Saturday, August 27, 2011

November 15, 1957 – Khrushchev Offers to Share Technology

In a move that many who knew him considered shockingly uncharacteristic (and believed to have been caused by advisers warning against words antagonizing opponents as had caused massive uprising in Hungary), Russian First Secretary of the Communist Party Nikita Khrushchev said during an interview with an American reporter that he would be willing to share missile technology with the United States, who clearly did not have the same ICBM capabilities as the Soviets. "If she had, she would have launched her own Sputnik," Khrushchev noted, recalling the Russian success of being the first people to put an artificial satellite into orbit some six weeks before on October 4. Later in the interview, given as part of the commemoration of the fortieth anniversary of the October Revolution, he discussed East-West relations and noted that neither side wanted war, but that the Soviets would win if one began.

The interview came just days after the Soviets had hurriedly launched Sputnik 2, which brought the first living creature into orbit, a dog named Laika. She proved that living creatures could survive weightlessness and opened the door for human scientific exploration of space. It also came after the humbling Gaither Report was leaked to the press. Assembled by the Security Resources Panel of the President's Science Advisory Committee, the report showed that the United States was far behind the Soviets on missile technology. After a decade of not working toward that end, the US had as its only defense the system of bomb shelters that were hardly effective if a large-scale war erupted.

The American populace continued to reel from the shocking news of Soviet superiority. Only a decade ago, the USA had been unquestionably the most powerful nation in the world with the A-bomb born out of the Manhattan Project. At the end of the war in 1945, Operation Paperclip sent OSS agents throughout Germany picking up Nazi scientists such as Werner von Braun and capturing what technology they could. Many of these scientists came to work for the Americans (some even illegally imprisoned at places such as P.O. Box 1142), and an inter-continental ballistic missile project was begun in 1946 by Consolidated-Vultee with its MX-774. The program was shut down a couple of years later as conservative feelings overtook post-war America, and it would not be until after the shocking launch of Sputnik that the Americans would reawaken.

Embarrassed and shocked by the Russians, Project Vanguard was quickly put into place by the Eisenhower administration to lift the Explorer Program, picking up proposals from the US Navy and Army that had been shelved due to lack of interest and funding. With the disastrous launch attempt of the Vanguard TV3 on December 6, 1957, where the three-stage rocket rose four feet before losing thrust, collapsing, and exploding, American public turned back to Khrushchev's offer. Many took it as if he were an older brother offering help with homework, while others thought he was twisting the diplomatic knife with a pandering, impossible offer. The world was in the midst of the International Geophysical Year sharing science on geomagnetism, oceanography, etc, and leaders internationally began to criticize the Americans for not taking up Khrushchev's offer to take up an American satellite on a Russian rocket. Much of the hooplah was settled with the launch of Explorer 1 on January 31, 1958, and then rocketry settled to a calmer scientific route with military espionage riding closely, secretly behind.

International relations improved somewhat between the USA and USSR, later resulting in the Nuclear Limitation Treaty in 1962 avoiding a massive stockpile of weapons beyond the point of Mutually Assured Destruction. Despite Khrushchev's constant assurances that communism would bury capitalism and colonialism, the Soviet Union would eventually fall in 1992, but not until after the success of the Buran shuttle system, launched in 1988 on the anniversary of Khrushchev's speech that began a time of peaceful coexistence in orbital space above the simmering Cold War. With an international space station being pieced together by Russian rockets with American engineered segments, long term space habitation is gradually being explored. Scientists hope to eventually put a man on the moon, where probes and flyby satellites have already taken a great deal of data, but cost and lack of public incentive have kept humans home.


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In reality, Khruschev challenged America with, "Let's have a peaceful rocket contest just like a rifle-shooting match, and they'll see for themselves." The words would help begin the Space Race in which the Americans would work to catch up with and surpass the Soviets, culminating with the American Moon landing on July 20, 1969. Due to cost and recent catastrophic N1 rocket failures, Khrushchev determined that the Soviets would not make further plans to attempt a manned moon landing, and even the Russian shuttle program, which emulated the Americans from a decade before, would never launch more than an unmanned test mission.

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