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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2012