World War II ended with the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan. It was the ultimate display of madness in a war that pushed the limits of man’s inhumanity towards humankind. The dramatic demonstration of the destructive power of atomic energy did not result in a universal commitment to ban its use in future wars. On the contrary, both the United States and the Soviet Union, leaders of the two opposing Cold War alliances, assumed that World War III would be fought with nuclear weapons. President Eisenhower said that in war a nation will use whatever weapons are in its arsenal.
Rod Pyle’s new book, AMAZING STORIES OF THE SPACE AGE (New York: Prometheus Books, 2017) reveals that what was sold to the public as a “space race” by both superpowers, was in fact an arms race. Each side expended much energy and wealth attempting to gain the military advantage in outer space.
Since there were no international treaties regarding territorial claims in space during the 1950’s, leaders saw the race to the moon in similar terms to the 15th and 16th centuries voyages of discovery. The first to reach the moon could claim it, much as the European nations claimed portions of the newly discovered Western Hemisphere. It was not so much the prospect of valuable natural resources available on the moon that drove the race to the moon, as it was the military advantage of establishing bases on the moon from which to launch attacks on the Soviet Union or the United States, depending on which side you were on.
Rod Pyle has mined a wealth of declassified government documents regarding such government projects as “Project Orion,” a spacecraft that would be propelled by a series of atomic explosions, or “LUNEX,” the construction of an underground Air Force base on the moon. One plan called for an orbiting mirror, dubbed a “sun gun,” that would concentrate the sun’s rays in a kind of death ray that could incinerate whole cities.
Both Soviet and American military leaders foresaw the militarization of the moon. Red Army lunar marines and US “space army” units would have bases on the moon from which they would launch attacks against the enemy. Lunar battles would be fought by soldiers armed with nuclear bazookas and, in the case of the US space army, the M-29 Davy Crockett Tactical Nuclear Recoilless Gun that would fire a nuclear warhead with “the equivalent punch of 10-20 tons of TNT.”
Pyle includes drawings from the declassified documents that illustrate some of the science fiction like government funded projects. What kept the government from spending even more funds on these bizarre ideas than it did? Part of the answer is found in the Vietnam War and the War on Poverty that strained available resources and forced concentration on more realistic objectives, like putting a man on the moon.
I found the first part of AMAZING STORIES OF THE SPACE AGE very interesting. The latter part of the book, the part that chronicles the journey to the moon, the development of the space shuttle, etc., was not so interesting, at least not for me. On the whole, the book is a good read, especially for those who have an interest in the history of space exploration.
Until next time, be good to all God’s creation and always live under the mercy.
This is fascinating! When I was a kid, I watched every launch on TV. One of our neighbors arranged for us to receive a postcard from Cape Kennedy, which everyone still seemed to call Cape Canaveral (and now can correctly do so once again?), so we could have a souvenir of the launch with the associated postal stamp featuring a Cape Kennedy postmark. Wasn’t that a thoughtful gesture? I’m putting this book on my to-read list. The first 2017 book on there! Happy holidays to you and yours!
Thanks for responding. I grew up in the late forties and fifties. I remember how mysterious was everything about atomic energy and the race to space. They made really good science fiction movies during the fifties. We were living in a science fiction story.
Sorry that I didn’t get to tell you and Darlene goodbye. Hope you have a Merry Christmas in your new place
Hi Paul – fascinating review – clearly as a kid in the 50s I had no clue what was going on up in space – I do remember from Sputnik on to the first man on the moon being fascinated by everything.