Soviet Union

August 21, 1957 – The Russians Launch the R-7

August 21, 1957 Launch of the R-7

On August 21, 1957, the Soviet Union carried out the first successful test launch of their prototype intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the R-7.  The two-stage, 112-foot-long, oxygen- and kerosene-fueled rocket blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and carried a dummy warhead 3500 miles.  The Soviets described the R-7 as a “super long-distance intercontinental multistage ballistic rocket.”  It was the “super long-distance” part that alarmed the United States, and the world at large, during the Cold War era of the 1950s.  Russian R-7 ICBMs were intended ultimately to be “tipped” with nuclear devices – weapons – capable of delivering the equivalent of almost 3 megatons of TNT.

At this time, the United States’ ICBM program was producing nothing but “spectacular failures.”  Initially, each branch of the armed services worked independently and in competition with one another to develop an American ICBM.  The success of the R-7, a version of which was used in October to launch the Sputnik satellite, redoubled the efforts of American scientists and military to win the Race to Space and prevent the spread of International Communism.  In the late fifties, the Atlas program began to make significant progress toward parity with the Russians.  In July of 1959, the first fully-operational Atlas ICBM lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Image Credit: RKK Energia & russianspaceweb.com

August 13, 1957 – Syria Ousts American Diplomats

Afif al-Bizreh

Syrian Army Chief of Staff Afif Al-Bizreh, assassination target

On August 13, 1957, the government of Syria expelled three American Embassy officials, Vice Consul Francis J. Jeton, Second Secretary Howard E. Stone, and Army Attaché Colonel Robert W. Molloy.  The previous day, Syria had announced their discovery of an undercover plot by the United States to assassinate top government officials and overthrow their regime.  Jeton, Stone, and Molloy, they alleged, had contacted dissident members of the Syrian military and offered money in exchange for their assistance, including purging leading loyalist officers in the Syrian army.  They had also allegedly promised the US would block Israeli aggression, settle the Arab-Israeli conflict, end the arms race in the Middle East, and provide substantial unconditional economic aid.

Syrian Director of Intelligence Abd al-Hamid al-Sarraj, assassination target

Following the Suez Crisis in 1956, when Egypt’s attempt to nationalize the Suez Canal led to an invasion by Britain, France, and Israel, and hard on the heels of the USSR’s invasion of Hungary, President Eisenhower promulgated his Eisenhower Doctrine in January of 1957.  The Doctrine, in an effort to halt the spread of communism, offered American military and economic aid to nations in the Middle East who wanted help to resist the advances of nations dominated by “international communism.”  Developments in the Middle East had led President Eisenhower to fear that Syria was becoming a Soviet “outpost,” an escalation of the Cold War, and had acted accordingly.  Internal government reports informed Eisenhower that Syria was “more inclined to accept Soviet influence than any other country” in the Middle East and that “the Soviets are making Syria the focal point for arms distribution and other activities.”  He believed the Syrian government was dominated by a radical, pro-Soviet faction, that direct Soviet control was imminent, and ordered the CIA to execute Operation Wappen, spearheaded by Jeton, Stone, and Molloy.

On the day following the expulsion of the three embassy officials, Eisenhower responded by denying U.S. participation in an anti-Syrian government plot and expelling the Syrian Ambassador and his second secretary.  The American ambassador to Syria, home on leave, would remain in the United States.  Did the Eisenhower administration order Operation Wappen?  In The United States and Arab Nationalism: The Syrian Case, 1953-1960, author Bonnie F. Saunders states, “Other documentary evidence indicates almost certain State Department knowledge of the plot and perhaps its cooperation with the CIA in perpetrating it.”  From Encroachment to Involvement: A Documentary Study of Soviet Policy in the Middle East, 1945-1973, offers the same conclusion by author Yaacov Ro’i.  “The fact of the establishment and maintenance of secret contacts by the American Embassy in Damascus with a number of Syrian military personnel as well as with political dissident groups, with the possibility in mind of overthrowing the regime, seems proven.”

Image Credits: syrianhistory.com

August 11, 1957 – Russia and Iran Sign a Treaty

Iran’s Shah Reza Pahlavi with President Eisenhower in 1954

On August 11, 1957, the Imperial Government of Iran and the Government of the United Soviet Socialist Republics signed an agreement “concerning the preparation of preliminary plans for the joint and equal utilization of the frontier parts of the rivers Aras and Atrak for irrigation and power generation”.

At the time, Iraq was a member of the Baghdad Pact, otherwise known as the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), along with Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.  CENTO, formed in 1955,  was modelled after NATO to promote member countries’ mutual cooperation, protection, and non-interference in each others’ affairs.   The United States joined the organization in 1958 but was very interested in the region from an early date as a bulwark against the spread of international communism.  The CENTO nations shared borders with southwestern USSR, and it was hoped that a strong alliance among them would contain the Soviet threat.

The United States had cultivated a long and friendly relationship with Iran as of 1957.  Close relations existed with Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who reigned from 1941 until the Islamic Revolution in 1979.  He followed a modernizing, secularizing policy which made him a very valuable asset for the US during the Cold War.  Iran was the largest, and possibly most powerful oil-producing country in the Middle East at the time, and over the next few years received more than a billion dollars in aid from the American government.  A 1953 coup to remove Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq, who threatened to nationalize the 85%-British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), was organized by the US and Great Britain and carried out through the CIA, code-named Operation Ajax.  Although initially unsuccessful, a second effort ultimately led to Mossadeq’s downfall.

So imagine the rise in Washington’s anxiety level on this day.  Russia and Iran had established hydro-economic agreements in the 1920s, and the Shah had visited Moscow in 1956.  Probably Russia hoped to weaken ties between Baghdad and Washington with this mutually beneficial treaty, but no significant change in relations resulted.  Analysis of the agreement concluded that the Soviets also stood to gain financially from the river projects contemplated; sizeable tracts of land in Soviet-controlled Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan would receive irrigation as a result.

Image Credit: National Security Archive/George Washington University

August 2, 1957 – Dulles’ Dramatic Proposal in Open Skies Negotiations

President_Eisenhower_and_John_Foster_Dulles_in_1956

President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles in 1956

On August 2, 1957, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles made a dramatic proposal at the U.N Disarmament Subcommittee conference in London. Negotiations over U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower’s Open Skies plan, first proposed at the July 1955 Geneva summit between leaders of the United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union, were bogging down over and hopes for a nuclear disarmament agreement were fading.

The original Open Skies plan included two stipulations intended to slow the arms race. First, the Western powers (primarily the U.S.) and the Soviets would exchange maps indicating the exact locations of each of their military installations. Next, each nation would be allowed to conduct aerial surveillance of those installations to verify compliance with any agreements on nuclear weapons stockpiles.

Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev rejected the proposal, refusing to allow Western surveillance of his country in what he termed an “espionage plot”. Eisenhower wasn’t surprised. He had never expected the Soviets to agree to the plan. By their non-cooperation, he hoped to paint the Soviet Union as the aggressor in the Cold War conflict. In truth, the Soviets didn’t want the West to find out how far behind they were in nuclear weapon development.

Negotiations continued and stalled. Then, at the U.N. conference in London, Secretary of State Dulles made a startling offer sweetening the deal. The Daily News-Telegram of Sulphur Springs, Texas ran the following from the Associated Press wire:

 “Secretary of State Dulles has submitted a new and far-reaching proposal in an attempt to break the East-West deadlock at the London disarmament conference.

“Dulles proposed in London today that all of the United Stated, all of Russia, and most of Europe be open to aerial and ground inspection against a sneak nuclear attack.

“Under the Western – and basically, American – plan, Russian planes would be permitted to fly over the U.S. and Western territory. Russian ground inspectors would be permitted to check U.S. seaports, rail junctions, main highways, and air fields.

“The Western powers would have similar rights throughout the Soviet Union.”

Khrushchev also rejected this new proposal for inspections on the ground. An Open Skies plan would remain up in the air until March of 1992, when a revived proposal spearheaded by President George H. W. Bush was approved by members of NATO and the Warsaw pact. The Open Skies Treaty took effect in 2002, with currently 34 nation-states participating in, as former President Ronald Reagan phrased it, a process to “trust, but verify”.

Image Credit: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

July 1, 1957 – The International Geophysical Year Begins

On July 1, 1957, the International Geophysical Year (IGY) began its eighteen-month run.  First proposed by the International Council of Scientific Unions in 1952, the IGY was an ambitious program of coordinated research by the world’s scientists into the mysteries of geophysical phenomenon such as aurora and airglow, cosmic rays, geomagnetism, glaciology, gravity, ionospheric physics, longitude and latitude determination, meteorology, oceanography, rocketry, seismology, and solar activity.  Research into Antarctic ice depths yielded a new estimate of the earth’s total ice content.

But the most attention-grabbing goal of the program was the endeavor to launch an artificial satellite into orbit around the earth.  Recent breakthroughs in technology included cosmic ray recorders, spectroscopes, radiosonde balloons, electronic computers – and the rocket.  Exploration of space to pursue scientific knowledge of our solar system was now a real possibility.  By the end of the IGY the world’s superpowers had successfully launched seven satellites, after previous years of setbacks and failures.  The IGY fully achieved its goal to “observe physical phenomena and to secure data from all parts of the world; to conduct this work on a coordinated basis by fields, and in space and time, so that results could be collated in a meaningful manner”.

An uneasy relationship existed between the scientific community and the military establishment at this time.  IGY scientists feared that military preoccupation with launching satellites would detract from other goals.  Scientists also resented that the military held its rocket technology information close to the vest.

National Science Foundation posters, new television programs, and filmstrips for high schools were created by the program to translate the IGY findings for the common man.  Reaction to the first satellite launch took on a good news-bad news aspect.  On the one hand, we could now explore the infinity of space and learn more about our own planet.  On the other, those superpowers who now had satellite capability also had the ability to place nuclear bombs in orbit, threatening mass destruction.

Image Credit: National Academy of Sciences

June 12, 1957 – Weightlifter Paul Anderson Sets World Backlift Record

On June 12, 1957, Georgia-born American hero Paul Anderson entered the Guinness Book of World Records with a backlift of 6270 lbs.  The 24-year-old strongman had already broken many United States and world records over his five-year career.  As a member of the 1955 United States Weightlifting team, he traveled behind the Iron Curtain to the Soviet Union.  At a meet in Gorki Park, St. Petersburg, he set three world records to the delight of the Cold War-era crowd.   Paul also won the Gold Medal in weightlifting at the 1956 Summer Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia.

Paul Anderson Wikimedia Commons

Record-breaking weightlifter Paul Anderson

The platform Paul used for his record-breaking backlift held the heaviest items he could find around his Toccoa, Georgia home, including a safe filled with weights and concrete totalling 2480 lbs.  The Guinness Book entry read:

“Greatest lift.  The greatest weight ever raised by a human being is 6,270 lbs. in a backlift (weight lifted off trestles) by 364-lb Paul Anderson (U.S.) (b. 1932), the 1956 Olympic heavyweight champion, at Toccoa, Georgia, on June 12, 1957.”

Paul made his life work the establishment and continued success of the Paul Anderson Youth Home in Vidalia, Georgia. An alternative to incarceration with adult criminals, the home offered troubled or homeless boys a second chance for a new life.  They received a good education and learned a strong work ethic.  Paul made over 500 public appearances a year in support of the home, giving weightlifting demonstrations and sharing with the crowds his Christian faith and love for America.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

November 3, 1957 – Sputnik 2 Sends First Living Animal into Orbit

Monument to Laika, Moscow

Monument to Laika, Moscow

On November 3, 1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched their second Sputnik earth satellite from an ICBM R-7 platform.  The 13 foot high, 2 foot diameter capsule contained compartments for radio transmitters, a telemetry system, a programming unit, regeneration and temperature control systems, scientific instruments (including photometers to measure ultraviolet and x-ray solar radiation), and in her own separate padded and pressurized cabin, a part-terrier, part-Samoyed female dog named Laika.  Other than hitchhiker microbes, no living animal had ever blasted off into space before little 13-pound Laika (which meant “Barker” in Russian) went up, fitted with a harness, electrodes to monitor her condition, and supplies of oxygen, food, and water.

With Sputnik 1 still orbiting Earth, transmitting radio signals and ICBM nightmares across the globe, Sputnik 2’s successful launch introduced an even greater level of perceived alarm and threat by Cold War antagonists to the USSR’s new space supremacy.  Sputnik 2 did not carry out its mission entirely as planned, however.  While the satellite-bearing rocket achieved earth orbit, where it successfully jettisoned its nose cone, a portion of the rocket called “Blok A” did not separate, inhibiting the thermal control system.  Vital thermal insulation was torn loose during the nose cone separation as well, and Sputnik’s internal temperatures soon reached 104°F.

Sputnik 2’s fate to burn up in earth atmosphere reentry occurred on April 14, 1958, after 162 days of circling the globe.  The original plan for Laika – painful for all animal-lovers everywhere to contemplate – was for her to provide information for a limited period of time on the effects of space flight on living beings, through monitoring her vital signs.  After ten days, she was to be euthanized by lethal medication-supplemented food.  Once sent into orbit, she could never return.  But after the early loss of her capsule’s thermal insulation, Laika was only able to survive for a few hours before succumbing to the heat and stress.  Her death was a small, but significant tragedy on the road to man’s Race to Space.

Sputnik 2 Module

Sputnik 2 Module. Photo: Raumfahrer.net