Frank Crespo (03/03/04)
In the midst of a cold war, the Soviet and America were involved in a race for technological superiority. With each successive step, the Americans made the Soviets become more and more disheartened. But it wasn't always that way. In fact, the first pictures of the far side of the moon came from Luna 3, a Soviet spacecraft. So when did things begin to change and why? Today's class brought two fundamental Russian figures that helped bring closure to this issue: Sasha Basilevsky and Sergei Khrushev.
A popular misconception which Khrushev broke was that the impetus for the Soviet mission was not government driven but based on the ego of designers to beat out Americans. I originally believed that Soviet cosmonauts were being forced by the government to work on these missions. But as Krushev pointed out, "it had nothing to do with the government." Another strong point that Krushev made was his stance on the Bush initiative. He believes that this entire ordeal is phony. Perhaps Bush is simply trying to appear more liberal for the upcoming elections in order to snag some votes.
What I especially enjoyed from today's class was the convergence of two worlds: the Soviet and America. With Professor Head giving American background and our two guests discussing Soviet history, I felt that two worlds which where once divergent had now come together. Interestingly enough, both sides of this space race where experiencing similar qualms (i.e., the Soviet feared each American progression and vice versa). Despite being worlds apart, both nations where experiencing similar emotions.
I'm glad Alexander Basilevsky came to speak, because he dispelled myths that society has created about scientists. His tales of college life proved that scientists are not intellectual robots who lack emotions, but normal people.
Another interesting fact was that the Soviet space system was more oriented towards automated than human systems. Thus engineering malfunctions may have resulted more often, because of a lack of precaution. With humans on board, engineers would have taken more precautious measures, as was seen with the Apollo missions.
It really hit me that the Soviet Union and America where in strong competition when the Soviet's circumlunar project was cancelled after Apollo 8 was launched. I honestly believe that this is totally against the nature of science and inquiry. The Soviet should have carried out there mission even though they were in second place. Who knows they could have found something. Science is not about being the first person to make a discovery, it is about collaborating and putting ideas together to make a cohesive theory. I'm glad that nations work more closely today. However, there will always be some people out there who are driven by money and fame and not the genuine desire to explore. A true scientist doesn't mind coming last.
Before class I thought that the Soviet missions failed because of internal competition, misjudgment of American resources, and late mobilization of resources. The Soviet discussion did touch upon these factors, but Krushev narrowed it down even further. He attributed Russian failure to a lack of money. At the time, the Soviet government had to decide what was more important, improving social welfare or exploring space. As we now know, the Soviet chose the former. If given this decision, I would have also chosen to allocate financial resources on public welfare rather than space exploration; it seems like the humane thing to do. As Krushev brought this issue up I related it to current society. Why does Bush want to send people to Mars if we still have problems here at home? This is a question I definitely want answered before this course ends. Is there something fundamentally beneficial on Mars that we need to explore or can it wait until the problems here on Earth are solved?
Just today I spoke with a Brown faculty member about the ambiance during the Soviet/American space race. She told me that at the time there was a lot of hostility between both nations, especially due to anticommunist sentiment. She also added that when Lance Armstrong landed on the moon, "it felt as if Americans had come out on top." From our conversation I noted that beyond the desire to explore the moon first, there was also a desire to be superior to other nations. In class however, Professor Head mentioned that President Kennedy offered other nations the opportunity to join in. This may be true, but did Kennedy realistically believe that the Soviet was going to become America's ally just like that? I hardly think that was the case.
Future Mars missions should be patterned in a way that avoids a race-like competition. All nations should unite and work collectively in order to successfully land on Mars. If history repeats itself, then one nation will yet again fail; but this time it might be us. We should play it safe and work together.