Solid Fuel saves the world

Re-posted from the Boeing internal newsgroup:

"At the Abyss: An Insider's History of the Cold War" Thomas C. Reed

Thomas C. Reed ran H-Bomb computer design simulations for the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in the late 1950's/early 1960's. He then witnessed the nuclear detonation of the device based on his design, which occured shortly after the Soviet Union unilaterally resumed nuclear testing after a brief mutual cessation. Whereas the US cessation was genuine, involving the actual shutdown of even laboratory operations according to Reed, the Soviet cessation was false since they're testing immediately involved scores of devices with long design leadtimes. Reed also was involved with spy satellites, the Polaris missile and a variety of other programs. His description of the ~2 Megaton H-bomb he observed from 17 miles away was compelling. Reed made a good case for strength during the cold war, in particular, nuclear strength.

"Even though we were wearing black goggles, and even though the yield was much lower than expected, the sky was filled with light. When all seemed dark, we removed those goggles, only to be blinded all over again. The ball of fire was white, then took on incredible colors--yellows and purples fascinating the mind's eye. When the blast arrived two minutes later...several fellows were knocked over. Then there's the heat. It makes no sense to the brain, because the explosion being observed is almost over the horizon..."

Reed felt that Eisenhower was responsible for the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union. In Reed's view the key insight that Eisenhower had was to determine that economic growth was key to winning, and that an imbalance military budget would cause us to lose. Reagan's insight was that the USSR had finally lost the economic battle and that the endgame could be played. Reed was Secretary of the Air Force appointed by Ford but serving under Carter.

One interesting point Reed made was that the development of the solid fuel rocket greatly contributed to the stability of the nuclear arsenal and thus decreased the nuclear risk. This resulted for two reasons, one that the fuel loading leadtime was so lengthy for liquid fueled rockets the decision leadtime increased thus false launch positives were more difficult to stand down from. The second that solid fuel allowed weaponry on US submarines creating a response that couldn't be disabled with a Soviet pre-emptive strike.

I think what was most amazing about this book were the descriptions of reunion scenes between American and Soviet counterparts. Whether aviation, rocket or nuclear scientists or intelligence agency personnel. Each side expressed their respect and relief at the end of the Cold War. In 1992 our CIA director Robert Gates was invited by Yevgeny Primakov the KGB director to the Kremlin. Gates presented a memorial tape of the burials of the Russian sailors aboard the Red Star which were recovered by the Glomar Explorer in 1974 an event at which everyone in the room, including Yeltsin were said to have wept.

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Fred Shecter
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