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Moon landing in 1969 - why did it take so long?

50 years ago, Neil Armstrong and "Buzz" Aldrin landed on the moon - the moon landing in 1969 succeeded! But why did it take so long? If you do not already have been able in the 19th century, to fly to the moon, you could only really tried? As a steampunk fan it would feel located but a fanatic technical plausibility I have doubts.

The astronomer Florian Freistetter recently a similar question asked in his blog, When I went for a few days weeks two and a half holiday in the Allgäu and the haunts of King Ludwig II. Visited this question introduced himself to me again. . Ludwig II was a real nerd; Although he gushed from the Middle Ages - not the real Middle Ages, but the fantasy world that Richard Wagner described in his operas - but he was also very interested in the technical progress of his time. Neuschwanstein looked like an ideal knight's castle, but had a telephone, central heating and flush toilets. Schloss Linderhof the first power station in Bavaria belonged. . Had it been up to Ludwig II, would Hohenschwangau with a "flying peacocks", suspended from a hydrogen-filled balloon, have been reached as a steam-powered cable car - we had a taxi and have to take a horse and cart for the rest of the way. Ludwig also supported the engineer Gustav Koch, who was working on an airship Graf Zeppelin years ago.

Mondlandung 1969
Moon landing in 1969 would have Or so looked the airship by Gustav Koch.

What would have happened if Louis is not declared insane and, as some people think to this day, would have been killed, but his plans as a patron of the arts as well as science would be able to implement? Not only poets and composers, but also scientists, inventors and engineers were drawn to Bavaria, there to realize their ideas, and the Allgäu might become a Silicon Valley of the 19th century. By the end of the century, a trip to the moon might have been possible? That's a subject for a novel (or graphic novel) is just waiting to be written.

The amazing thing about the actual development of space travel is so, how quickly they took place, and with what simple means - but supported by an extremely generous funding - the moon landing in 1969 was possible. But just now, after the governments of the Soviet Union and United States, had decided to promote this project. Missiles already existed for centuries, but until 1903 presented Konstantin Tsiolkovsky whose operating principle in a precise physical basis, where he established the principle of multi-stage rocket. During World War II developed sturmbannführer Wernher von Braun and his colleagues within a few years driven by liquid fuel "Aggregate 4", which first reached on its parabolic trajectory space - to then, however, as "Vengeance Weapon 2" with his explosive payload on civilian targets to fall. The development of the V2 in the Soviet Union and the United States led to missiles, initially and finally brought satellite and manned spacecraft into orbit, and in 1969 the first man on the moon.

Here could be considered a waste of time, the years 1945 to 1957 - had focused in East and West in the development of nuclear bombs equipped with intercontinental ballistic missiles, rather than deal with the exploration of space. After the Soviet Union had in 1957 launched Sputnik 1 the first artificial Earth satellite - apparently, so to demonstrate with the ulterior motive of the capabilities of their missiles -, ended up being the rivalry between the nuclear powers opened in space, and science benefited from. How close the space was connected to a military calculus, the projects show A119 US or E-4 of the Soviet Union, aimed, respectively, to bring a show of force a nuclear bomb on the moon to explode. Fortunately, neither of the two projects was realized.

The three-stage Saturn V, flew the Apollo 11 to the moon can be seen as direct evolution of the "Vengeance Weapon 2". Even in Nazi Germany Wernher von Braun had been working on a multi-stage rocket with which he wanted to bomb New York. The basic technology of the moon rocket was not so different from the 40's; for example, were slowly replaced by the computer technology in the course of the US space program manual calculations as they had formed the basis of the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb. Apollo 11 had only the computing power of a better calculator and the astronauts have used a sextant to navigate on the basis of measurement of the angle between heavenly bodies. Without this tool, even the explorer of the seas calculated with their course, the crew of the stricken Apollo 13 mission would never be returned.

What would have been so a space program in the 19th century against? Jules Verne's idea to shoot a space ship with a cannon to the moon would not work, because the necessary acceleration would have killed the crew. but the missile technology was already available, although the fuels used today were not industrially produced at the time. Problematic attitude control would have been - a constantly critical issue, because many start attempts in the early 20th century ended with the fact that the missiles began to wobble shortly after the start and finally crashed. Wernher von Braun's unit 4 was stabilized by an fitted with electronic tubes analog computer, who analyzed the data from gyroscopes, and this technology was only in the 20th century are available.

Mondlandung 1969
Mondlandung 1969. The control unit SG-66 of the assembly 4 / V2. Source: Tpeterek

In principle, there would be alternatives to electronics. With liquids, for example, functions similar to the electric power could be realized. Known as fluidics technology is slower than electronics, and their use for missile control should fail because fluids are very sensitive to acceleration forces. Weightlessness would be less of a problem than the forces acting during startup, so just when the attitude control would most needed.

Another problem would have been to communicate with a spaceship. A radio transmission over long distances was not until the 20th century, though Guglielmo Marconi had begun late 19th century with the first experiments. Although it would have taken to radio waves can rely on light, but also the laser technology did not yet exist. And how could a spacecraft to respond to light signals when there were no electronics to process them? One would control unmanned spaceships neither from Earth nor have space probes to transmit information to Earth. Steampunk space would have been bound to human space flight, and you would have to wait for the return of astronauts to learn from their experiences.

Overall, I am afraid that space could still succeed even with best conditions for an alternative history in the 20th century. Or does anyone have an idea that could prove me wrong?

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Michael J. Hußmann

Michael J. Hussmann is a leading expert in the technology of cameras and lenses in Germany. He studied computer science and linguistics and worked for some years as a scientist in the field of artificial intelligence.

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  1. König Ludwig auf dem Mond? Wenigstens muss die Graphic Novel nicht mehr geschrieben werden, die gibt es schon:
    Alex Alice
    Le Château des Étoiles
    1869 : La Conquête de l’Espace (zwei Bände)
    Editeur : RUE DE SÈVRES
    Keine Ahnung, ob es da eine deutsche Übersetzung gibt.

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