Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


DESCRIBED AS “the story of the greatest adventure awaiting man,” Across the Space Frontier is a wonderful book written by top space scientists in 1952. A good many of their assessments have proved to be spot-on correct. It’s also fascinating to read about things that didn’t come to pass.

Across the Space Frontier, by Joseph Kaplan, Wernher von Braun, Heinz Haber, Willy Ley, Oscar Schachter and Fred L. Whipple, edited by Cornelius Ryan, illustrated by Chesley Bonestell, Fred Freeman and Rolf Klep, Viking Press, 1952. Both and list it.

The book is an expansion of articles originally appearing in Collier’s magazine in 1952. Published from 1888 to 1957 (its name recently resurrected as well), Collier’s was a weekly until late in its life. It specialized in short or serialized fiction—the Fu Manchu series originated there—and in analytical coverage of timely issues.

Dr. Wernher von Braun, left, holds a model of the proposed space station; Collier’s managing editor Gordon Manning has the third stage of the rocket. The rocket is closer to our reality than the space station.

It was the beginning of the Cold War, and the book’s introduction reflects this. It gives “an urgent warning that the United States should immediately embark on a long-range development program to secure for the West ‘space superiority.’ ”

But it was the Soviets who orbited the first satellite, Sputnik 1 in 1957; put the first man-made object on the moon, Luna 2 in 1959; and launched the first man into space, Yuri Gagarin in 1961.

The U.S. wasn’t far behind, with John Glenn’s orbiting in 1962. And by the end of the decade came the first of our Apollo manned missions to the moon.

Though sabers were rattled from time to time, neither superpower chose to exploit space superiority in any military sense. Instead, cooperation has been the norm and is especially so today.

The idea of a three-stage rocket, its first stage retrieved and reused, its third stage flyable on return, is in keeping with reality of the Space Shuttle. However, its aerodyanmic shapes were overemphasized.

A preference was recognized for an easterly launch over water; the first, to benefit from the earth’s rotation; the second, to expedite retrieval of a reusable first stage. Johnson Island in mid-Pacific was proposed as optimal, though our southeast coast was also cited.

The space suit looks quite contemporary. As noted, white is optimal to avoid excessice heating. To ward off the sun’s ultraviolet rays, the visor would not be transparent as illustrated. The handheld minirocket didn’t make the cut.

In retrospect, there was a lot of worry about humans functioning in zero gravity. For instance, it’s calculated that a 12.3-second rotation of the 250-ft.-diameter space station could simulate 1 g on the “bottom” outward floor. By contrast, today’s astronauts seem to function just fine with 0 g.

The space station, with a crew of 50, was envisioned as much larger than anything thus far attempted. Its rotating toroidal configuration gave some artificial gravity on each of its three levels.

There’s good humor here too: Forks and knives still make sense at 0 g; spoons do not. And, in a particularly dated bit of logic, “Even smoking will probably be strictly rationed, partly to save oxygen and partly to avoid overloading the capacity of the air-conditioning unit.”

Noted. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2012

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


This entry was posted on November 22, 2012 by in Sci-Tech and tagged .
%d bloggers like this: