefore ensure an enemy’s nuclear annihilation. Sometimes referred to as mutual assured destruction, this doctrine was known by the most appropriate acronym ever used by the military—MAD.

Ensuring SAC’s global strike capability received a boost with the Eisenhower administration’s “New Look” at national defense. As a means of reducing the cost of the military, Eisenhower chose to rely less on traditional combat arms and to invest in air power, especially SAC, and to rely more on the nation’s nuclear arsenal with the threat of “massive retaliation” should anyone attack the United States or its allies. This led to the development of an exceptionally capable strike force.

A B-52 strategic bomber is being aerial refueled a KC-135. This refueling capability gave SAC global reach.

A B-52 strategic bomber is being aerial refueled a KC-135. This refueling capability gave SAC global reach.

The first truly capable intercontinental bomber, the B-36, came into SAC inventory in the latter 1940s, but it was the most famous and exceptional strategic bomber ever, the B-52 “Superfortress,” that made SAC such a powerful force. In all, 744 B-52s of seven different models have served with SAC over the years, with the last model, the B-52H, being delivered between May 1961 and October 1962. Some of the B-52Hs remain in the Air Force inventory to the present. Based in northern tier bases in the United States, the crews for these bombers stood continuous alert from the point they became operational in 1954 and served through the 1980s. These alerts required precise requirements for ever-faster takeoffs dependent on the type of scenario, and by 1961 they could launch within 15-minutes of receiving an order.  To keep the B-52s airborne for long periods, refueling aircraft performed perfected the art of aerial refueling. Later, SAC received the B-1B bomber in the 1980s and the B-2 stealth bomber first flew in the latter 1980s.

Land-based ICBMs also entered operational service with SAC beginning the 1960s, particularly the Atlas, Titan, and Minuteman. Hardened missile launch sites, eventually placed underground throughout the central and northern U.S., provided launch capability within minutes of receiving an attack order. The Atlas ICBM, first test fired on June 11, 1955, entered service in 1959 and served on alert until 1964. The Titan entered operational use in 1963 and enjoyed a long service life until finally retired by SAC in 1986. The Minuteman, however, enjoyed the most extended use. As a solid-fuel rocket it proved much easier to maintain over long periods, entering service in 1962 in small numbers but 500 of a more recent variant are projected to remain operational through 2012. The most recent ICBM to be developed, the solid-fuel Peacekeeper, entered service 1986 and 50 remained in use until September 19, 2005. In the middle of the cold war during the latter 1960s and 1970s, SAC had 1,054 ICBMs in its operational inventory with more than 2,000 nuclear warheads.

The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, South Dakota.

The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, South Dakota.

More than any other individual, Gen. Curtis E. LeMay is identified with transforming SAC into an effective nuclear strike force. Commanding SAC between 1948 and 1957, LeMay may well have been as coarse and irascible an officer as the Air Force possessed. He argued that the nation’s first line of defense—perhaps its only line of defense—was the nuclear deterrent that SAC provided. SAC’s bombers, and later its missile forces, had to be prepared to carry out effectively the nuclear strike mission at any time for the deterrent to have any viability. With a broad mandate to resolve SAC inadequacies in the latter 1940s, LeMay embarked on an aggressive program of intense training, alerts, and realistic exercises.

Headquartered at Offutt Air Force Base, near Omaha, Nebraska, LeMay’s SAC also refined the procedures for strategic bombardment, both with ICBMs and strategic bombers, and made them increasingly effective. The preparedness of SAC to execute its mission was legendary and he set standards of excellence still idealized within the Air Force, as it maintained a state of extreme readiness throughout the cold war era between the 1940s and the 1980s. To extend SAC’s global reach, LeMay secured the first jet bombers and tankers for aerial refueling, at the same time increasing the SAC infrastructure to support the impressive strategic bombardment capability he built.

Possession of a strong nuclear deterrent certainly served the purpose with the Soviet Union for which it had been created. Fortunately, nuclear war never did take place. In an effort to create a more “flexible response” during the 1960s SAC accepted a reemphasis of more conventional warfare. Its B-52 force served in Southeast Asia and engaged in such bombing missions as Operation Rolling Thunder conducted against targets in North Vietnam in 1965 and the Linebacker 1 and 2 aerial interdiction campaigns executed against North Vietnam in 1972. In the early 1980s 98 SAC B-52s received modifications to carry air launched cruise missiles (AGM-86), enhancing their flexibility in conducting a range of strategic bombardment operations, both nuclear and conventional.

A U.S. Air Force LGM-25C Titan II ICBM undergoes a test launch from an underground silo. Unlike Titan I missiles, which had to be raised to the surface before launch, the Titan II’s liquid rocket engines were ignited while it was still in the silo. Therefore the silo had to be constructed with flame and exhaust ducts as shown in this photograph.

A U.S. Air Force LGM-25C Titan II ICBM undergoes a test launch from an underground silo. Unlike Titan I missiles, which had to be raised to the surface before launch, the Titan II’s liquid rocket engines were ignited while it was still in the silo. Therefore the silo had to be constructed with flame and exhaust ducts as shown in this photograph.

With the end of the cold war on December 25, 1991—when the Hammer and Sickle Flag of the Soviet Union was lowered for the last time above the Kremlin and replaced with flag of the Russian Federation—SAC’s traditional role in the national military establishment ended. Accordingly, on June 1, 1992, the Air Force inactivated the Strategic Air Command, assigning its aircraft to the Air Combat Command, and a year later it assigned the ICBM force to Air Force Space Command. Also on June 1, 1992, the Department of Defense activated the United States Strategic Command, containing vestiges of the old SAC, under the Joint Chiefs of Staff rather than the Air Force to coordinate planning and targeting of strategic forces.

 

 

 

 

 

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Wednesday’s Book Review: “Eighteenth-Century Europe: Tradition and Progress, 1715-1789”


18th-c-europeEighteenth-Century Europe: Tradition and Progress, 1715-1789. By Isser Woloch. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1982.

When I was in graduate school in the 1980s we devoured such books as this, a part of the “Norton History of Modern Europe.” Isser Woloch’s “Eighteenth-Century Europe: Tradition and Progress, 1715-1789” is a fine overview of nearly a century of history in Europe between the end of most of the religious wars of the Reformation and counter-Reformation and the age of revolution that began with the French Revolution in 1789. Fundamentally, this is a story of Enlightenment ideas, reform based on those ideas, and the setting for greater changes to come in the nineteenth century. Chapters on monarchy, absolutism, and rising republicanism; international relations and great power rivalries; the social order and economics and the state; authority versus democracy; religion and spirituality; poverty, culture, and ideas; and related major themes dominate the narrative.

In this volume some of the key themes that had vexed European life for centuries came to the fore. The most pressing was the nature of poverty, class, and reform. In Eastern Europe the Medieval feudal system still existed, but it was weakening and Serfs soon gained their freedom in Russia, Poland, and other states. In the West this concept had already withered, only to be replaced with other equally difficult problems of class and poverty. Some of those problems would be resolved violently via revolution. Others; well not so much.

Some of the aristocracy recognized that reforms were necessary and undertook them. Joseph II of the Austro-Hungarian Empire spent a decade pursuing Enlightenment ideas in the rule of this state before his death, and he may have forestalled some of the dryrot present in the empire for a century. Frederick the Great did the same in Prussia, where he worked tirelessly to organize German might not just from a military standpoint but also through administrative and especially philosophical and cultural reforms.

The result is a breathless survey of Europe in the eighteenth century. It is a very good book, and although it is now more than a generation old, having been published originally in 1982, it remains a very useful study. It is something of an Annales school study focused more on social and cultural aspects of the story than on geopolitics, battles, and leaders. For a specialist it may seem a bit elementary, but as a general introduction it is excellent.

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