July 29, 2019

Open Thread 31

It's time for our regular open thread. Talk about whatever you want, as usual.

Something I recently found is the RTW2 wiki. This isn't well-indexed by Google, and it has a lot of good information, particularly for those participating in the RTW2 game who don't own a copy.

Overhauled posts since last time include Yalu River, DismalPseudoscience's review of Mikasa, German Battleships in WWII, The 15" Battleships, Museum Ships - United States, and my pictures from LA Fleet Week 2016.


  1. July 29, 2019Alexander said...

    A little off topic, but after the 50 year anniversary of Apollo 11 I was wondering how far off the USSR was from being able to get there first. The N1 was never flown successfully, and the Soviets didn't get enough experience with docking until too late, which are pretty serious problems. Could they have used Soyuz rockets to assemble a moon ship in earth orbit (requiring rendezvous manoeuvres) if they'd committed to beating NASA? Would it have just been impossible without a more powerful rocket? I heard that part of the logic behind Kennedy's target was that it was beyond the capability of existing Soviet boosters, but I'm not sure that's true if you make enough launces and can link up in orbit.

  2. July 29, 2019bean said...

    Earth-orbit rendezvous is a viable option, but you have to make those architecture decisions early on. NASA picked lunar orbit rendezvous in 1962. Before that, the plan had been to land the entire CSM on the Moon, and traces of that (including the big engine on the service module) survived in the final spacecraft. And LOR was a big gamble, because nobody knew how to do rendezvous.

  3. July 30, 2019Wiggles said...

    There wasn't any real way they could have beaten NASA to the moon with the way they ran the program.

    The USSR's moon shot started about 3 years later than Apollo, only got about ~20% of the funding and was the subject of a bunch of infighting between the various design bureaus, so there was no overarching control of the various efforts.

    This is the root cause of the problems with the N1 project, as they never had sufficient funding to do full-scale testing of the first stages, and didn't have time to spend building the large scale infrastructure required for these tests. Instead they planned about 14 unmanned launches before the moon shot, fully expecting to lose a few.

    Their best engine designer (Glushko), and Korolev hated each-others' guts and refused to work with one-another, so they had to go to an aircraft engine organisation to design the first stage engines. These were small (but extremely high performance, the combination of TWR and ISP were unsurpassed until recently. They also used supercooled LOX, about ~45 years before the Falcon 9 did.) Which meant the plumbing and control systems needed to be extremely complex, which caused the issues on the first four flights. The fifth vehicle, which was almost on the pad when the program was cancelled, had upgraded engines, control systems and plumbing would probably have made it to orbit.

    In comparison to the booster issues, the space-craft and lander development went pretty smoothly, and they did a number of successful test flights in earth orbit simulating the required burns to land and launch from the moon, including recovering from anomalies.

    Had they decided in 1961 to go to the moon, and use their existing advantage (at that point) in booster design to use an Earth-Orbit Rendezvous, they would have had a good chance of beating NASA. But they started late, underfunded the program, and chose the wrong architecture for their capabilities and the rest is history.

  4. July 30, 2019Lambert said...

    Funny how the moon shot became synonymous with the space race as a whole.

    And how the broader geopolitical benefits of spaceflight turned out to only be tangentially related to the ability to put humans on the Moon.

  5. July 31, 2019Alexander said...

    Well I guess the finish line was set when one country stopped. If the US hadn't gone to the moon, the USSR would have won (though it might not have felt like much of a race). If the Soviets decided to go to Mars (and somehow found the budget) the race might have continued. Certainly NASA were hoping it would!

  6. July 31, 2019Doctorpat said...

    The USSR didn't have to go to Mars. Establishing a Lunar base would have been enough.

    But they didn't though. They threw in the towel and so the USA was the winner.

  7. July 31, 2019Wiggles said...

    @Doctorpat, They decided it wasn't worth the effort and focused on space stations for the rest of the cold war.

    When the order came down from above to develop the Buran spaceplane a lot of the engineers in the Soviet program thought that it was a waste of time, but they saw a great opportunity to make a launch vehicle family capable of putting ~100T in LEO.

    And 100T into LEO is an amount suspiciously close to what is needed for a moon mission...

  8. July 31, 2019Wiggles said...

    To add to my earlier comment, in the late 1970's NPO Energia with Glushko was working on a series of studies for a moon base, until they were told to focus on Buran. These projects then emerged again 10 years later using a rocket that just happened to be the perfect size for them- Energia.

  9. August 01, 2019Alexander said...

    Would a "flags and footprints" Mars mission have been harder than a Moon base? I agree that not having an easy abort option is an issue, whereas coming back from the moon only takes a few days. They'd have been doing it early enough that I don't think ISRU would have been practical, so I expect that the weight you'd have to put in orbit would be at least as high. Also, propaganda wise, the Americans have been there first, and have their moonwalkers to send on publicity tours too. Would a Moon base really show you'd 'won'?

  10. August 01, 2019Doctorpat said...

    If we are being purely speculative...it was maybe possible to do a one way Flags, Footprints and ... err I can't think of an alliterative noun.

    OK, Signs, Shoes and Stay.

    Anyway, doing it that way would -Cut the total deltaV needed by nearly half. Which, because of the exponential rocket equation, might make the rockets 5 to 10 times smaller. Or the landing ship 5 times bigger. - Solves the radiation problem, by choosing not to solve it. If the cosmonauts come back and die of cancer within a year that cancels out your victory. But if the brave volunteer heroes-of-the-soviet-people deliberately stay on Mars, doing science and working for all mankind, until they run out of oxygen. Well you might be able to spin that as a victory, in the style of the Kamikaze. -The Americans can't copy you. Oh they could get volunteers. Go to Mars, become one of the most famous heroes in history, die gloriously... you could get people signing up for that. You'd have beat them off with a stick. But the whole thing doesn't match the political message the USA was using the space race to sell.

  11. August 01, 2019bean said...

    It's probably worth pointing out that the US space program responded to perceptions of what the Soviets were doing. If they were making a serious run on a Moonbase or towards Mars, then I doubt Apollo would have ended as it did. But by 1968, when Saturn V production was shut down, it was pretty obvious that their program wasn't going that way, at least not fast enough to make it worth continuing the race.

    Re one-way missions, I'm not sure that would be much of a propaganda victory in the rest of the world. Kennedy had included "and return him safely to Earth" in his challenge for a reason. Although there was one moderately serious plan on the American side to launch the astronaut to the Moon and keep him supplied there until they figured out how to get him back. I'm not sure it ever made sense, but it's an amusing idea.

  12. August 03, 2019Alsadius said...

    I'm glad the RTW2 wiki is helpful. I started it : )

    Haven't had enough time to keep adding to it, and I've been a bit less into the game recently. But others have been doing some good stuff there.

  13. August 11, 2019quanticle said...

    This weekend, when I was out at the Minnesota State Capitol, for an unrelated event, I came across this gun. According to the plinth, it was the naval gun that fired the first US shots of World War 2. It was mounted on the USS Ward, and was used to sink a Japanese Ko-Hyoteki class midget submarine which was attempting to infiltrate Pearl Harbor in advance of the air assault.

  14. August 11, 2019quanticle said...

    Oh, I should add that the reason the gun is Minnesota, of all places, is because the Ward was manned by the 47th Division of 11th Battalion of the US Naval Reserve, which was from St. Paul, Minnesota.

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