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Who Really Won the Space Race?

Thom Burnett

Average Review Rating Average Rating 8/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : Collins & Brown

Published : 2005

Copyright : Thom Burnett 2005

ISBN-10 : PB 1-84340-290-4
ISBN-13 : PB 978-1-84340-290-9

Publisher's Write-Up

On October 4 1957, America's self image of being the most technologically advanced nation on earth, was shattered by the successful launch of a Soviet satellite, Sputnik, months ahead of its own satellite program. Four days later President Eisenhower gave a White House press conference in which he attributed US failure to the fact that in 1945, the Soviets had captured all of the German rocket scientists at Peenemunde. But as this book will show, that presidential statement was far from true. Not only was it the United States who acquired the best of the scientists, but those that were to fall into the hands of the Russians, were of limited use. Yet, with all that talent, America still lost the space race. Senate investigations into the reasons why soon revealed that a US army missile designed by a team of Nazi scientists, led by Werner von Braun could have launched an American satellite a year before Sputnik, but they had been deliberately denied the opportunity.

Having lost the first leg of the Space Race, with America still struggling to get into space, the Soviet Union launched yet another Sputnik, this time with a dog on board. The perception of Russian prowess and American impotence were then compounded by the disastrous launch pad explosion of a US attempt to launch its own satellite. It was only after this embarrassing failure that America finally allowed its Germans from Peenemunde to do the job they could have done back in 1956.

As this book reveals for the first time, there was a conspiracy against the German scientists, both in America and the Soviet Union, born out of racial hatred and their Nazi past. Neither superpower was willing to allow the glory of being first in space to go to the men from Peenemunde. The effects of that conspiracy in America led directly to the election, in 1960, of John F Kennedy. His Presidential-winning platform had been built on the idea that America was losing the Space Race and that the Soviets had amassed a far greater number of long-range missile than the Americans. If the truth had been known then then the course of history could have been very different.

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Reader Reviews

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Review by Paul Lappen (280210) Rating (8/10)

Review by Paul Lappen
Rating 8/10
This book looks at the history of the 'Space Race' between America and the Soviet Union, and asserts that America could have put a satellite into orbit a year before the Russians.

At the end of World War II, America and the Soviets were racing around Germany, gathering up as many German V-2 rocket parts, engineering drawings and scientists as they could find. This was to be done before the zones of control in Germany, agreed at Yalta, came into effect. The German scientists were more interested in rockets and space flight than in rockets and war. Most of the Germans surrendered to the Americans, while some surrendered to the Russians.

After much interrogation and debriefing in Europe, the 'American Germans' were quietly brought to America, and ended up at Fort Bliss, near El Paso, Texas. They were intentionally kept away from any classified information, for obvious reasons, and there was little or nothing for them to do. The 'Russian Germans' were not faring much better. They, and their families, were forcibly deported to Russia, and ended up on a desolate island over 100 miles from Moscow. They had to be segregated from the local population; as in America, memories fade slowly. For the next 5 years, they did their best, under terrible working conditions, until being deported to the West. There is little indication that the Russians ever used German expertise on their rockets.

Back in America, the Germans were eventually moved to Huntsville, Alabama. It was much more hospitable than Texas, both technically and for their families. They were made American citizens in 1955, so they could access Top Secret information. Throughout the 1950s, there were a number of government commissions tasked with deciding what to do about rockets, specifically the ex-Nazis in their employ. The Stewart Committee had to decide what booster system would be used to get a satellite into orbit, the proven German system, or an American system that needed more work. When Wernher von Braun, the leader of the Germans, learned that the American system was chosen, he went ballistic. Among the official reasons for the decision was to keep the military program (on which the Germans were working) and the civilian programs separate. Among the actual reasons was plain old racism. It would not be good for America's rocket to be called the 'Nazi Rocket'.

This book does a wonderful job as a history of the Space Race from the end of World War II to the first American satellite. I am not so sure of this as a conspiracy book (the 'conspiracy' part is only in the last chapter), but it is still well worth reading.
Paul Lappen (28th February 2010)

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