• Apollo 11 – An act of faith: Reach

    In 1926, Robert H. Goddard launched the first rocket that used liquid oxygen and gasoline as fuel. Others were well aware of this idea, including an amateur rocket enthusiast in Germany called Wernher von Braun. The A4 (‘V2’) his team developed was the world’s first intercontinental rocket. It used new technology, including a double-walled combustion chamber that used its own fuel as a coolant and carbon control vanes. After the war, von Braun came to America and continued his work, developing the A4 and giving his former enemy a head start in military and civil rocketry. America’s first satellite went into orbit in 1958, and four years later work began on a much larger system that would allow three men

    to reach the moon. In his “We choose to go to the Moon” speech in 1962, President Kennedy summarised this as-yet-unbuilt structure as: “a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun.” By 16 July 1969, the Saturn 5 rocket stack sitting on the pad in Florida was taller than the Statue of Liberty and weighed nearly 3,000 tons – most of that was fuel which, had it exploded, would have released energy equivalent to two kilotons of TNT; the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was sixteen kilotons. No-one was allowed closer than three miles; at lift-off, the flames turned concrete to glass whilst the shockwaves damaged launch control and caused a seismic event that registered in New York. Its first stage burned 20 tons of fuel a second, pushed the Saturn supersonic in seconds and was empty in 2.5 minutes, by which time the rocket was almost 40 miles high. The second stage fired for less than ten minutes, speeding the Saturn to 15,500 miles per hour. The third lasted for less than five minutes, and ensured the crew reached Earth orbit just 12 minutes from launch. A four-day journey lay ahead.

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Chris Rogers writer on architecture and visual culture

Click blog images to expand; pre-Sept 2011 posts here

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Chris is one of more than a dozen specialists whose essays fill this fresh examination of the charms of Paris, which is edited by John Flower. Looking at the French capital's history, culture and districts, each item can be read in just half a minute and is beautifully illustrated with its own collage-style spread.

The Ivy Press, 2018

Hardback, 160 pages | ISBN 9781782405443

£14.99

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