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December 2, 2011 8:32 AM   Subscribe

"They may well do it." [The Guardian] Sir Arthur C Clarke predicted in a lost BBC interview that the Russians would win the space race by landing the first man on the moon in 1968, probably on the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution. Arthur C Clarke on The Sky at Night – video.
posted by Fizz (38 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yeah well I predicted it in a still lost BBC interview in 1965. I wasn't born yet but I did it anyway.
posted by spicynuts at 8:34 AM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is why people should not listen to journalists and fiction authors regarding predictions of current events.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:42 AM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


You know, if Sergei Korolev hadn't died in 1966, the Soviets may well have done it. His 50-year-old Semyorka design is still one of the mainstays of the space industry.

A Soviet "win" in the race to the Moon would also have kept the space race very much alive, with the likely result of Clarke's other predictions (Moon station, man in Mars) coming true...
posted by Skeptic at 8:42 AM on December 2, 2011 [6 favorites]


Look, the man pretty much accurately predicted/invented geostationary communications satellites. Give him a break.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:44 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


A Soviet "win" in the race to the Moon would also have kept the space race very much alive, with the likely result of Clarke's other predictions (Moon station, man in Mars) coming true...

What if the Soviet Union had beaten the US to the moon? [BBC.CO.UK]
posted by Fizz at 8:45 AM on December 2, 2011


Umm, the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution was in 1967, not 1968...
posted by daniel_charms at 8:47 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


So he got that one completely wrong, is what I'm saying.
posted by daniel_charms at 8:48 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


What if the Soviet Union had beaten the US to the moon?

In that Watchmen-like alternate universe, the heroic Ivan Drago overcomes all obstacles to defeat the swaggering capitalist symbol Rocky Balboa in the boxing ring - thereby winning the Cold War.
posted by Trurl at 9:01 AM on December 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


Perhaps they did, and the rock spiders just ate them.
posted by Iosephus at 9:15 AM on December 2, 2011


You know, if Sergei Korolev hadn't died in 1966, the Soviets may well have done it. His 50-year-old Semyorka design is still one of the mainstays of the space industry.

According to Alexi Leonov's autobiography, the Russians definitely could have been the first around the moon, but landing first was still iffy. Either way, he would have probably been the commander.

It took considerable political will, power and intelligence to send men to the moon. The US had three men who really spearheaded and managed the effort. James Web, who was NASA administrator and ran the political game in Washington, George E. Mueller, deputy administrator who did day to day operations of NASA and Bob Gilruth who ran the Manned Spacecraft Center (now known as Johnson Center).

Sergei Korolev was all three of them combined into one. He was a helluva engineer and politician and pretty much the driving force and intelligence of the Soviet Union's efforts to go the moon. When he died, (as a result of harsh labor camps in the USSR).

Yes, the winner of the Space Race was unknowingly decided back in WWII, based on how each country treated some of their respective geniuses. Had Korolev not been imprisoned and tortured, he would have probably lived much longer and given the US a run for its money in space, which was a passion of his.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:33 AM on December 2, 2011 [8 favorites]


Looking at Soviet space exploration, it was apparent they earnestly gave it a good go but just couldn't get it together. Their struggle with Phobos-Grunt comes at the tail of an extended line of bad luck getting things to Mars. One of their few successes, one that, as far as I'm aware, hasn't been repeated, was the first lunar orbit of mealworms and turtles.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:43 AM on December 2, 2011


Had Korolev not been imprisoned and tortured, he would have probably lived much longer and given the US a run for its money in space, which was a passion of his.

The contrast between Korolev and von Braun during WWII couldn't be harsher. Korolev was in a slave labour camp, whereas von Braun ran one.
posted by Skeptic at 10:24 AM on December 2, 2011


(Still, the fact that Soyuz rockets are now lifting US astronauts to the ISS after retirement of the Space Shuttle is Korolev's posthumous victory against von Braun).
posted by Skeptic at 10:27 AM on December 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


Looking at Soviet space exploration, it was apparent they earnestly gave it a good go but just couldn't get it together. Their struggle with Phobos-Grunt comes at the tail of an extended line of bad luck getting things to Mars. One of their few successes, one that, as far as I'm aware, hasn't been repeated, was the first lunar orbit of mealworms and turtles.

First satellite, first space station (out of ten, to NASA's one), first extraterrestrial rover, most of the probes that went to Venus... your assessment seems a bit uncharitable.
posted by XMLicious at 10:29 AM on December 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


(Oh, not to mention, first manned spaceflight.)
posted by XMLicious at 10:31 AM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Still, the fact that Soyuz rockets are now lifting US astronauts to the ISS after retirement of the Space Shuttle is Korolev's posthumous victory against von Braun

Meh, it's a moment in time, the Soyuz could not have built the ISS. Thinking of the space race as still being defined by the old standard strikes me as dated.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:31 AM on December 2, 2011


I find it incredibly disappointing that we (we humanity) have made exploration a football. Think of the achievements capable with present technology, if ....
posted by Mblue at 10:49 AM on December 2, 2011


After the wildly impressive geostationary satellite prediction I can let this one pass.

Clarke was a smart guy.
posted by Decani at 10:54 AM on December 2, 2011


...Korolev's posthumous victory against von Braun.

True, but perhaps not even needed. Von Braun thought that Soviet success must have come from a captured German engineer, but could not for the life of him figure out whom it must have been, since he took all the good ones with him. Korolev knew much about his competitor, however, through ordinary American press pieces.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:05 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hahaha.

Von Braun: How are those bastards succeeding?! I KNOW I cherry picked all the smart ones, wtf? Lemmee check the roll call again...
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:08 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


To be fair to Clarke, he didn't have good information on the true state of the Soviet space program of the time. NOBODY did. Even in 1968 the CIA had it wrong. In truth they were never close to reaching the moon: they had no suitable launch system to send up enough mass, and they were far behind on the ability to do docking and orbital maneuvers that were critical to the success of Apollo. This book by James Oberg is a great retrospective on the things that actually happened that we were not aware of at the time.
posted by zomg at 12:06 PM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Looking at Soviet space exploration, it was apparent they earnestly gave it a good go but just couldn't get it together.

The Soviets picked off every "first" in the space race except the manned Moon trips. They launched the first satellite, the first human in space, first human to orbit Earth, first spacewalk, first orbital rendezvous, first space station, first spacecraft to escape Earth's gravity well, first probe to orbit the Moon, first probe to take pictures of the moon's far side, first probe to land on the Moon, first robotic rover, first probes to Venus, Mercury, Mars... the list is so long it gets boring. NASA may have taken the big prize of the space race, but in the big picture the Soviets completely spanked their collective ass.
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:01 PM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Soviets picked off every "first" in the space race except the manned Moon trips.

Eh, either country could have done it first, it boiled down to political will, chance and who wanted to take the foolish risks first.

Von Braun was trying to launch the first satellite in space (He was working with the Army at the time) but was held back by Eisenhower, who chose a Naval program. Something about having a former Nazi scientist launch our rockets and he didn't want the US to be the first to deal with the question of an orbiting satellite defying the airspace of a country. The Navy program failed and Von Braun's Juno rocket was pressed into service. Once its payload, Explorer 1, was in space, it confirmed the existence of the Van Allen belt. All Sputnik 1 did was beep.

Alex Leonov nearly died on the first spacewalk because it was so poorly thought out.
The government news agency, TASS, reported that, “outside the ship and after returning, Leonov feels well”; however, post-Cold War Russian documents reveal a different story — that Leonov’s Berkut space suit ballooned, making bending difficult. Because of this, Leonov was unable to reach the shutter switch on his thigh for his chest-mounted camera. He could not take pictures of Voskhod 2, nor was he able to recover the camera mounted on Volga which recorded his EVA for posterity. After 12 minutes Leonov re-entered Volga.
Ed White had the time of his life on the first US space walk.

Alan Shepard could have been the first in space, hell the US sent chimps into space months before the Russians launched Yuri. In the end, the Soviets only beat the US in that arena by three weeks and then they lied about Gagarin having to parachute from the ship in order to land safely.

Their "first" orbital rendezvous was the uncontrolled passing of two ships at 6.5km apart. The first US rendezvous involved Gemini 6 chasing down Gemini 7, catching up to it, flying within a foot of each other and then flying in formation for 5 or 6 hours.

The Soviets were the first to put three men in space because they crammed three men into a craft built for two and didn't let them wear pressure suits. Talk about stunty.

Long story short, the Soviets, from the politicians, to engineers to the cosmonauts themselves, were more willing to risk lives and equipment just to be first. It didn't matter if it had much purpose beyond being first.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:02 PM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution was in 1967, not 1968...

Well, anniversaries are notoriously hard to predict.
posted by stebulus at 2:29 PM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Long story short, the Soviets, from the politicians, to engineers to the cosmonauts themselves, were more willing to risk lives and equipment just to be first. It didn't matter if it had much purpose beyond being first.

Well, sure. I've read about a lot of this history, and I'm not arguing that the Soviet space program was superior in any cosmic sense. I just can't agree with the claim that they "gave it a good go but just couldn't get it together". Rather, I'd say they pushed hard, took a lot of risks, made ingenious use of limited resources, and consequently racked up a long string of "firsts" in the years of the space race.

Whether this was the best long term decision for the future of space flight is a completely separate question, though I would argue that the long diversion into the dead-end space shuttle program effectively squandered the substantial technical advantage NASA had built up by the end of the Apollo program.
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:39 PM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


You're forgetting another first: first people to die in space.

As long as we're talking about taking risks and making big firsts.
posted by happyroach at 2:47 PM on December 2, 2011


I just can't agree with the claim that they "gave it a good go but just couldn't get it together".

Maybe, maybe not.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:49 PM on December 2, 2011


Ok, I was wrong. Mea culpa.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:18 PM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Brandon, the thing you linked to points out that the Soviet manned Lunar mission program was working with one-tenth of the funding that the U.S. had. That's probably not due exclusively to the Soviets starting later than us: the Soviet economy was smaller throughout its history. I would expect that in general, the Soviet space program was accomplishing what it did with considerably fewer resources than the Americans: kinda the opposite of not getting their stuff together.

The dismissive attitude towards the Soviet space program is probably due to the aftereffects of Cold War propaganda. The U.S. program was more robust in various ways but I really doubt that the future perspective on 20th century space exploration is going to be that the Soviet endeavor was an ineffectual flop next to a glorious unimpeachable American enterprise unless the only history that's left is Hollywood movies.

That would be entertaining, to write the Hollywood history of space exploration. Here we see NASA astronaut Bruce Willis touching down on the surface of the asteroid that threatened the Earth in the late 1990s...
posted by XMLicious at 3:47 PM on December 2, 2011


Not sure what point you're making there XMLicious. My point was that the Space Race was more nuanced that most people give it credit for. There's are stories and histories behind each milestone, each first, stories that deal of just how hard people were trying and how brave they were for doing so, no matter the country.

If you haven't read it, I'd highly recommend Two Sides of The Moon, co-written by cosmonaut Alexi Leonov and astronaut David Scott. In it, they take turns telling the story of the Space Race, during the '60s and '70s, from their native country's perspective. It's pretty fascinating. After reading it, it's almost a shame that Leonov didn't become the first man on the moon, he's a helluva character.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:32 PM on December 2, 2011


The Russians were poised to beat the US to that wee romantic orbital satellite...if it weren't for our Crowley/OTO/Satan-worshiping jet propulsion scientists and our Nazi rocket scientists we might have had a devilish time of being the "fascist" ones to get to the moon.
posted by Dunvegan at 4:52 PM on December 2, 2011


Saying things like "all Sputnik 1 did was beep" and posing a "maybe" to the statement that the Soviets "gave it a good go but just couldn't get it together" seemed to me to opine more definitely than simply giving credit to the nuances of the Space Race.

My point is that I don't think that future generations down the centuries are going to be dismissive of the Soviet programs and achievements in that way; if the U.S. space program is seen as having "got it together" I think that the Soviets won't be rated as having done that much worse. (Especially as compared to other disparities between Western and Soviet technology.)
posted by XMLicious at 5:33 PM on December 2, 2011


Saying things like "all Sputnik 1 did was beep" and posing a "maybe" to the statement that the Soviets "gave it a good go but just couldn't get it together" seemed to me to opine more definitely than simply giving credit to the nuances of the Space Race.

1. My bad, Sputnik 1 also recorded its interior temperature.

2. I wrote "Maybe, maybe not". It's hard for me to say definitely whether they could or could not, I haven't read as much about them as I have the US space program. My best guess is that they could have been first on the moon, all the pieces were there, but they lacked the focus and commitment that the US had. Kruschev saw the Soviet space program as blunt propaganda tool and used it to beat the Americans over the head, any chance he could. The Americans were in it to the war, so to speak, not so much the battles.

I'm not sure how future generations will view the Space Race, other than giggling and thinking we were insane. I doubt they're going to give two shits who was the first to do X, except in some academic circles. The Russians did good with what they had, but the American's had more support, infrastructure and money and used it well to eventually win the pissing contest.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:16 PM on December 2, 2011


The U.S. program was more robust in various ways but I really doubt that the future perspective on 20th century space exploration is going to be that the Soviet endeavor was an ineffectual flop next to a glorious unimpeachable American enterprise unless the only history that's left is Hollywood movies.

Well, it's a good thing that no one here has actually claimed this. I was being slightly snarky about the turtles.

The Soviets bought their successes by throwing, by my count, 3-4 times as many spacecraft at the problem, and most of the ones sent up in the 60s failed. Up through 1970, the Soviet Union was 4/20 in reaching Venus and 0/9 in reaching Mars. Their unmanned lunar program also had a higher failure rate, compensated by more attempts. Russia's Mars program has been tragically unlucky since the early 70s. Most of the Venus successes came in the 70s.

That's not to say that the Soviet problem was ineffectual. Their successes and some of their failures returned useful data. But I can't help but think that the high failure rate of their interplanetary missions in the '60s likely hindered their manned lunar missions.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:58 PM on December 2, 2011


In the same way that Brandon dismisses "firsts" as meaningless and symbolic at best (I do too, I brought them up in response to your characterization of the turtles thing as one of their "few successes", as I imagine Mars Saxman did) I find the U.S. space program spending ten times as much as the Soviets to put human bodies on the moon for a few hours at a time equally empty and symbolic. Or, for another example, the shuttle program - horridly expensive and inefficient, but it looks more like a space ship.

You say that no one made the claim you quote above but note that Brandon says that the U.S. won the Space Race - I assume that he's counting the Moon landing as a decisive victory instead of a mutual end to it with Apollo-Soyuz. (Which happened alongside things like SALT - the Superpowers agreeing to ratchet down the race, similar to how the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 was meant to end the super-duper-dreadnought race among the Great Powers)

It's that kind of talk, especially paired up with taking the "just couldn't get it together" thing seriously and scraping together denigrating sound bites and anecdotes, that appears to me to be straight-up echoing of Cold War propaganda.

There were things that the Soviets really couldn't handle - like microprocessor manufacturing, where every chip was shipped with a list of instructions that didn't work because they couldn't get quality control down in mass production. And their economic system couldn't compete, our successful Cold War tactic was to outspend them into the ground.

But their space program and much of their military industry was actually pretty solid for a nation that started off in a pre-Industrial-Revolution state, not to mention one that subjected itself to Stalin and all sorts of other Orwellian horrors.
posted by XMLicious at 8:55 PM on December 2, 2011


Meh, it's a moment in time, the Soyuz could not have built the ISS.

Neither could the Shuttle alone, for that matter (at least not at a remotely acceptable cost). Thankfully there was also Proton, another Soviet design that's now almost half a century old and still going strong.

And "just a moment in time"? Soyuz alone, never mind the whole Semyorka family, has had the most launches of any launch system in history. It probably has put more mass on Earth orbit than any other launch system. It has been around for half a century and probably be around for a few more decades. It's the Ford T, or perhaps rather the Kalashnikov, of the space age: cheap, dependable, long-lived and built in huge quantities. The Shuttle, on the other hand, lasted only half as long and was troubled from the outset. It possibly was the most expensive design mistake in history. And it was as much von Braun's baby as Semyorka was Korolev's.

Don't get me wrong: I'm anything but an apologist for the Soviet system, and the appalling way in which Korolev was treated, apart from the utter disregard with which human life was treated throughout the history of the Soviet space program, suffice to condemn it. But I always get this bitter feeling that, of the two men that best incarnated the space race, the best engineer and person by a significant margin was working for the wrong side.
posted by Skeptic at 4:02 AM on December 3, 2011


OK, after a short Internet trawl, I must review my assessment of the Shuttle being von Braun's "baby": Von Braun had left NASA before Shuttle development work began, and by some accounts he was openly hostile to this design, even if he had advocated shuttle concepts before. Still, between von Braun and Korolev, I know which one I'd have liked to have as next-door neighbour (even if, incorrigible skirt-chaser that he reportedly was, he'd have probably tried to seduce my wife...)
posted by Skeptic at 4:34 AM on December 3, 2011


It's that kind of talk, especially paired up with taking the "just couldn't get it together" thing seriously and scraping together denigrating sound bites and anecdotes, that appears to me to be straight-up echoing of Cold War propaganda.

Let's flip the first man in space eventon its head, everything stays the same, but the US sends up Shepard a few weeks before Gargarin. I'd still shrug my shoulders over the US being first, because it was only suborbital, while Gargarin at least did an orbit. A worse comparision, US wise, is the subsequent flights, which had the 2nd cosmonaut spending a day in space, while the second US astronaut basically repeated the suborbital flight of Shepard's.

That's exactly why I shrugged about the list of Soviet firsts in space. Some of those achievements are like a virgin having sex and then being proud they finished first. It sure as hell doesn't mean they had a great technique or did it well.

And "just a moment in time"?

Yes, much like the Apollo program was a moment in time. It was great, but time moves on and that great moment remains in the past. People seem to have this idea that the US buying seats on the Soyuz is some telltake sign of Russia winning something. Seems a bit short sighted.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:45 AM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


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