You Know Who Else Used Rockets? Hitler!


Geek-God novelist Neal Stephenson socks it to the rocket in a Slate article, claiming our continued use of it as the main means to get things to orbit is nothing more than a dumb legacy of Nazi war programs.

I absolutely assume he knows way more about space than me, but I am always doubtful of smarty-pants claims that everyone in the world but them is being dumb because of "path dependence" (for some reasons why, see this 1996 Reason magazine classic casting doubt on some classic path dependence arguments).  Sometimes, history gives you a pre-existing set of techniques, capital, training, etc. that makes it more economically sensible to use what you already got than reinvent the wheel, even if you have something that you are quite sure will roll you along much better than a dumb ol' wheel ever could.

Stephenson's article was long enough that he really should have spent at least one word discussing or at least mentioning all the other better-then-rockets means of getting payloads to space that he asserts we have neglected in favor of Hitler's sinister V-2 and its descendents. (I always admired the space elevator.)

Don't ever read Gravity's Rainbow, and don't forget I warned you. But it does contain a lot about Hitler's rocket program.

Katherine Mangu-Ward from January 2007 in Reason on private space travel.