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What If America Had Beaten the Soviets Into Space?

Roblimo posted more than 3 years ago | from the on-your-mark-get-set-go dept.

NASA 255

MarkWhittington writes "April 12 is the 50th anniversary of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's first space flight. Coming less than four years after Sputnik, Gagarin's orbital space voyage galvanized the United States and led to President Kennedy announcing the race to the Moon six weeks later. The question arises: what if America had beaten the Soviet Union into space instead?"

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255 comments

Ballistic missile program (4, Interesting)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773136)

That would imply that American ballistic missile program would have also went ahead of Soviet one. Which, I suspect, would mean some glowing rubble in place of Moscow and some other major Soviet cities.

Re:Ballistic missile program (4, Interesting)

NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773210)

Umm well

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missile_gap#Fact_vs_Fiction [wikipedia.org]

It is known today that even the CIA's estimate was too high; the actual number of ICBMs, even including interim-use prototypes, was 4.

Re:Ballistic missile program (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773306)

Does it matter? If your enemy has zero, and you have any number greater than zero, you have a significant advantage - bombers could be intercepted, but ICBMs (then) could not. All that's needed is the will to strike.

Re:Ballistic missile program (4, Insightful)

Jurily (900488) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773418)

If your enemy has zero, and you have any number greater than zero, you have a significant advantage

Unless you believe the enemy has way more than you. Then it doesn't matter how much they really have.

Re:Ballistic missile program (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35774010)

But if you know they have zero and lie to Congress & the UN you could start a costly war to siphon off money for friendly businesses like Haliburton.

Re:Ballistic missile program (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35773314)

No, no, no! The fact that the CIA did not find them *proves* that they must have had hunderts, if not thousands of ICBM's with Naqada enhanced super-warheads! We retroactivly all gonna die!!

Re:Ballistic missile program (4, Insightful)

kvezach (1199717) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773404)

You jest, but that kind of thinking actually happened [wikimedia.org] , once. Team B argued that the Soviet Union had developed a new submarine detection system that didn't depend on sound. When faced with the fact that nobody had found anything like it, they argued that this only proved the point: since the detection system didn't depend on sound, it could not itself be detected.

Re:Ballistic missile program (2)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773532)

And here, I have a rock that protects from tigers...

Four missiles is enough (2)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773328)

It is known today that even the CIA's estimate was too high; the actual number of ICBMs, even including interim-use prototypes, was 4.

So, let's see: Washington, New York, Chicago, Detroit? Or would they put San Francisco on that list? Los Angeles?

I don't think any leader in the world would risk losing his main four cities like that.

Re:Four missiles is enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35773380)

Doesn't seem like it would be a real loss!

Re:Four missiles is enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35773398)

Yeah, all the real important people are living in Eureka anyway.

Re:Four missiles is enough (2)

Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773960)

New York lost, before the exchanges were electronic? Good luck cleaning up the economy after that.

Re:Four missiles is enough (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35773678)

I don't think any leader in the world would risk losing his main four cities like that.

You must be new to this planet. Plenty of wars you risk losing your whole country and often your own life - losing a few cities or colonies is low stakes. And if you're squeamish about civilian deaths along the way then it's going to take a lot less than nukes to put you off your food.

Re:Ballistic missile program (2)

rainmouse (1784278) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773296)

Perhaps a more interesting question is if the Americans would ever have bothered going to the moon if not for the extremely competitive nature of the space race and consequently loosing the leg of the race to the Russians?

if only the taliban had a space program... (2)

decora (1710862) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773312)

we would be on Mars by now instead of getting groped by TSA guards.

Re:if only the taliban had a space program... (4, Funny)

risinganger (586395) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773416)

we would be on Mars by now getting groped by TSA guards.

Fixed it for you :-P

ha ha ha thanks (1)

decora (1710862) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773562)

good point. now let me add enough meaningless text in so that slashdots comment filter will not destroy my post.

Re:if only the taliban had a space program... (2)

CrackedButter (646746) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773862)

TSA: "Have you brought any fruit or vegetables onto the planet?" Lady: "Two weeks."

Al-Qaeda building secret base on Mars! (2)

$pace6host (865145) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773520)

I think it's imperative that we get to Mars first, to prevent them from spreading their extremist views and building terror camps!

(Decora, you are truly a genius, why didn't we do think of this long ago?!)

Re:Ballistic missile program (1)

CapOblivious2010 (1731402) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773346)

That would imply that American ballistic missile program would have also went ahead of Soviet one. Which, I suspect, would mean some glowing rubble in place of Moscow and some other major Soviet cities.

OK, so logically the fact that the soviet ballistic missile program was ahead of the american program means that you suspect some glowing rubble in place of New York and some other major american cities?
Got it!

Re:Ballistic missile program (5, Insightful)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773376)

A war begins with a nuclear strike, but does not end with it. Soviets were always inferior to the West in military might, and - unlike the West - actually knew it. If you look at Soviet military policies and doctrines, they were mainly centered around a major defensive war, and an occasional "pacification" or low-scale direct intervention in a proxy war. This was furthermore compounded by the Marxist doctrine, according to which proletarian revolutions in capitalist states were only a matter of time, so all that is needed is to survive until such time they happen, and fund various subversive movements (all kinds - from anti-war protesters to black supremacists to communists proper) to bring the date closer.

If I had to bet on who would use a nuclear weapon first given the opportunity, between US and USSR, I'd definitely pick US (heck, they actually did that before!).

Re:Ballistic missile program (3, Interesting)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773522)

A war begins with a nuclear strike, but does not end with it.

I think the history of Hiroshima and Nagasaki show that this statement is not always true, in fact, the only real example of nukes in a war are of nukes ending a war. Despite seven decades of nuclear weapons and numerous wars, one hasn't been used in war since.

I don't think we know how the next big war will begin, but many wars in the past have actually begun from small incidents escalating. The big strike may be the most dramatic, but there is often a chain of events before that. I don't think any major power is just going to sling a nuke without serious provocation.

Re:Ballistic missile program (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35773582)

The manned space program was in part a cover for free access to space for our spy satellites orbiting over every country. Once that treaty was accomplished, it was amazing how fast we "caught up". No doubt the hurt feelings of the American engineers over von Braun's lead in the field slowed things down. Still, the key was the Cuban missle crisis - we would have only launched on Moscow if that situation had escalated. Base that assessment on the fact the US only used nukes to shortcut an invasion into Japan after Japan started the problem at Pearl Harbor. Given the massive destruction, after the fact, the collective US conscience has questioned that decision to the point where it would have taken a dire situation for us to use the nuclear option again. Given the political climate at the time, it would have taken an attack by the Russians before the US would respond in that fashion. Any other assumption would not be warranted by the way things worked back then.

Hypotheticals... (4, Interesting)

LordNacho (1909280) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773146)

I suppose I might as well start the game by saying nothing would have been much different. Getting first to the moon would still have been a matter of prestige, so why wouldn't that contest have happened? And would it change who got there first? IIRC the soviets weren't that close, having some issues with the willingness to back the project, and one of the main designers passing away. Here's a link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_Moonshot [wikipedia.org]

Re:Hypotheticals... (2)

avmich (194551) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773184)

I would argue against big advantage of Americans in Moon race. Similarly, if some events happened another way, the outcome could be very different.

Interestingly enough, Alan Shepard flew to suborbital trajectory a few days after Gagarin flew to orbit. Soviets were really close to fly around the Moon in a Zond, but after Apollo-8 did not just that, but also made some 10 circles around the Moon, Soviet bosses decided there is no point to fly on just a fly-by trajectory. I guess, Soviets were about that much behind Americans by the December of 1968, as Americans were behind Soviets by the April of 1961.

Re:Hypotheticals... (2)

Ephemeriis (315124) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773302)

I dunno... If we hadn't been repeatedly beaten in the space race, would we have been willing to pour so much time/effort/money into a moon landing?

It'd probably still make a nice goal... And I assume the Soviets would have been aiming for it...

But would the "we do these things because they're hard" speech, with the aggressive deadline, have ever happened?

Re:Hypotheticals... (2, Funny)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773358)

I dunno... If we hadn't been repeatedly beaten in the space race, would we have been willing to pour so much time/effort/money into a moon landing?

You obviously didn't pour enough in. I mean the shadows are all wrong, and what's with the fluttering flag...

That's not true (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35773304)

If we beat the Soviets, we would have become a complacent country in regards to science to the point that the bulk of the population is scientifically illiterate and preferring to believe in supernatural explanations for everything. We would become a society based on intangibles: finance, retail, and other services that are a commodity. We'd also be mostly obese because of all of our time in front of the TV watching reality shows, talking heads telling us what we should be concerned about and telling lies and half truths.

Fortunately, that never happened.

Re:Hypotheticals... (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773580)

Because the Soviets didn't really start trying until they were already behind. Khrushchev didn't take Kennedy's speech serious at first, considering it propaganda drivel and an attempt to make the Soviets divert funds away from the military missile program so the US can catch up, it was not until late in the "space race" that the USSR realized the US were dead serious with their "moon lunacy" and tried, and half-hearted at that, to catch up.

The Soviets failed to see any "sensible" reason to go to the moon. Sure, having personnel in space around earth, that's something that can come handy in a possible war, or for research.

For a rather ironic reason they acted quite market oriented on this matter. What's the direct gain from it, how can we monetize the research? Nothing and no way? Then we don't want it. It's pretty much the sentiment you see today in our hemisphere when it comes to funding research.

Re:Hypotheticals... (2)

mjwx (966435) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773860)

Moscow, February 20 1957.
Soviets cancel space program.

Moscow, August 20 1958.
Politburo decides to put money from cancelled space and reduced missile program program into domestic development.

Washington May 5 1961,
Alan Shepard, an American is the first man in space.

Belgrade, September 14 1987.
Soviet leaders hail the 23rd straight year of growth for the great Soviet Union.

Washington, September 7 2007
US government takes control of Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac.

Moscow, September 8 2007,
Soviet Leader Boris Yetlsin uses the news of the Financial crisis in western states to fuel propaganda. Secretly he offers aid to Germany, France, and Great Britain.

Madrid, August 24, 2008,
Spain accepts a new Soviet government in exchange for the Soviet union paying the Spanish debt.

Berlin, April 12 2009,
With economic woes in the nation rising, the Bundestag votes to accept economic aid from the Soviet Union.

Paris, September 22 2010
The French and German governments admit they have signed a secret treaty with the Soviet union and formally withdraw from NATO.

Dublin, Febuary 25 2011.
In a shock win, the new Communist party of Ireland secures a majority in DÃil Ãireann. The Communist party announces plans to induct Ireland into the Soviet Union.

Manchester, March 12, 2011.
Irish refugees continue to flee to British and Scottish ports in alarming numbers, up to 2,000 Irish arrive in England and Scotland daily.

London, March 22 2011,
Prime Minister David Cameron announces that the tide of Irish refugees must end, to this effect the Kingdom of Great Britain declares war on the republic of Ireland.

Sydney, March 27 2011,
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announces that the Commonwealth of Australia will enter, in limited numbers, the invasion of Ireland. Restrictions around Irish entry visa's into Australia are tightened.

Belfast, March 29 2011,
Units of the British Special Boat Service Successfully take the port of Belfast before a defence could be mounted. By 16:40 on March 30 2011, 500,000 British and dominion soldiers are on Irish soil.

Dublin, March 30 2011.
The Communist Party of Ireland petitions Boris Yeltzin for aid. The Soviets refuse to declare war on the remaining NATO states but agree to provide weapons to Irish fighters.

Dublin, July 18 2011.
British forces complete their capture of the Irish capital, 75% of the Irish communist party are under house arrest with the rest still free. British forces begin to suffer attacks from Irish guerrillas.

Washington, September 5 2011,
President Palin vows not to get America involved with another European conflict.

Washington, January 28 2012.
President Pailin resigns as the public calls for action against the red threat in Ireland. Acting President Schwarzenegger promises swift and decisive action.

Montreal, April 12 2012,
As Soviet backed Irish guerrillas continue to cause severe problems for the Commonwealth's Irish occupation force, remaining NATO leaders meet to discuss how to handle the "Irish" situation. In three days, no conclusion is reached.

Groom Lake, August 4 2012,
Skynet goes on-line August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defence. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug.

Re:Hypotheticals... (2)

mjwx (966435) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773896)

Groom Lake, August 4 2012,
Skynet goes on-line August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defence. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug.

One day, I will learn to proof read what I copy and paste.

Re:Hypotheticals... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35773950)

Here is a better hypothetical. Assume Germany never attacked Russia. Lets say they signed a non-aggression treaty and never opened a second front. Lets also say that they took Britain plus the rest of the isles and they pulled out of North Africa. Now we have Germany controlling all of Europe over to Turkey, with Russia not looking to get into any kind of fight. Now, without Britain or the isles, there is no place for the USA to stage an attack on "Germany" so we never get involved in Europe. We end up kicking the crap out of Japan since we are only in one war and more focused. So 1945 rolls around, Japan is beaten, and Germany is a large thriving country, like the current EU with more control, less politics. We do not get our von Braun or the other rocket scientist. Both the USA and Russia do not create good working rockets, but the Germans do. Now it is Germany, that rises up and controls the outcome of the rest of the 20th century. You can have Hitler and the Nazis die off and have just a single ruling country. This also means, no creation of Israel. The world would have 3 main powers, USA, Germany and Russia.

That is a book/movie I would like to see done.

No faked moon landing (2, Funny)

michaelmalak (91262) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773160)

No faked moon landing, and humans might have really visited the moon by now.

Re:No faked moon landing (2)

Shikaku (1129753) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773188)

http://www.google.com/moon/ [google.com] Derp. Also telescope.

Re:No faked moon landing (3, Informative)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773282)

You can't see the leftovers from the landing via telescope from earth. The resolving power just isn't good enough, even with adaptive optics. You can still find the retroreflector though, with the appropriate instruments, and there are a number of sites that not only can do so but do on a regular basis in order to track the earth-moon distance.

anything could happen then (1)

avmich (194551) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773162)

Americans had Man In Space Soonest - MISS program, to get to space first. It was already fast-paced, and should some opportunities arise earlier, some other might not happen instead. NASA wasn't delaying the flight for no reason.

Similarly, Soviets had flight after flight testing hardware, sending dogs and devices and keeping an eye on Americans. Should intelligence hint on earlier possible American launch, Korolev might move the day of the first flight to an earlier date.

In short, it was unlikely to happen - the lead in rockets and overall activity was rather big at the time. America should have started earlier. This is further supported by subsequent events - next few years Soviets lead in terms of flight time, number of flights, important firsts.

And what if the world exploded in 1872? (-1, Troll)

AIFEX (1036394) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773176)

Nothing to see here but a bunch of amerifags crying. Move along.

Re:And what if the world exploded in 1872? (2)

NotAGoodNickname (1925512) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773470)

+3 insightful? Really slashdot? Not only insulting to Americans, but Homosexuals too. How far this site has slipped.

Gosh, what if, huh? (4, Interesting)

Seumas (6865) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773178)

Would it really matter? I guess it helped us fuel other areas of advancement, but as far as space itself? All we've accomplished in the 42 years since we landed on the moon is sending out a bunch of probes and fancy RC cars. No doubt, the photographs from these endeavors are amazing and we're still acquiring knowledge. It's just too bad we've reached a point where we aren't willing to do anything that might put a person at risk of so much as chipping a fingernail, we've exhausted our shuttle program and are currently having to rely on transport from other nations, and are put off by spending any money on space at all, because we've got to save all that precious monopoly money to bail out corporations and foreign banks at a number that dwarfs the entire space program.

Don't get me wrong - I know that a lot of our advancements are being off-loaded to privacy industry and that we are making enough advances in other areas of technology and science so that whenever we really do make another massive push into space, we will be doing so from a more capable point (kind of like you might have been able to start a computer at the task of decrypting some data in 1980 and that same computer would still be trying to decode it in 2011, while a computer you got last month and set to the task of decrypting the same data would have finished by now).

However, can you really imagine people's responses in the last half of 1969 if you had told them "revel in this, because mankind won't touch the moon or any other soil or make it beyond our low orbit for the next fifty years"? They would have said you were a fucking lunatic.

I'm thrilled that the space race brought us the home computer and memory foam, but my mom was a little girl when we landed on the moon and I would love more than just about anything for us to have another world-stopping-all-eyes-on-television space-moment like that during my life time. I suspect I'll be long dead before that happens.

Re:Gosh, what if, huh? (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773298)

Private industry goes where the money is. Com-sat, mostly. And weather. Low earth orbit or geostationary. There just isn't any money to be made in things further afield, or in manned space flight of any type. There are mineable resources, but it's a lot cheaper to mine them on Earth than it would be to send mining equipment and operators into space. Space tourism has too small a market of the filthy rich to justify setting up the infrastructure. There are some science things that can be done in microgravity, and even a few industrial processes like manufacturing perfect crystals for microchip production, but nothing that would be commercially viable. The ISS exists for microgravity experiments, but it isn't expected to make money.

Wasn't it Sputnik (2, Insightful)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773194)

It is before my time but I seem to recall being told that the big wake-up call was sputnik. The first men in space was big as well but easily diminished because it was essentially a ballistic shot not a real space trip. Sputnik was up there a long time, beeping all the way, undeniable.

Anyway, the Americans were to focussed on giving nazi war criminals a cozy ride and failing miserably to realize that there was a reason the german lost the war, their tech sucked. Still American history teaches that german tech led to space conquest, forgetting that it was a shift away from this that finally allowed the americans to catch up. But hey, if you chance history perhaps you might want to go after those that allowed killers of american POW's to get of scot free.

What if America had been first?

It wasn't. Examine WHY this was the case before you go into fantasy land. WHY was a 3rd world nation that had suffered a decimating war ahead of a country that was swimming in money and the only effect of war had been fewer unemployed? Once you can answer that, you have learned a lot about the true nature of the US and might even be able to use to help explain the current mess it is in.

Don't treat the USSR beating the US as some kind of freak accident, EXAMINE your history as it is, so you can learn from it. Or do you want to soon ask the question "what if the US had beat China to a space colony?"

Re:Wasn't it Sputnik (2)

damburger (981828) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773236)

Vostok 1 wasn't a "ballistic shot" - it went into orbit. The first American in space, however, did not.

Re:Wasn't it Sputnik (3, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773260)

The first men in space was big as well but easily diminished because it was essentially a ballistic shot not a real space trip.

Vostok_1 flew a full orbit with a re-entry burn [wikipedia.org] . Without that burn it would have flown many more orbits. Freedom_7 flew a simple ballistic trajectory [wikipedia.org] .

If the US had been first to fly an astronaut I suspect the USSR would have been slightly more likely to make the first landing on the moon. They would have been more motivated, but their integration ability was (and is) pretty poor.I would argue that this is a reflection of top-down architecture in their politics and engineering culture. They are more likely to say we will build a single system to do X where the US would say we will build systems to do A, B and C; then we will put them together to accomplish X.

Re:Wasn't it Sputnik (2)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773620)

Russian technology is the epitome of the KISS principle. But that's also its weakness (and the weakness of our developments lately): It will work to spec, and ONLY to spec. There is no "hey, let's add $simple_thing, that could make $next_step a lot easier" thinking. Vostok could put a man into space, but only that. No enhancement possible. Voskhod exposed this flaw, it was an attempt to build on the Vostok example and it was allegedly a horrible experience for the cosmonauts using it. So they had to pretty much design the Soyuz from scratch again (and if you follow its record, it definitely shows), they could use very little from the experience gained with Vostok and Voskhod, unlike the US who designed at the very least Gemini with Apollo in mind.

Re:Wasn't it Sputnik (2)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773958)

Huh? What's still flying? Apollo or Soyuz? The latter is probably the most flexible bit of space hardware known.

"Their tech sucked"???!!! (0)

wisebabo (638845) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773340)

While much (most?) of American tech was great (A-bomb, radar, penicillin, cryptography/computers) to say that German tech "sucked" is a pretty uninformed view of history. Consider that while Robert Goddard was playing with his (relatively) puny liquid fueled rockets (which looked like flying pieces of plumbing!) Werner Von Braun developed ballistic missiles capable of reliably delivering 1 ton "payloads" (ok warheads) hundreds of miles away on an industrial scale. (Just ask any Londoner of the time). This was without digital computers let alone GPS! Also consider the Messerschmidt 262, the world's first jet fighter, again produced and used on an industrial scale.

Finally consider German tech would've been much better had Hitler not chased a lot of German Jewish* scientists (like a guy named Einstein) and their friends out thanks to his insane ideas about Aryans (which he wasn't! was he)?

Remember that Werner Von Braun basically took over the American space program after the first disastrous launch (you look it up) with his Vanguard. He followed it through all the way to the Saturn V, an incredible achievement that boggles the mind when you consider most of it was done on paper with slide rules. Too bad he never was able to build the Nova, otherwise the US might've had man on mars in the 70's!

*I once heard a joke(?) as to why the Japanese never followed German orders to kill the Jews who were living in Japanese controlled territory (like Shanghai where 20,000 Jews managed to survive during WWII). Basically they were afraid of doing so because they knew that the three most important (some people may disagree but needless to say they were very important!) people in HISTORY were Jews. Do you know who they are? No I'm not Jewish, nor married to a Jew! (Nor married :( )

Anyway look below for their initials (in chronological order). Still doesn't excuse what they're doing to the Palestinians.

(J.C., K. M., A.E.)

Re:"Their tech sucked"???!!! (2)

donscarletti (569232) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773590)

American tech was great (A-bomb, radar, penicillin, cryptography/computers)

A-bomb (American), radar (British), penicillin (British/Australian), cryptography/computers (British). Well, one out of four isn't bad...

You do know that the world's first working Aeroplane and Telephone were manufactured in America right? You could have actually mentioned some ACTUAL American tech.

Re:Wasn't it Sputnik (4, Interesting)

mlush (620447) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773666)

Anyway, the Americans were to focussed on giving nazi war criminals a cozy ride and failing miserably to realize that there was a reason the german lost the war, their tech sucked.

German tech [wikipedia.org] did not suck ,they had rocket and jet propelled aircraft, radio guided bombs the V1 and V2, the finest tanks in the field etc.

What sucked was there procurement process. Unlike the allies each service had their own committees R&D and proving grounds and the secret of success was not to make a better mouse trap but get the ear of ah high ranking official (preferably Hitler) and keep pulling strings.

To quote the American investigators after the war:"Very defiantly we believe there were no other German proximity fuse is worth following up - there were more crackpot notions getting political support that we could have imagined" and "The device was made by a set of irresponsible inventors with no manufacturing connections. They would have been shut down without their political connections".

Their problem (aside from massive waste and duplication of effort and that Hitler cancelled and disbanded most of the German weapons research in 1940) was that their tech was too good but not appropriate to their situation Germany simply did not have the resources to make enough of it to win the war

Re:Wasn't it Sputnik (1)

jmac_the_man (1612215) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773820)

Anyway, the Americans were to focussed on giving nazi war criminals a cozy ride and failing miserably to realize that there was a reason the german lost the war, their tech sucked. Still American history teaches that german tech led to space conquest...

The Soviets didn't use captured Germans or their technology? That's not what I heard. Wikipedia's article on the father of the Soviet missile program [wikipedia.org] says

Along with other experts, [Korolyov] flew to Germany to recover the technology of the German V-2 rocket. The Soviets placed a priority on reproducing lost documentation on the V-2, and studying the various parts and captured manufacturing facilities. That work continued in Germany until late 1946, when the Soviet experts and some 150 German scientists and engineers were sent to Russia.

Examine WHY this was the case before you go into fantasy land. WHY was a 3rd world nation that had suffered a decimating war ahead of a country that was swimming in money and the only effect of war had been fewer unemployed?

You and your problem with fantasy land. At the time, the Soviet Union was a WORLD SUPERPOWER on equal-ish footing with the United States. Seriously, you're the one who should be reexamining history, apparently. The term "Third World country" was originally part of American propaganda against the Soviets. The "First World," America and its allies, were awash in capitalism and luxury. The "Second World" of the USSR and its allies/conquests, were awash in communism and oppression. And the "Third World" was poor countries that didn't fit on either side of the conflict. Say what you will about the ranking system, but there's no way the USSR was a Third World country.
Also, almost 500,000 Americans died during World War II. That's not a high number when compared to our allies, but still, to say it had no effect is more than a little callous, no?

alternate history (1)

Distracticus Prime (2004540) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773854)

Sometimes I think ours is the alternate history. We took a wrong turn somewhere back there, and that's why "the future" is devoid of moon bases, Mars colonies, and dramas in space. I should be a pioneer, exploring a new world, helping to create a new free society in space! But instead, I am an ordinary guy with a mortgage and a job. The fact that I'm lazy can't be relevant...

Re:Wasn't it Sputnik (1)

A Friendly Troll (1017492) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773928)

Anyway, the Americans were to focussed on giving nazi war criminals a cozy ride and failing miserably to realize that there was a reason the german lost the war, their tech sucked.

Holy poop. Are you actually serious?!

The Germans lost the war because they went into a fight with the Soviets, where they had over 5 (five) MILLION men killed (more than the size of their entire army on the western front!!!), as well as tens of thousands pieces of expensive and advanced military equipment.

That's why they lost. To think otherwise just means you've been watching too many movies about saving private Ryan. What Germany lost on the eastern front is an order of magnitude greater than the losses on the western front. Had they not gone after the Bear, history would have been vastly different.

Re:Wasn't it Sputnik (1)

icebrain (944107) | more than 3 years ago | (#35774092)

But they still would have lost in the end. It would have taken longer, but they would have lost.

Almost off-topic (2)

Hultis (1969080) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773198)

I suspect that USA, after losing the race to the moon since they lost the interest after getting into space, would have went for something else. Such as creating a zombie virus. Maybe then the zombie apocalypse could have happened and my shotgun/crowbar combo wouldn't just be gathering dust on my wall.

The commies did it first, the west is still sore (5, Insightful)

damburger (981828) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773200)

It was 50 years ago, get over it.

The hang-wringing in the western press about this seems to me to be largely due to an inability to fit the event into the triumphalist narrative that has endured in government and media since the end of the cold war. The idea that capitalism, specifically our version of capitalism is best always, everywhere and forever.

Its disquieting to such dogmatists to be reminded of even a single success from an alternative way of doing things. Even if that way of doing things ultimately imploded on itself decades later, it makes a rational person question the absolutism of the narrative, and thus the narrators must try and dissect and blunt the impact of the threatening event.

Re:The commies did it first, the west is still sor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35774110)

Capitalism didn't build either country's space program - their governments did. The respective countries' economies are irrelevant*.

Yes, the Soviets may have reached the early Space Race milestones before the US did, but the Russians are still using the EXACT SAME launch vehicle, 50 years later, that put up their first satellite. It's like sprinting the first mile of a marathon and dropping out. The US paced itself and finished the race, and as an avid space exploration fan, I feel no need to "blunt the impact." (I kind of enjoy the irony.)

*For an exceptional analysis of contemporary free market space travel, watch Bill Whittle (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2h_d6YVA1Kg). This is happening nowhere else in the world.

unfortunately... (0)

Cyko_01 (1092499) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773202)

...in soviet russia, AMERICA beats YOU!

Maybe Ford Motor would have kept going. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35773208)

One thing that we forget is that a number of corporations were considering space programs. Make no mistake, as soon as the reality of rocket tech meaning bomb-throwing tech (see V1 and V2) everybody knew, in theory, that this was heavy mojo. But until the Soviets started getting stuff up there and making us scared, space shots were thought of by most folks as "science fiction foolishess" that would never impact the "real world" and regulation and control wasn't taken very seriously. And without FAA and military microcontrol some pretty small players were doing some pretty cool stuff. Lots of tech that is only now getting tried seriously again was actually invented decades ago and implementation was delayed largely by NASA/Soviet conservatism and bureaucratic prioritizing. Who knows how much would have been done sooner in a more "free for all" dynamic? Deaths and all sorts of tragedies would have been far more common. But we might have actually gone considerably further, faster.

So it just may be that the pioneers in space wouldn't have been the American OR the Soviet governments but instead a mix of governments, companies, "hobbyists" and scientists backed by folks like Werner Von Braun (he kinda backed that play as it is), and wild cards of sorts we can't even picture. Remember, when Heinlein wrote "The Man Who Sold The Moon" it wasn't considered that low in credibility. And Hilton Hotels, among others, was intermittently serious about having hotels in orbit ASAP and was willing to back this with at least small amounts of real funding and leverage for years.

We might not have had Apollo. But by now Earth orbit would probably be as cheap to reach and as practiced a route as Europe to New England by the late 1600's.

The urgency to reach the moon would have been less (1)

howardd21 (1001567) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773222)

This is all just conjecture of course, but the biggest impact I would imagine would have been less sense of urgency and competition to get to the moon first. The Soviet orbit was a wake-up call, causing JFK to say "WE choose to go to the moon", interesting how he started that with "We".

Nonsensical question (0)

charlie (1328) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773226)

For geopolitical reasons the Eisenhower administration wanted the USSR to be first to orbit a satellite -- because it would set a precedent for free orbital flight over any territory, thus allowing the USA to orbit the Corona spy satellites without the USSR being legally free to pop off ASAT weapons at them.
In practice, Von Braun was ordered to ballast Thor IRBM tests with concrete to prevent them "accidentally" making orbit prematurely.

Re:Nonsensical question (3, Informative)

damburger (981828) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773244)

This is revisionist crap.

ICBM tests were ballasted to give other groups in the US (not staffed by Nazis) a chance to launch the first US satellite.

Also, the US was fully committed to the space race by the time of Vostok 1, which is the actual event being discussed here.

The idea that early Soviet successes were part of some cunning ploy by Eisenhower is utterly retarded. The public perception of the Soviet threat helped carry Kennedy in the 1960 election, so you are supposing that Eisenhower would deliberately sabotage his own party and his own vice-president. I am calling bullshit on this one.

Re:Nonsensical question (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35773446)

Doesn't seem implausible. Maybe in that time the politicians were willing to sacrifice their electoral success for benefit of their nation.

Re:Nonsensical question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35773636)

Doesn't seem implausible. Maybe in that time the politicians were willing to sacrifice their electoral success for benefit of their nation.

that's never been true in the history of politicians and of nations

Re:Nonsensical question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35773808)

Let me give you a little help. Politicians were politicians, are politicians, and always will be politicians.

Glad I could clear that up for you.

Re:Nonsensical question (1)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773266)

Yes the Germans in Soviet Union and USA would have had to work bit harder and things would have balanced out again.
Something wonderful about knowing you will go home early if you work extra hard. Or never have to worry about going home again.

DoD Politics prevented America from being first (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35773258)

At the time, first to space was not a big deal. Von Braun could have put the first satellite into orbit, but that honor was given to the Vanguard program over at Navy. The Soviets saw one of the Jupiter launches (which was commanded not to enter space), and surmised that it failed and then proceeded to push up Sputnik. We could have been in space a full year ahead of the Soviets, but it wasn't deemed necessary by Eisenhower. He was more interested in targeting and putting a nuclear warhead on the tip of von Braun's rocket. After Sputnik and the failed Vanguard launches, Eisenhower recognized the propaganda coup (in part because of LBJ) and later LBJ would advise Kennedy. America was always ahead. Stalin and later Kruschev won the first rounds out of paranoia but they had much more failure than success.

No moonshots, but little else changed (1)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773262)

What would have happened if the Russians had invented TV? Nothing different. What would have happened if the French had been the first to the South Pole? Apart from the penguins speaking french, nothing.

Being first actually confers very little commercial advantage (just look at the first web browser - much good it did them, or the first personal computer). So far was geographical firsts goes: unless there's something there which can be exploited, even less benefit. The only reasons the americans went to the Moon was as a catch-up. Once it had been proved possible, there was no reason to go back (nothing to exploit).

The only possible difference might be that the money spent on the 1960s space programme could have financed another war somewhere - so I suppose there was a side-benefit to exploring space, after all.

It would still be inconsequential... (1)

bogaboga (793279) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773264)

You might ask why:

America discovered the Airplane but Europeans are beating us big time with Airbus.

America discovered the transistor but it was not until the Japanese came that we saw its true potential. No wonder all electronics in America are Asian made.

Re:It would still be inconsequential... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35773278)

Two wrongs don't make a right. Airbus vs F22/F35/SpaceX etc... Heck even Airbus vs Boeing... No contest. You fail. Transistor was not "discovered" and jsut because someting is MANUFACTURED someplace else doesn't make the place that it was MANUFACTURED imbued with some sort of superiority. I am guessing the design and creation of the chip is more important than the plant it was made in. So, again you FAIL.

Re:It would still be inconsequential... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35773438)

So the transistor effect was not discovered? It existed in nature and was observed? I guess America wasn't "discovered" by Europeans either, then...

Re:It would still be inconsequential... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35773668)

Being "discovered" would imply that it was sitting around waiting on someone to stumble onto it. The correct word in this instance is "invented."

Re:It would still be inconsequential... (2)

dtmos (447842) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773676)

[Just] because something is MANUFACTURED someplace else doesn't make the place that it was MANUFACTURED imbued with some sort of superiority. I am guessing the design and creation of the chip is more important than the plant it was made in.

Yeah, unless you're interested in this concept called "money", a.k.a."profit", in which case the manufacturing guy has it all over the design and creation guy.

Never forget that design and creation are expenses, expenses that are only recouped by future manufacturing income.

Even as an independent contractor, the price you can get for your design or creation has to be less than the perceived gross profit from manufacturing it, or no one will buy it.

Plus, since the manufacturing guy is typically closer to the end user (and the technology needed to manufacture the device), he's better equipped than the design and creation guy to create Design 2.0. Just look at the transition of chip employment: First the chips were researched, designed and manufactured in the US. Then the manufacturing went to Asia. Now the design work is very much in Asia, and one is seeing the research nexus start to move, too.

Rash propaganda politics not best long-term? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35773288)

I'm genuinely shocked! Who would have thought that rash, purely political decisions weren't the best long term choices? That's really hard to believe!

Um, nothing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35773290)

Since the laws of physics are the same no matter what language you speak, and our technology is still the same, and kerosene still has the same energy density, I'd say nothing would be different. Maybe we'd think of some different names for some historical events.

But if you think we'd have all these delusional fantasy-level technologies like Moon colonies and Mars mining, well. you better get back to your high-school physics and economics.

For crying out loud, we had supersonic passenger transport in the 1970s, and we don't even have THAT anymore. Our "technology" such as it is, consists of making smaller and smaller transistors so the software retards can create more and more complex virtual ways of doing the same things over and over again, thus allowing our economic model of constant growth a last gasp of growth before the cheap energy runs out.

BETTER QUESTION: WHAT IF THE NAZIS DID ?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35773300)

Then we'd all be sieging heil !!

without Jews you don't have space travel (1)

decora (1710862) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773360)

Quantum Physics and Relativity were considered "Jewish Science", and it is kind of hard to do anything in space without those things.

It would be like trying to build an Mars probe under a religious state that banned the discussion of heliocentric solar systems.

Re:without Jews you don't have space travel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35773458)

Well, you could still make a geocentric system that works (by coordinate transformation), it would just be very very complex.

Re:without Jews you don't have space travel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35773530)

Oh now I understand this T-shirt [wearscience.com] .

Re:without Jews you don't have space travel (1)

bjorniac (836863) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773584)

No, you really don't need quantum mechanics or GR to get to space, or even the moon. Newtonian physics is good enough to get you there, and in fact all the calculations done by NASA completely neglected relativistic effects.

Without GR you would be struggling to explain the perihelion advance of Mercury still, and you wouldn't have very accurate GPS devices, but you certainly would be able to hit the moon, or anywhere within our solar system with enough accuracy to get a rocket there.

QP and materials science / electronics? (1)

decora (1710862) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773894)

i am just wondering, how far modern materials science, lasers, telecommunications, computers, opto-electronics, radio communication, etc, would have gotten without quantum physics, ... ?

Re:QP and materials science / electronics? (1)

arkenian (1560563) | more than 3 years ago | (#35774132)

i am just wondering, how far modern materials science, lasers, telecommunications, computers, opto-electronics, radio communication, etc, would have gotten without quantum physics, ... ?

Pretty far. I'm not sure if any of these, even today, really use quantum physics. Modern chips are just starting to get to the point where quantum effects matter. Most materials science is pretty empirical/statistical. Dunno if opto-electronics is on a scale where quantum effects matter (though I'd guess not.) Radio, certainly predates quantum mechanics, and is based on Maxwell.

Congratulations (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35773332)

On avoiding the use of "begs the question"! Do you people realize this is a new era in /. editing? Next we'll master the incredibly difficult and subtle its/it's thing.

What if Zond had beaten Apollo 8 ? (2)

mbone (558574) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773372)

Apollo 8 was rushed and sent to the Moon (the first manned test of a Saturn V went to lunar orbit, not staying in Earth orbit), specifically to beat a manned Soviet lunar flyby planned with the Zond spacecraft. (I.e., the Apollo 8 and Apollo 9 missions were swapped; the reasons for this were kept secret at the time.) As we beat both Zond and the Soviet lunar landing program (Zond was more or less flight ready, with 2 unmanned test flights, the landing program, not so much) before the Soviets actually flew any people to or around the Moon, the Soviets were able to pretend that they didn't have a manned lunar program, which made it possible for the Nixon administration to kneecap manned space flight a few years later. NASA and the US have never recovered from that, and the USA has (to be blunt) never really done much with manned space flight since.

Arguably, if Apollo 8 had stayed in Earth orbit, Alexei Leonov would have commanded the first mission to circle the Moon, the "space race" would have extended to lunar operations, and humanity would probably have multiple bases on Mars at this moment.

what if... (0)

Titan1080 (1328519) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773410)

In Soviet America, space beats you!

It could have been much different (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35773444)

As a person who lived during this age, I will tell you much could have been different. If America would have regained it's national pride about space and technology sooner, then the massive research and funding of science education would have dried up much sooner, and Americans would have gone back to their own self-centered, tunnel-vision lives. We would have been content to remain slightly ahead in a space race between tortises. Remember many of the advances in electronics were a direct result of the space race. The calculators and computers we use today are a direct by-product of the space race. If space had not captured the national imagination, no Star Trek or Star Wars, as Hollywood types would still be remaking Buck Rogers- with sad, non-computer generated special effects. Electronics would still be bulky and for a long time would have been running off of vacuum tubes. Yes, transistors would have eventually been introduced into electronics, but much, much slower.

If the Soviet national pride had been wounded sufficiently, it might have been the motivation not to back down as soon as they did during the 1960's Cuban missle crisis. That was nearly world war III, so a lot could have changed. If the Soviets truly did not have the stomach to launch missles at us (hopefully the threat of mutually assured destruction would NOT have changed), then the stalemate would have continued, and we would have eventually invaded Cuba. Cuba, not Vietnam could have been the focus of the late 60's and the peace movement of the era could have become insignificant based on the real threat off the coast of Florida. Most protest signs would have said "Down with Castro" rather than "Down with WAR!" Without Castro in power for the past 50 years, the political climate of the hemisphere would have been at least somewhat different. Cuba, if not the 51st state by now, would have eventually morphed back to the island vacation spot it used to be before the revolution.

Yes, one would hope most the advances of the past 50 years would have gotten private funding and taken place anyway, but having lived through the time, it is clear to me, such funding for systems not directly or indirectly related to defense would have not been a high priority.

Word. (1)

dtmos (447842) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773802)

It's not very often that I'm in such agreement with an AC, but also having lived through the time, well, yeah. What he said. Indeed, imagine what the US might have done with the Bay of Pigs invasion [wikipedia.org] (which took place the week after Gagarin's flight) if it had been, say, John Glenn -- a Marine Corps officer -- on that orbital flight, instead of Gagarin. Intriguing.

NASA is buying seats on Russian space shuttles (4, Insightful)

Bloodwine77 (913355) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773462)

We could learn a thing or two about capitalism from the Russians. We are retiring our fleet and will be hitching rides on Russian shuttles over the next 4 years. While I do think private and commercial space flight will play a major role in future space flight, I think NASA Is a bit optimistic in thinking that we'll have private rockets in place by 2015. I suspect we'll still be riding on Russian shuttles well past 2015.

Re:NASA is buying seats on Russian space shuttles (1)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 3 years ago | (#35774126)

We could learn a thing or two about capitalism

Capitalism isn't the issue there. The issue is focusing on what you do best. For the russians, (and the europeans, to a lesser extent) their space industry can trace its lineage back to the first manned rockets in the early 60's. Sure, there have been refinements, upgrades and innovation since then - russian rocket engines being a good example. Whereas the american approach seems to be: develop a project for a specific goal, achieve that goal, throw away the technology, go on to start again for the next project.

That's great for the industry, but terrible for the users and really only tells you where the true power lies and who the benefits are for.

50 years and still butthurt (2)

ElusiveJoe (1716808) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773474)

The amount of butthurt USSR did to the USA amazes me. I still have a space encyclopaedia for teens composed by USA authors, which doesn't mention Gagarin or "Mir" space station. Actually, the chapter about space station only mentions some fictional US project to build one (which never came into fruition) , as if it had never been done before. Lulz.

Re:50 years and still butthurt (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35773576)

oh? can you link us if it's still for sale?

Who cares? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35773572)

In the big picture of life in the USA and in Russia it is all irrelevant.

Wagging the Moondoggie (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35773578)

Site's down now but check out the "Wagging the Moondoggie" series of articles. Wow.

You have to go further back to beat the Soviets (1)

Starchilde (946636) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773762)

I think that for the US to have beaten the Soviets in placing a man in space, you would have to go further back in time than simply the Ham and Able launches. The Soviets were well ahead of the US primarily due to one man: Korolev. It was his development of the R-7 rocket that accomplished everything. But in April 1957, there was a mishap - an R-7 prototype exploded. Had that (and I do stress here, HAD THAT) been as devastating an explosion as that of the N1 explosion of 1969 and killed Korolev then it is possible that Khrushchev would have lost interest in the ballistic missile program and scrapped it. That would have given the US - which was far more concerned with nuclear capable bombers - time to catch up and potentially surpass the advancements of the Soviets. Eventually, I think, Van Braun would have been given a chance to pull off a stunt like Korolev did and put a satellite into orbit. That being the case, it would have been the Soviets playing catch-up, not the US. It's entirely likely then that the US would have beaten the Soviets to the punch and placed a man into space first. But that's a lot of "ifs," and it is not how history actually turned out. This is just "navel-gazing" and I'm honestly surprised that something like this would turn up on Yahoo News (not that it's the greatest source of news in the world, but still). I think it's time we started looking forward, not backward - at least in terms of space exploration.

Makes more sense as a missle defence (1)

X-Gamer (937169) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773858)

Small boats threat? It makes more sense as a defence against anti-ship missles. Modern anti-ship missles are programmed to approach in an erratic trajectory that makes it very difficult for CIWS to track and take out since they have to compensate for the flight time and distance of the projectiles. A laser will CIWS will most certainly be more effective.

If the commies had been to the Moon first too... (2)

FridayBob (619244) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773872)

Then the Americans would probably have made it to Mars before 1980. And then never bothered to go back again.

"Technically" America DID beat the Soviets. (1)

p51d007 (656414) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773992)

You see, when the Russian Vostok1 came back from orbit, they were so afraid it wouldn't land safely, that when it reached an altitude for safe ejection, they shot him out. Now, if you read the report, the soviets lied to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), which REQUIRED that the pilot who was in space LAND with his spaceship. The soviets lied and said that he did, but it was proved years later that he did not. So, the Americans "technically" were the first into space, if you use the FAI guidelines. The soviets did the Americans a favor by lying to the world, and got the Americans off their butts and they once again proved that if you piss us off, there isn't anything we can't do.

Re:"Technically" America DID beat the Soviets. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35774054)

You are a sad, sad, little man.

Re:"Technically" America DID beat the Soviets. (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 3 years ago | (#35774142)

Who cares though? The Russians sent a man into orbit before the Americans ever got a man the 100km required to get into space.

And aren't the FAI guidelines about altitude records rather than orbit. So all the Americans did "technically" was set the first altitude record to cover a space flight.

Not much. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35774102)

Still would have been a race. We were already exploding nukes and doing all kinds of testing in that realm. About the only thing the Russians accomplished is us maybe turning the speed knob from 9 to 11.

There was already an atomic race on.

Playing the "What If?" History Game (1)

handy_vandal (606174) | more than 3 years ago | (#35774112)

The question arises: What if ______________________________________?

The question then goes away and stops bothering people.

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