Like me, you were probably weaned on the odd and mildly creepy similarities between the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy. To wit: Lincoln’s assassin did the deed in a theater and hid in a warehouse; Kennedy’s killer shot from a warehouse and hid in a theater. Lincoln had an aide named Kennedy; Kennedy had an aide named Lincoln. JFK was shtupping Marilyn Monroe; Marilyn Manson once had carnal knowledge of a woman named Lincoln (or something like that).
Other Mansons are equally stunned
The 50th anniversary of JFK’s death got me thinking about other parallels in history, and in particular, those related to Michigan Football (though it might have had more to do with the empty bottle of Bullitt 95 Rye in my trash can than anything on the History Channel last night). Last week, Civil War generals were on my mind. This week, it’s the Soviets and their bolloxed up Race to the Moon….
Spooky, isn’t it?
#3 Sergey “Bo” Korolyov’s Dodgy Heart
In 1965, no one was more important to the Soviet space program than Sergey Korolyov. Although his title was merely “Chief Designer” to hide his real importance and role (out of fear that the U.S. would target him for espionage, defection or assassination) he was, in fact, the visionary powering the early successes against NASA. He was the principle force behind the USSR’s ICBM, Sputnik, Vostok, Voshkod and Soyuz designs, and had a major role in the planning and execution of the first manned mission into space and the first spacewalk.
Unfortunately, his ticker’s sell-by date was January 1966. Korolyov’s first heart attack, in 1960, led to additional cardiovascular, intestinal and endocrinal problems over the years and a warning from his doctors that he needed to “slow down”. In a response that would have made many a Michigan Football coach proud, he simply responded, “To hell with Necro Dread.”
Unfortunately for the Soviets, their succession planning was about as successful as Fitz-up-the-middle when Korolyov’s bravado wrote one too many checks that his body couldn’t cash. For, waiting in the wings, was….
#2 Vasily “I’ll-Make-You-Forget-Whatshisname” Mishin
Upon Sergey Korolyov’s death, Vasily Mishin – by all accounts, a competent engineer – succeeded to the title of “Chief Designer.” But much like Lloyd’s final few and Rich Rodriguez’s three years, or even Brady’s tenure so far, it turned out that Mishin was no Korolyov. He lacked Korolyov’s political authority and found himself mired in competition from others within the Soviet program. Meanwhile,
OSU MSU the Americans were quickly recovering from the disaster of John Cooper John L Smith the Apollo 1 fire and setting their sights on the B1G Championship Moon.
The final setback came during The Horror: four consecutive N-1 rocket launches ended in disaster, permanently ending the Soviets’ hope for a moon landing. In 1974, Mishin was finally relieved of his duties as Chief Designer by no other than
Dave Brandon Leonid Brezhnev when it became clear that new program leadership was needed. By then, the U.S. had successfully landed and returned six manned missions to the Moon and three more entered and returned from lunar orbit (Apollo 8, 10 and 13). While the Soviets would later launch Low Earth Orbit programs including two space stations (Salyut and Mir) the lustre was gone.
Of course, that didn’t mean the Soviets weren’t above “borrowing” a few ideas from the U.S….
#1 The Buran “Any-Similarities-Are-Purely-Coincidental” Shuttle
The Soviet-U.S. shuttle doppelganger
By the 1980s, the U.S. Space Shuttle program was the shiny new toy among the world’s rocket scientists. Much like Michigan’s dabbling in dual-threat quarterbacks, the read-option, inverted veers and slot ninjas, the Soviets deigned to have their own. After a decade’s worth of development (advanced in no small measure by a little espionage) the USSR had its Buran shuttle. Like the U.S. orbiter, it rode into space on the back of a really big booster, landed like a glider, and was carried on the back of a massive jumbo jet between pit stops on Planet Earth.
One, unmanned mission into space was all it got. By the time it flew, the nature of the military and civilian missions it was designed to support had changed so that it no longer served a viable purpose, the USSR was preparing for its date with the ash heap of history, and the Buran was carted off to a museum. Meanwhile, U.S. was taking a fresh look at
manball less complex vehicles that were more reliable.
Fortunately, Russia had a ready-made supply of 1960s-vintage Soyuz capsules with which it was ready to compete on the world stage. No word yet on how it fares against eight- or nine-in-the-box defenses.