Hey friend, say friend, come on over, how d’ya like to see some tall rockets?

Categories
Media
A Soviet researcher, Vladimir A. Kostrov, and a reproduction of Sputnik II displayed at the Terre et Cosmos exhibition in Paris. Anon., “Spoutniks russes à Paris.” Photo-Journal, 12 July 1958, 2.

Good morning or good evening, my reading friend. And no, this article has nothing to do with the Exposition universelle et internationale de Montréal held in 1967. My apologies and ... You do not understand the link between Expo 67 and the title of this issue in our blog / newsletter / thingee, do you? Sigh. Let it be known that Un jour, un jour was the title of the theme song of the exhibition. Seemingly somewhat dissatisfied with the performer chosen to popularize his work, Québec singer Michèle Richard, Stéphane Venne managed to produce a record at top speed. Québec singer Donald Lautrec, born Donald Bourgeois, thus became the best known performer of Un jour, un jour and its English version, Hey Friend, Say Friend. (Hi there, MMcC.)

This musical / cultural interlude being finished, let us move into the heart of the matter. The launch of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik I, by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), in October 1957, 40 years after the Great October Socialist Revolution, which actually took place in November, at least outside the Russian Empire, amazed a good part of humanity.

The fact that this event occurred during the International Geophysical Year (IGY), which ran from July 1957 to December 1958, seemed to be a coincidence exploited for propaganda purposes. Technical problems with the rocket, a slightly modified version of the Korolev R-7 intercontinental ballistic missile with a (thermo)nuclear warhead, forced the Soviet researchers to postpone the launch of Sputnik I. By the way, a highly modified and improved version of this rocket was still used in 2018 by the Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities, or Gosudarstvennaya korpormatsiya po kosmicheskoy deyatel’nosti “Roscosmos,” to launch all the astronauts who go to the International Space Station.

In any event, the reactions to the launch of Sputnik I ranged from wonder to panic. All experts agree on one point: the world was entering a new era. No one could ignore the military potential of the huge Soviet rocket, that is the transport of a (thermo)nuclear warhead to the United States. The American government redoubled its efforts to launch its own missile of this type, the Convair SM-65 Atlas, and ...

You are right, my reading friend, I have not yet touched on the subject of this article. Before getting there, however, I would like to point out that the Atlas was initially designated B-65 and ... No, this had nothing to do with a game of bingo. This designation was due to the fact that the Atlas was first deemed to be an unpiloted bombing airplane. And yes, my annoyed reading friend with fully open eyes, an Atlas rocket / missile dominated for many years the site of the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa, Ontario.

Allow me to complete this endless digression with some Canadian content. The launch of Sputnik I played a nasty trick on A.V. Roe Canada Limited of Malton, Ontario. For some years, the Aircraft and Gas Turbine divisions of this aeronautical giant, renamed Avro Aircraft Limited and Orenda Engines Limited in 1954-55, had been working on a supersonic bomber interceptor project for the Royal Canadian Air Force. The CF-105 Arrow program took a decisive step in early October 1957. More than 12 000 people attended the unveiling of the first aircraft, at the Avro Aircraft plant. The management was delighted; the Arrow would make the front page of Canada’s largest dailies. Fate thought otherwise. That same day, indeed, the USSR placed Sputnik I in orbit. It was this launch that occupied the front pages of the daily newspapers of the following day.

The launch of Sputnik I also played a nasty trick on the United States, which was certainly hoping to win the honour of placing the first satellite in orbit during the IGY. Let’s not forget that these 2 superpowers competed for control of a world wrestling with the Cold War. Do you have a question, my reading friend? What was the IGY? A good question that grants me the opportunity to pontificate for a short while. The IGY was a period of about 16 months devoted to research on the Earth accomplished on a global level.

Before I forget it, because I’m getting old, the IGY can be linked to a very interesting non-aeronautical project of an aircraft manufacturer based in Cartierville, Québec, and a subsidiary of the American defence giant General Dynamics Corporation. To make a long story short, Canadair Limited launched a Vehicle Division in 1956. Its first project was the RAT (Remote Articulated Track), a light amphibious tracked vehicle in 2 sections linked by a very innovative articulated joint. From 1957 or so onward, Canadair built 6 prototypes of this vehicle, designated CL-61, as well as 30 CL-70 production vehicles. A thought is I may. Yours truly would be curious to know if the public relations department of Canadair liked the name given to these remarkably agile, innovative and versatile vehicles. Would you like to buy a RAT, my reading friend?

No less than 24 RATs served for some time in the Canadian Army, while 2 ministries, Mines and Technical Surveys on the one hand and Northern Affairs and Natural Resources on the other, received 2 more. At least one RAT used by the United States Navy took part in an Antarctic expedition within the framework of the IGY. (Tadaa.) Another participated in tests organized in 1963 by the United States Army. In either case, these may have been vehicles leased to those services. Would you believe that the Minister of Northern Affairs and Natural Resources between December 1953 and June 1957 was none other than Jean Lesage, a prominent figure mentioned in another July 2018 issue of our blog / newsletter / thingee? The world is a small place, is it not, my reading friend?

It should be noted that Canadair exported 4 RATs: 2 destined for the New Jersey Mosquito Extermination Association and 2 others for the Swedish army, or Armén. This last order was all the more interesting (suspect?) given that Aktiebolaget Bolinder-Munktell, a subsidiary of the Swedish car manufacturer Aktiebolaget Volvo, started producing, in 1964, a light amphibious tracked vehicle in 2 sections linked by a very innovative articulated joint. Produced until 1981, the Bv 202, or Snowcat, served in the armed forces of European countries like the United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands and Finland. Ironically, the Canadian Army / Canadian Armed Forces also counted among the former users of this remarkably agile, innovative and versatile vehicle.

What do you say, my somewhat exasperated reading friend? What is the mysterious subject of this article? My apologies, I’m getting there. Conscious of the importance of the launch of Sputnik I and / or impressed by the reaction of the public, the French government decided even before the end of 1957 to organize an international exhibition dedicated to astronautics within the framework of the IGY. Christened Terre et Cosmos – l’Homme à la conquête de l’espace / univers, this first interplanetary show was to be held in Paris between April and June 1958. It was to present the history of the conquest of space as well as examples of the most modern achievements in rocketry. This project was under the auspices of an international organization described as the Organisation mondiale de la culture. This writer wonders whether this body was not in fact the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO.

The names of 2 members of the prestigious de Broglie family were mentioned as members of the scientific committee of patronage of Terre et Cosmos, created around December 1957:

- Duke Maurice Jean Madeleine de Broglie, a well-known physicist, and
- Prince Louis Victor Raymond Pierre de Broglie, a well-known Nobel Prize in physics and perpetual secretary of the Académie des Sciences.
Yours truly does not know which of the 2 was really involved, but I’m leaning towards the first. If I may say so, it should be noted that de Broglie is apparently pronounced de Broglie or de Breuil, as one wishes.

As achieved, Terre et Cosmos was not limited to astronautics / cosmonautics. The exhibition covered aeronautics, astronautics / cosmonautics, astronomy, geology, meteorology, medicine, oceanography and physics. Indeed, its organizers wished to address issues or problems of interest to ordinary people, from energy to telecommunications. A good part of Terre et Cosmos was thus devoted to the vast unexploited regions of the Earth and the technologies allowing the extraction of the resources that were there. According to the organizers of the exhibition, the growing population of our planet should enjoy these riches. In fact, these men wanted to use Terre et Cosmos to develop a love of technology among young people and thus multiply scientific vocations. And yes, my highly cultured reading friend, the vast and unexploited regions in question were often colonies and protectorates controlled, very / too often by violent means, by colonial powers like France and the United Kingdom.

Before I forget it, a prominent 20th century French artist / designer / filmmaker / graphic artist / playwright / poet, Clément Eugène Jean Maurice Cocteau, created 2 monumental frescoes for Terre et Cosmos. These works, preserved in 2018 at the Cité des Sciences in Paris, a science center that is really worth seeing, were entitled Hommage aux savants and La conquête de l’inconnu. The use of the word conquête, or conquest in English, was rather interesting but not very peaceful, and I digress.

For one reason or another, Terre et Cosmos did not open its doors on the date announced on the posters plastered everywhere in Paris, in other words 30 May 1958. It finally took place from 4 June to 20 July. As well, the opening date was quite theoretical because many crates still occupied part of the exhibition site. Worse still, the organizing committee only received conformation of the imminent arrival of Sputnik II’s full-size reproduction on 3 June. Indeed, the USSR willingly participated in the project, as well as the United States and, obviously, France. The absence of the United Kingdom and Japan, both active throughout the IGY, did not go unnoticed, however.

In any event, ladies and gentlemen visiting Terre et Cosmos could see presentations of many different types in the 2 pavilions that framed the Iéna bridge, on the banks of the Seine, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. Several small movie theatres allowed visitors to see various documentaries, for example. Before entering the main pavilion, all of these people could see rockets painted with enthusiasm. Amusingly, or not, one of these seemed to directly target the Palais de Chaillot which housed, between 1952 and 1959, the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a group that included and still includes Canada among its members.

Among the items on display were a (authentic?) 13th century kite and a model of an aircraft designed but not manufactured around 1867. Also worthy of note was the presence of a full-size replica of the liquid fuel rocket, the first in the world, tested in March 1926 by the American Robert Hutchings Goddard, for many (Americans?) the father of modern rocketry.

In fact, visitors to Terre et Cosmos could examine many graphics, photos and diagrams provided by the American government. The contemporary material on display included an experimental rocket from the State University of Iowa, as well as the tip of a General Aerobee Aerojet rocket covered with a clear plastic sheet. There was also a reproduction of a balloon nacelle used for the study of the upper atmosphere. A reproduction of Explorer 1, the first American satellite, launched in January 1958, also appeared to be on display. If I may digress for a moment, did you know that the head of the State University of Iowa’s space research program was none other than James Alfred Van Allen, the American astrophysicist who discovered the radiation belt that surrounds the Earth and which carries his name?

The graphics, photos and diagrams presented by the Russian Academy of Sciences, or Rossiyskaya Akademiya Nauk, were also very interesting. Visitors could see illustrations of Sputnik I and III, for example, as well as the aforementioned full-size reproduction of Sputnik II, where one could see the capsule that housed, on the real satellite, the female dog known worldwide under the name of Laïka. Discovered as she roams the streets of Moscow, this poor animal with no history or pedigree, the first cosmonaut / astronaut if I may say so, died a few hours after the launch of Sputnik II, in November 1957. Press releases according to which Laïka was euthanized before the satellite was destroyed when it re-entered the atmosphere were shameless lies.

As one might expect, the French stands were full of interesting items, including a complete weather station, a (functional?) reproduction of an African volcano and a model of the human centrifuge located in a Paris suburb. The Office national d’études et de recherches aérospatiales (ONERA) took this opportunity to present some of its experimental rockets.

In fact, the most impressive elements of Terre et Cosmos, if only physically, were undoubtedly the rockets exposed outside. One only needs to think about an experimental ONERA rocket known later on under the name Antarès. Used to facilitate the design of future (thermo)nuclear ballistic missile warheads, a detail probably kept secret at the time, this rocket measuring more than 12 metres (over 39 feet) in height made its first flight in May 1959.

Placed near a planetarium created for the duration of the exhibition, a full-size reproduction of the Unites States Navy's Martin Vanguard rocket, in wood and fabric painted red and white, dominated the site with its 23 metres (75 feet) height. Interestingly, or not, you decide, the leader of the group responsible for the propulsion of this rocket was a individual born in Germany who came to Canada in 1929, Kurt Richard Stehling, perhaps born Kurtiz Stehling. Around 1936, while studying at the Central Technical School in Toronto, Ontario, this teenager founded a rocket club, the first in Canada apparently. Stehling was also one of the founding members of the Canadian Rocket Society, a group created in 1947, about a year before his departure to the United States.

Most of the small objects on display were equally interesting. Let’s not forget, for example, a model of the FNRS IIII, a Belgian-French bathyscaph named after Belgium’s Fonds national de la recherche scientifique that reached a record depth of about 4 050 metres (about 13 300 feet) in February 1954. The inventor of this type of exploration submarine was the Swiss physicist / oceanaut / aeronaut Auguste Piccard. A well-known Belgian cartoonist, Hergé, born Georges Prosper Remi, was so fascinated by this researcher that he was inspired to create, in 1943, one of the most popular characters in the universe that surrounded his world-famous hero, Tintin. You will obviously recognize the absent minded and hard of hearing scholar and inventor known as Cuthbert Calculus. Happy 75th birthday, professor! This wish comes a bit late, or early, but it is the intention that counts.

And yes, Calculus had gone to the Moon, with Tintin, Snowy and a few other people. The original version of this graphic novel, in French, which told this story, Explorers on the Moon, arrived in libraries in 1954. This episode of the adventures of Tintin was originally published, in French, in the illustrated weekly Tintin between May 1952 and December 1953.

If a postcard showing the piloted version of the C400, the flying Atar of the most important French maker of aircraft engines, the Société nationale d’études et de construction de moteurs d’avions (SNECMA), in flight not far from the site of Terre et Cosmos, was in all likelihood a fake, it is possible that this strange experimental vertical take-off and landing vehicle was displayed on the site. Visitors could also see the helicopter used by French writer / explorer / ethnologist Paul-Émile Victor during one of his recent polar expeditions.

The time has come to conclude this article and ... What do you say, my reading friend whose curiosity remains unfulfilled? Who was the Vladimir A. Kostrov mentioned in the caption of the photo at the beginning of this article? Uh, to my great shame, I must admit I know very little about him. He apparently worked in a military research center, No. 137 Research Institute, or Nauchno-Issledovatel’skiy Institut 137. Kostrov and his team developed the self-destruct device mounted on the unpiloted versions of the Vostok space capsule launched in 1960-61. And yes, when Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin became the first human being in space in April 1961, he was aboard a capsule of this type.

As I was saying (typing?) before being interrupted, very nicely I must say, the time has come to conclude this article. See you next week, if the flying spaghetti monster wills it.

Author(s)
Profile picture for user rfortier
Rénald Fortier