I just got done watching “Space Race”, a four-part series which re-enacted the rise of rockets, starting from the early German V-2 series rocket and ending with the Apollo mission. It was most interesting, and was acted out quite skillfully, with high quality videography and the skillful use of actual stock footage to tie everything together.
Already being an avid fan and researcher of aircraft and rocketry, I found that the movie was very informative with respect to the processes involved, and that it very well showed the political and relational struggles which affected the development of rockets. It showed quite well the tension present within the Russian Soviet system: Betrayal and threats of torture and death were quite common, making it a very stressful environment.
One historical thing in particular I thought was interesting, concerning Wernher von Braun, the major designer for the rockets which propelled the Apollo moon mission. During World War II, von Braun was instrumental in the development and production of the V-2 rockets, which were produced at Mittelbau-Dora, the so-called “labor camp”. This labor camp used roughly 60,000 prisoners, of which roughly 20,000 died mainly from disease and starvation.
The film, “Space Race”, portrayed von Braun as having been on the research and development side, but not really in control of the labor camp. In fact, it showed von Braun as a man whose mind was set on one task only: To get a man to the moon.
However, one single quote in the film changed my mind of von Braun immediately: The narrator said that the United States government had documents which showed that von Braun chose personally that forced slave labor be used to build the V-2 rockets. The U.S. chose to classify the documents for quite some time, most assuredly to limit the already negative public response to hiring a Nazi.
Another thing I realized while watching this series was the enormous power used to get a satellite into space, and how terribly inefficient rocket thrust really is. Obviously it works, but the low efficiency of a rocket is what makes it necessary to carry so much fuel. In fact, this picture below shows that the useful load of the Saturn V rocket (used for the Apollo missions) compared to the actual rocket is miniscule!
While I (nerd that I am) have a definite desire to travel to Mars, I think the usual reasons of “for science!” are a terribly inadequate compensation for the immense cost. Some other method of thrust must be developed to make it feasible–this is being done, with varying degrees of success.
The second thing that I noticed from this film, was the incredibly strong political motivation for space flight. Obviously there is a military advantage to being able to have satellites that spy on other people, but the development of human space flight is terribly unnecessary, even for satellite repairs.
I have long hoped and dreamt that I would be able to visit Mars before I become “old”, yet the more I shape my views of science according to the bible, the more I realize that “conquering the moon” is actually a violation of the dominion mandate:
Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)
Using huge resources to send someone to other planets or moons is, in fact, ignoring the dominion mandate altogether. Secondarily, it (currently) uses very large sums of money, taken from the taxpayer. I think that any true conservative who argues against the Health Care Bill should also argue against general space exploration being funded by the government.