A familiar name came up the other day in the context of the unrest in Libya.
The USS Kearsarge.
Immediately, my mind went back to the very pleasant memories of my boyhood, following the flights of Project Mercury because any person who followed the space program as closely as we all did back then, knew that the USS Kearsarge was the carrier which recovered Wally Schirra and his Mercury capsule Sigma 7 as well as Gordon Cooper and Faith 7.
While the original Kearsarge was decommissioned in the 70’s and this ship is a namesake, that didn’t stop the memories from flooding back and making an otherwise grim day much more pleasant.
The race to the moon was probably America’s finest moment on the world stage which didn’t involve killing people and breaking things.
The other side of the story is that it was probably the Soviet Union’s finest moment, too, because this was one race between two different philosophies in which there were no real losers.
Las Vegas based ABC News Producer and free lance writer John Getter spent years in Houston covering the race and then a few in the private space exploration industry.
He has written an ebook called Moonwalkers in which he tells some stories heretofore not generally heard—even by those of us who went out of our way to know everything about the space program.
The first thing Getter explains is the difference between the Soviet and the American programs.
It can best be summed up by the story of the Fisher Space Pen.
In the Project Mercury days, NASA assumed that astronauts needed to be able to write in space. After all, we were there partially as scientists and scientists take notes.
The problem is that pens hold ink and ink has to flow.
In a weightless environment that is easier to say than actually do.
It took millions of dollars in research, but eventually, the Fisher Space Pen was born and can still be purchased today. It will write in any environment.
So, however, will the pencils that the Soviets used.
Their philosophy, points out Getter, was “good enough”.
Ours was, “better is better”.
The Soviets accomplished incredible things and almost beat us to the moon with limited budgets and technology which we sniffed at.
Getter’s book—which is a fairly short read, and priced at $2.99 in the Amazon Kindle Store goes on to humanize the Russian Cosmonauts such as Yuri Gagarin, the first man to orbit the Earth.
It seems that on his way to his historic flight, he had to, well, urinate.
So, he stopped, unzipped the fly on his good enough Russian space suit and did so on a tire of his vehicle. This, of course, was made possible by two things. One was that there was no television. This was the Soviet Union. The other was that Russian spacesuits weren’t the elaborate affairs that American spacesuits were. They had zippers on their flies.
Every Russian flight after Gagarin’s—presumably where a male cosmonaut was involved—followed that tradition.
Unfortunately for the Americans, that tradition was foreclosed because our technology was better and, more importantly, it would have looked unseemly for Walter Cronkite to have to explain what was happening.
Getter’s book rocks on with stories like that, guaranteed to bring a continuous smile to any space buff’s face.
His conclusion, by the way, is that better really is best.
But you can’t overlook good enough nor the run that the Soviets gave us for our money.