Cold War Rocket Science

As an engineer, I don't really find it all that mysterious how Eisenhower's military-industrial complex got started. The Cold War meant that enormous sums were spent on secret projects far beyond the cutting edge of technology. It was a great time to be an engineer.

Maybe not quite as good in Russia as in America. Today in the New York Times we see the obituary of Boris Chertok, second greatest rocket designer in all of the Russias. His boss, Sergei Korolev, propelled the Soviets to first place in the space race until his untimely death in 1966. Chertok's and Korolev's accomplishments are all the greater, given that the US literally stole all the researcher and researchers it could out of Nazi Germany, even in the Soviet occupation zone. Operation Paperclip wisked German scientists and their families away from the Soviets, and then gave them more acceptable backgrounds so they could get security clearances in the US.

The most famous of all German rocket scientists is Wernher von Braun, and he benefitted immensely from surrendering to the US instead of Russia. The Germans who were captured by the Soviets lived in scientific labor camps along with men like Korolev. These were not gulags, but they were still prisoners. Braun clearly knew what he was doing.

But for all that, the Russians really had something going! Korolev beat von Braun with far less money and expertise. The Americans had someone who already had achieved rocket flight, and lots of money, but Korolev studied the rockets he found and managed to orbit the first satellite with that knowledge. Russia produces some amazing engineers.