Apollo space flights - About the Space Race and some politics
Ever since I learned to read at the age of 4, I have been an avid reader of all texts related to U.S. space program in 1960s and I am still a very Apollo-getic person :) Back then my reading was limited to what I could find at the library. Imagine if I had had access to all Mercury, Gemini and Apollo related videos and documents that are available in YouTube - one should have dragged me off the screen.
Anyway, what I find great about the U.S. approach to the space is they made it public. There was no such secrecy as with the Soviet space program. The U.S. allowed the nation to learn about the unsuccessful launch attempts, even on TV. It was not easy and sharing in public the pain in successive failures was a bold move that laid ground for later glory, success story and appearance of new space-related heroes, astronauts. These personalities along the with program, makes an utterly interesting topic to read upon document after document. It is great to relive each launch knowing about the astronauts(s), where they came from and so on.
What I find more interesting that just declaring one winner for the space race, are the countless stories and personalities that make up the epic on the American side. We can read about how first astronauts were selected and how things started to evolve step by step. A project of such magnitude needs time to develop so that all necessary pieces find their places. The U.S. let the public live through this exciting period and the whole story lives on. Astronauts and mission control crew pass away, but what they achieved, will always remain.
Flight director Gene Kranz summed it up great: 'We'd created incredible technologies, but what was most important, we'd created the teams, what I call the human factor. People who were energized by a mission.' I am endlessly curious on the human factor such as: How individual areas of expertise and personalities in mission control shaped up the operation? How the circuit boards for Apollo Guidance Computer were designed for, sewn together and programmed to enable such missions? How sudden critical moments were handled?
Although I speak and read Russian, I do not find reading about Soviet space program that interesting. May be someone should write a book on those who worked their butts off on the Soviet program and give hommage to their effort. the secrecy (especially with shortcomings and disasters) and subjecting everything to glorify the Soviet ideology deprived the personnel of becoming a part of something grand. Another bummer: Had the Soviet Union shared the information on Valentin Bondarenko's death in 1961, it might have saved the lives of Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee in 1967.
Furthermore, if the political system is strong and vital in itself, it can allow also the mishaps be publicized. The Americans did just that and I value the U.S. for that. It must have been so embarrassing to have a rocket launch fail during live tv broadcast (which resulted in 'Kaputnik' headlines in papers), but hey, projects are like that, successes do not come without failures. Showing vulnerability adds credibility and maybe even lays ground for emotional attachment.
Let the political system prove itself whether it is vital or not. That was the problem in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, they had to hide their problems and keep people in strict order and even from fleeing the country. The U.S. is a great example on how to make a country attractive and that's why many talented people have moved to the U.S. and benefited the U.S. economy.
While John F. Kennedy's assassination was/is a tragedy, it likely kept the space program going. President Lyndon B. Johnson, senate and congress did not want to undermine his legacy by canceling the space program, albeit expensive. Had Kennedy lived, his moments of hesitation might have caused a halt to the space program and we Apollo-getic people would have so much less to engulf upon.
(c) Jan-Henrik Merihonka on May 16, 2021.