ASNSW Book Reviews

“ROCKETS - SULFUR, SPUTNIK AND SCRAMJETS”

Author: Peter Macinnis
Pages: ~200
Reviewed by: 1: Nadia Douglass
2: Gerard Zwart

Nadia Douglass's Review:
This is not exactly your typical astronomical book but it is a great read just the same.

This is only a very short book of about 200 odd pages, written in a very easy reading style (yes so far I have been selecting this type of text as I read in the weirdest places (hair dresser’s, podiatrist’s, doctor’s waiting rooms) and very “Australianlike” as the author is a born and bred Aussie.

Since the time of the Roman Empire people have dreamed of travelling to the Moon and by 1900 some were starting to realize that rockets were probably the only way to get there.

The book will draw you into the use of projectiles from the discovery of saltpetre to the use of “rockets” as weapons through the early ages of history. Did you know, for instance, that Hannibal’s first projectiles were earthenware jars filled with poisonous snakes?? Technically the first ICBM?? Interesting thought!

The development of the Sputnik and the beginning of the “space race” saw the development of rockets used for military and commercial purposes that have revolutionized our modern world.

Just think that without the humble beginning of the rocket where would the Hubble telescope be and all the magical findings that came with it.

The story ends with a look at the future of rockets and what is called a third-generation spacecraft, the scramjet.

What is that? Ah….. you will need to read the book.

My thoughts – again a great little book that will get you hooked on rockets, sulfur etc.


“ROCKETS - SULFUR, SPUTNIK AND SCRAMJETS”

Author: Peter Macinnis
Pages: ~200
Reviewed by: 1: Nadia Douglass
2: Gerard Zwart

Gerard Zwart's Review:
“Rockets” is a small book, but contains a wealth of information. The discovery and use of gunpowder, vital to the development of early cannons and rockets is the initial focus. From the Aussie outback where we witness a Scramjet test, the author takes us back to celebrations in China around 600 AD. There was a hint that the Chinese used a form of a rocket around 969 AD for entertainment and warfare, but most evidence points to 1180 AD as the period when rockets were first used militarily.

The author has a habit of going off on tangents, but these I found to be enjoyable distractions. Macinnis discusses how the potentially explosive chemicals such as nitrates were collected to make various forms of gunpowder. Access to these chemicals and the formulae for production of the explosives ultimately determined who controlled the weapons. We learn how various cultures developed and obtained explosive substances - like the Swiss collecting nitrates from animal wastes in special sheds specifically designed for this purpose.

Macinnis spends some time discussing the development of the Congreve ricochet rocket in England, a system which would allow the rocket to be integrated into battlefield tactics. The Russians were also experimenting with similar devices about this time. Whilst the rockets worked in practice, they were NOT accepted politically. The military at this time was used to cannons and cavalry charges, not these “upstart firecrackers”.

Much of the history explored by the author deals with the rate of acceptance of rocketry by governments and military leaders – and how this either hindered or accelerated the development and use of rockets.

Initially, rockets were seen as a novelty, such as the ti lau shu or Chinese firework. Innovation slowly brought the rocket to the battle field – at first merely launching arrows and other objects beyond the range achievable by bows and other slingshot weapons. With the introduction of saltpetre into Europe, newer, more powerful weapons were developed, capable of bringing down fortifications. These larger cannons began changing the way battles were fought.

Rockets were also initially used to scare enemy formations into panic and retreat, but the effectiveness of this application wore off as enemies became familiar with the limited effects of the devices. Charles Darwin used rockets on the Beagle in 1833 in this manner to scare off attacks from natives in Tierra del Fuego.

The use of “rescue rockets” by the French and British highlights alternative, more constructive or humane uses of these devices.

Rockets began to come into their own in the twentieth century, although they were not used to great effect in WWI. Macinnis discusses how the use of rockets at Gallipoli may have saved the day, but their use was ignored. WWII however was a different story. From bazooka rounds to V2 rockets - their use and the vast changes in design prior to, during and after WWII are thoroughly explored.

The influences of Goddard and the German Rocket Society – the VfR prior to WWII - set the scene for the last century. Much work at this time focused on rocket fuels and in-flight stability. Three chapters of this book are devoted to this research.

The final chapters explore the application of military rocket technologies to manned spaceflight. The final chapter explores alternatives to the rocket as we know it today, covering ramjets, ion drives and other advanced technologies. All these exciting technologies are already in use or under test.

This is an interesting read for those interested in how rockets originated and where they are going - and will suit those who like a bit of a wander to related topics.