Sunday, November 13, 2011

Back to the cold war: Red Stars and Rockets

The second orbital war flared in 1961 and dragged on, continuing in fits and starts until ending in 1963, with the treaty of New Dehli.

While generally regarded as an accidental war, it was nonetheless inevitable in retrospect, given the continuing militarization of earth orbital (and, after 1959, the lunar surface).  A second, and less well understood cause was the fact that in reality, both sides were operating beyond the bounds of their current technology and resources.  In truth, many of the craft used thru this period would have(at best) qualified as testbed or prototypes; due to the press of the cold war they were tested in active missions, direct confrontation, or, post 1961, front line operations.  Accidents are a natural result of experimentation, and under the pressure of the east-west confrontation, easily become disasters. 

The 1961 catastrophic deorbiting of the newly deployed USAF Manned orbiting labratory#4 during a confrontation/provocation with Vostok 17  was the spark that started the second war. Both sides faced what seemed to be a sudden, unexpected  attack, followed by a sudden cascading  failure  of communication and observation capacity, possibly by hostile action, and escalated accordingly. 

It was little consolation that post war examination of blackbox data and operational telemetry concluded that the explosion of Aug 16, 1961 was due to an electrical failure in the reserve LOX tanks when the new station was brought up to full emergency power due to the approach of the Vostok Interceptor.  That the explosion/collision  destroyed the Soviet craft simply increased the uncertainty of what happened;  the disruption of both sides’ overloaded communication and orbital C3 infrastructure by secondary debris guaranteed that a tragedy became a war.