On October 4th 1957, the Soviet Union demonstrated that it had to be taken seriously. Only a few years prior they had lagged the US badly in both bombers and Nuclear weapons. Now, there was deep concern that the Soviet’s could launch a nuclear attack on the US with their new R-7 ICBM. To add fuel to the fire, Just 4 days after Sputnik launched the Soviet Union detonated a 20 megaton Hydrogen bomb.
“The success of the Russian Sputnik was convincing and dramatic proof to people around the world of the real prospects of space travel in the not too distant future. The fact that a 23-in. sphere weighing 184 lb has been placed in an almost precise circular orbit indicates that a number of important technological problems such as high thrust rocket engines, lightweight missile structures, accurate guidance, stable autopilot control, and large scale launching methods have been solved, at least to the degree required for a satellite project.” Astronautics, Nov 1957.
“We had absolute confidence in Comrade Korolev. We believed him when he told us that his rocket would not only fly, but that is would travel 7000 kilometers. When he expounded or defended his ideas, you could see passion burning in his eyes, and his reports were always models of clarity. He had unlimited energy and determination, and he was a brilliant organizer.” Nikita Khruschev
By the late 1940’s, it became obvious that Army ballistic missile research activities required more room than what was available at Fort Bliss, Texas. After a long and through search the decision was made to move to the Redstone arsenal at Huntsville, Alabama. A farm town know for watercress, cotton and mosquitoes. The Redstone Arsenal was chosen for several reasons: it was on a large tract of government property, its location on the Tennessee River gave it access to the electrical power of the Tennessee Valley Authority, the climate was good, and it was not too far from Cape Canaveral, whose long range proving ground was growing in importance.
It’s important to understand that in the late 1940s within the United States there were three concurrent programs for military rocket development. This was due to continuing inter-service rivalry between the Army, Navy, and Air Force.
“The Americans have unified their forces into a single thrust, and make no secret of their plans to dominate outer space. But we keep our plans secret even to ourselves…” Sergei Korolev the Founder of the Soviet Space Program.
“In 1937, I was officially demanded to join the National Socialist Party. At this time I was already Technical Director at the Army Rocket Center at Peenemünde. The technical work carried out there had, in the meantime, attracted more and more attention in higher levels. Thus, my refusal to join the party would have meant that I would have to abandon the work of my life. Therefore, I decided to join. My membership in the party did not involve any political activity.” Werner von Braun, 1947.
“We are the first to have given a rocket a speed of 3,300 mph. We have thus proved that it is quite possible to build piloted missiles or aircraft to fly at supersonic speeds. We did it with automatic control. Our rocket today reached a height of nearly 60 miles. We have invaded space; we have proved rocket propulsion practical for space travel.” Walter Dornberger
During the late 1920’s and throughout the 1930’s progress progress in rocket design was made in fits and starts with unclear goals. However, many technological advances in liquid fueled rockets were made. The United States Germany, Russia, France, Italy, and Great Britain all had rocket research programs. The most significant advances occurred in Germany, the U.S. and Russia. But, before we proceed with the history, I want to explain how a liquid fueled rocket works.