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Red Star Rising

L ooking back the race into space rather distorted the whole effort.

Brooke Bond, The Race into Space [1971] neatly charts the progress and the expected progress at that date.

All begins with card one, Sputnik One. If there ever was a race into space then Russia won, card one is the proof. However that is not how the US saw it, this was just the beginning. The real race was to land a human on the moon. Kennedy told us so, not because it was easy because it was hard.

Just how hard was proved by two failures by the US to get anything up into space. Card two shows Explorer 1, third time lucky. It weighed 31lbs as opposed to Sputniks 184lbs.

Those observant types will have noticed card 2 came right after card 1. Sputnik 2 gets no mention, this is the one that sent Laika into space. The dog survived several days before the oxygen ran out. Launched Nov 3 1957, it weighed 1100lbs.

After Explorer 1 the Russians launched Sputnik 3, this weighed 1.3 metric tons, on May 15, 1958. If you get the feeling the Ruskies were rubbing the Western worlds nose in it then I guess you a right. Sputnik 3 carries the first space laboratory.

Only at one point were the US ahead of the game

Now heavy metal objects floating about in space is one thing but the real concern was the fact the delivery vehicle to get them there could just as easily drop an atomic bomb on any city in the world. Now that was a concern, big time.

Fear not though, like a lot of the coverage we get about the Race into Space the Russian achievements are pretty much forgotten about. Nowadays we are probably happier to talk about it, the complete collapse of the Russian economic system and the fact its greatest ability to destabilise a world is refuse to pay its debts might have something to do with this willingness to talk.

The set mumbles on about communications satellites and the like but card 6 has to mention Vostok. Yuri Gagarin embarrasses the Western world once more by being the first man in space. These had been preceded by Sputnik 5,6,9 and 10 that had carried dogs up into space and by and large safely back again. Yuri floats above the Earth, Apr 12, 1961.

I like to think this is in some way due to the sensitivities of the younger collectors but other omissions are difficult to justify.

So what had the Ruskies been doing 1958-9, well sending probes to the moon that's what. That got rather mundane for them, so collections of Venus probes were sent afterwards.

All this does not get reported on this set until card 20. Luna 9 is illustrated being the first to soft land on the moon's service and send back information al this happened Feb 3, 1966, so perhaps on a timeline appearing on card 20 is not unreasonable.

Anyone beginning to feel the race is rather being lost at this point might not be wrong.

Will he get back in?

The bottom of card 6 also mentions the Vostok program saw the first woman Valentina Tereshkova into space.

Card 8 shows the Mercury program at work, John Glenn first American in space, Feb 20, 1962. Alan Shephard and Virgil Grissom had made 'sub-orbital ballistic lobs' before this. The card mentions both Grissom's capsule sinking (although no mention of the controversy surrounding that) and also the fact he was to die in a later Apollo fire (no mention of the controversy over that test either).

Card 9 gives a hint as to why it might be a good idea to get control of space. It states several Soviet satellites seem to have a reconnaissance capacity. There might be a red under the bed but you can be your bottom dollar there is a red star in the sky.

So the Ruskies were up to no good then. That was card 9, card 10 tells us about Ariel 1. Built and launched in the US the card trumpets the fact it had some British devised experiments on board, '&to provide purely scientific information&' Spying just would not be cricket old bean.

Card 11 shows the Telstar 1 satellite. Launched July 10 1962 it made worldwide televisual link ups possible for the first time. Imagine the news without live satellite links to get an idea of what the world of television would be like without that, let alone everything else.

Card 12 shows the Russian Zond vehicles, these took photographs of the dark side of the moon and the like. They also took turtles and wine flies into space.

While the Russians were photographing the dark side of the moon the US thought it might be a good idea to get some close-up photographs of the moon. Card 13 shows Ranger 3, the first attempt on this project. Rather too much 'go' was given to this one and rather than getting within 5000 miles of the moon it didn't get any closer than 22,862 miles and took no pictures. Now that is one not very close encounter. Back to the drawing board, the Russians are still ahead of the game.

Card 14 demonstrates the different approach the US had to global observation. Nimbus 1 was the beginning of the second generation weather satellites that could examine the entire Earth surface.

Card 15 shows the Voskhod projects and explains the returning capsule had to have retro rockets to reduce the descent speed as the Russians were keen to land on land rather than the sea. I am not sure which seems the more insane idea really, sea or land. The bottom of the card also notes that Jan 10, 1970 one the astronauts, Belyaev died in Moscow aged 44 from a failed stomach ulcer operation.

The Russian cosmonauts certainly seemed to have a high accident quotient. The card also notes they did not use space suits on this mission.

Card 32 explains that an ejector seat in the Vostok re-entry vehicle meant the astronaut came to earth on a separate parachute so things were not all that bad. Only Gagarin remained in the vehicle in what the card presumes would have been a heavy landing.

Card 17 is entitled Gemini 3 and talks of the 10 successful missions which paved the way for the Apollo missions. Why it mentions Gemini 3 but illustrates the space walk of Gemini 4 I don't know really. The card notes it was the first American space walk. The set having failed to mention the US was again enjoying a runners up position, Alexsei Leonov had been the first man to make a space walk some months earlier. For America Ed White was the first out the hatch, there were nine walks by 5 of the astronauts during Gemini 4. There is no mention that Ed also died in the pad fire with Grissom.

Maybe I am being a little paranoid here but card 20 is the first time the Russian moon probes get a mention on the basis that the first soft landing was in 1966. Card 22 shows two astronauts standing next to Surveyor 3 which was the US moon probe which was launched on Apr 1967.

The astronauts shown are Charles Conrad and Alan Bean who visited the lonely moon probe on Nov 20 1969. This was quite an achievement and the US proving a point, i.e. able to land where they wanted to. Not bad as Armstrong and Aldrin had missed the landing zone by four miles previously. Mind you it did not get off to a very good start as the rocket was struck by lightening shortly after launch.

Now I am only complaining a little because of the flexibility that would appear to be present in the time line, the Russian achievements appear later than you would think they might in the set and the US achievements appearing a little earlier.

Now you might think I am overplaying this conspiracy theory stuff but believe me I am barely scratching the surface when it comes to lunar conspiracy theories. Indeed these theories are absolutely fantastic evidence of just how elaborate things can get when you really bend your mind to situations.

I mentioned earlier that the Russians got bored with the moon after a while and decided looking at Venus was a good idea and card 25 gives us details of these probes. The Venera project delivered probes into the atmosphere of Venus, a feat first achieved in 1967 (Oct 18). The journey is 217 million miles, a long way to be crushed out of existence at 27 atmospheres and 320C.

That little figure is an American

Card 27 represented the end of another dream, Mariner 4 took the first close up pictures of Mars and it revealed a planet as dead as the moon. No grand civilisations or the ruins of one.

Card 31 mentions the Soyuz craft designed for docking with the space stations. The first space station was Salyut one. This was launched April 1971 and so perhaps too late to get a mention on the cards. However it does not stop the cards mentioning the US effort (card 43) Skylab which was not going to be launched until two years after these cards were issued.

This April 1971 deadline also means the cards do not mention Apollo 13 which is a great shame as this has to be one of the greatest achievements of the US space program, if only in the same way Dunkirk was one of the greatest achievements of World War 2 for the Allied forces.

By card 34 the US is closing in on its main objective, Frank Borman and James Lovell are the first men to orbit the moon in Apollo 8.

Card 35, show Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin stepping about on the moon, July 20, 1969. The race had been won, or at least the US had finally managed to chalk up a space first.

The card and the event receives no more or less fanfare than the other achievements noted on the cards. Bit like ending a fiendishly difficult adventure game and up on the screen comes the words, 'The End'.

It was not the end though, just the beginning.

Card 38, shows the French becoming the third nation to launch a satellite.

The US on the other hand were keen to keep getting men to the moon, card 42 shows the Lunar Roving Vehicle. It had not got to the moon when the set was issued but it notes it will be used on Apollo 16,17,18, 19. Well they were almost right, and who knows if 18 & 19 ever got off the ground perhaps they would have done but as men on the moon had resorted to hitting golf balls about before then what would they have done on 18 & 19. Perhaps a game of Blackjack for the cameras?

The final cards move into the future. Card 44 shows the Viking mission that was to be launched in 1975 and head to Mars. This happened and was a great technical success.

Card 45 postulates the space station being launched based on the success of Skylab where astronauts could live and work for extended periods of time.

Card 46 shows an earlier idea of what the Space Shuttle would look like. The card shows something rather more reusable than the present effort as the booster was also a shuttle that was used to get a smaller shuttle into space with both parts returning to earth.

Card 47 shows the Grand Tour. This bit of planetary alignment has always fascinated me.

Card 48 begins to drift further into speculation, the manned space stations are used to build spacecraft to make manned flights to Mars possible. Card 50 gives a NASA postulated date of Nov 12, 1981 as a good date for a manned Mars expedition.

Card 49, has a moon base but no date.

So there you have it, The Space Race. Only at one point were the US ahead of the game and when they got to the moon (at expense so vast it can barely be imagined) nobody was really sure what they were doing up there. Interest waned and the expense could no longer really be justified and so all those wonderful projects were shelved. Still apart from fulfilling a few sci-fi fantasies quite why we need a moon base and men stepping about on Mars is a mystery to me. It is a shame I feel that way, as once my eyes shone with the idea I would be living in space and jetting between the stars. Now I worry about paying the mortgage and getting to the shops. Life is like that.