RIP: Soviet rocket scientist, 99
December 15, 2011, 05:41 AM
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Here`s the NYT obituary for 99-year-old Boris Chertok, who was deputy to the great Korolev during the 1950s and 1960s.

When you think about contemporary engineering fiascos like high-speed rail in California, it`s hard not to be stunned by how fast America got to the moon. But, then, think about how a bunch of almost unknown guys in the otherwise pervasively cruddy Soviet Union beat America in the the first two laps of the Space Race (first satellite and first man in space). Jerry Pournelle spent a long time staring at spy photos during this era, counting things like mule-drawn wagons, and eventually concluded that the Soviet Union was "Bulgaria with nuclear missiles." And while the Soviets got a copy of the German V-2 blueprints, the Americans got most of the best German rocket designers like von Braun, who had the good sense to surrender to the Americans.

Tom Wolfe concluded that the Space Race was a form of ritual single combat, like David and Goliath. In an age of nuclear weapons, that is a very good way to find out who is stronger.

And the Soviet space engineers were more David than Goliath.