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Red Flag Over the Moon

by Romney Boyd

After Sputnik and Muttnik, what? Science-fiction has been talking about space-flight for years while the politicians goofed. SATURN dares to present a grimly realistic analysis of what the future of space- flight is really going to be.

A mountain of self-deception came crashing down on the heads of the Western world on October 4, 1957, when the ominous beep-beep-beep of a man-made moon came circling the globe. For that satellite, the first actual step in the conquest of outer space, was not—as ten thousand science-fiction stories would have had it and as millions of lines of smug newspaper and magazine stories had predicted—was not an American invention.

Only a few weeks earlier Russian claims to having perfected a powerful rocket capable of intercontinental cargo travel (the cargo being, of course, atomic warheads) were pooh-poohed. From the White House on down to the lowliest politicos, the report was greeted with shrugs, smiles of scorn for such obvious poppycock, and jeers that it was mere propaganda. But as it turned out the Soviets were not making scarehead stories, they were coldly stating facts.

They produced a rocket capable of penetrating outer space. They blasted off a miniature globe many times heavier than our most ambitious plans had projected and at a higher altitude—and they then said that it was just an advance trial, a mere preliminary to the real thing.

And while the Russians were preparing to complete this first successful space breakthrough, what were we doing? We had postponed our efforts at putting up an earth satellite from an indefinite time in the fall of 1957 to an equally indefinite time in the early summer of 1958. Our officials were engaged in refereeing a ridiculous dispute between the Air Force and the Army as to which of several half-finished rocket programs should be scrapped and which kept. The earth satellite we planned and couldn't bring about on schedule was to be a piddling little thing of about twenty pounds, to be sent up—if we were lucky—to about three hundred miles.

Of course once the Sputnik, as the Soviets call their moon, was up and going, there was a great scurrying and to-do in the circles of the brave gentlemen who compose the United States rocket leaders. Efforts were made to say that, well, the Russians were a little ahead of, but not much—a few months maybe—we weren't in a race anyway—besides we'd soon outstrip them with our know-how.

The facts are otherwise. The size and weight and height of the Sputnik shows that the Russians are not just a few months ahead, but at least two years ahead; that they possess the means and technique to plan space operations many times greater than those in our present capacity; and that they are forging ahead without halt, without inter-departmental arguments, and without a lot of shoddy lobbying to see into whose corporative pockets the new few billions of defense money is going to be funnelled.

In plain language, this is all going to mean that the Russians are going to be the first to conquer space, the first to reach the moon, the first to set up a permanent base on the moon.

We are sorry to have to make this observation so bluntly. But it is the peculiar quality of a magazine of this sort, a science-fiction magazine whose readers are accustomed to view the future with intelligent eyes rather than with the blinkers that “family” magazines impose, to be able to present an unpleasant aspect of the future in its true light.

I know that it is possible to raise objections, but for the most part these objections will be derived from the soft soap that is going to be dished out heavily by the culprits who were responsible for our fumbling failure to keep ahead of the Soviets in a field where we certainly once had a head start. Raise these objections if you will, but a two-year lead in rocketry with the full consciousness of the importance of the outcome is not to be overcome so easily. The Soviets, having brought to world attention their leadership in the field, must now redouble their national effort to keep it. You can rest assured that they know this and that, while we are holding post-mortems and emergency committee meetings, they will be plunging ahead with tests, plans, and vaster engineering operations. They have publicly stated their objectives—and stated them without all the evasiveness we give to ours.

The United States has the means to make up the loss—if time permits. We have an industrial apparatus far superior to that of the Soviets, but do we have the time to spare?Are our leaders willing to take a stand quick enough and firm enough? What is more—are they willing to scrap fast some of the rubbish they have cluttered up our rocket projects with?

What exactly does a Soviet victory in moon-flight mean? Well, the moon is a permanent fixed space platform, from which every part of the Earth's surface can be surveyed telescopically down to the smallest detail. To construct a telescope in the low-gravity airlessness of the moon's surface is a simple matter compared with telescope construction on Earth. With great ease and speed, lenses can be arranged, on simple skeleton frameworks, virtually fixed on the Earth—which, please remember, is a fixed object in the lunar skies. Observations will be a hundred times clearer there because of the lack of an obscuring atmosphere.

It would be no problem to set, almost at once a spy observatory on Luna that will be able to spot every movement on Earth of a troop of soldiers or even of a single automobile. There will be no military secrets left.

The next step, following the observatory, would be the setting of a rocket-artillery base on the moon. From such a point, it would be no problem to fire direct rocket shots at any activity on the Earth's surface the Lunar Station didn't like. What is more it would be vastly difficult for the Earth to fire back.

In addition to these obvious military advantages, there is also the tremendous boost to science that working on the moon will give. Conditions of matter in low gravity and in outer space are still not subject to experiment to the Earth-bound. The certainty of making great discoveries and great strides in the conquest of nature is taken for granted once we have reached outer space. The qualities of various elements at temperatures near absolute zero are already suspected to hold tremendous potentials for energy liberation—and such temperatures could be had without much difficulty during the two-week long lunar nights. The world's chemists would sell their souls for a chance at such experimentation.

The Russians, who have had a bug on engineering education (they are outstripping us in the number of students and graduates—another scandal) since 1945, know all about these possibilities. They are giving their rocket and space travel men the same type of high priority drive that the U.S.A. gave the atomic bomb project during World War II.

The cold fact is that Soviet achievement of the moon is going to make them the masters of the Earth. They know it—and what is worse, until October 4, 1957, apparently the Pentagon didn't know it.

There are men among the rocket engineers of America who knew this, too. Such men as G. Harry Stine, whose book EARTH SATELLITES AND THE RACE FOR SPACE SUPERIORITY, published by Ace Books shortly before the advent of the Sputnik, put the case with clarity and passion. In his unique thirty-five cent newsstand paperback, Stine outlined what America planned to do in the launching of its own earth satellite, the Vanguard, and then went on to outline what American engineers saw as the next steps along the line.

These steps consisted of advanced designs of cargo-carrying rockets and man-carrying rockets—the ICBM— and then of a vast and elaborate project to construct a manned space station—an Earth Satellite as large as a small city, with a permanent crew of engineers and researchers. This space station in turn would serve as the place where the first moon-exploration rockets would be put together and then launched. It would act to serve the same defensive and research purposes that the moon would serve.

Possibly this is still the official United States program. If it is, it is going to be too bad for us. Because the Russians stated the answer quite clearly a few months ago. One of their scientists pointed out that construction of this colossal space platform was a waste of time and an evasion of the obvious. For the obvious, said this Soviet rocketman, is that a really permanent and stable space platform already exists—and that was Luna itself. The Russian logic called for by-passing any such man-made platform and for setting up shop without delay on the moon itself.

The sense here should be self-evident. Stine admits in his book (which is must reading for everyone interested in this space race) that his space station is entirely indefensible in

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