Rocket: 1942 Onwards: Owners’ Workshop Manual by David Baker (book review).

June 24, 2015 | By | Reply More

If you want to get a spaceship into orbit, then you need a rocket to propel it there. Ever since the Chinese developed gunpowder and the first rockets, the real problem has always been to get the most thrust from the least weight or mass that is carried and why the payload is often a fraction of the overall size. No easy task and the history of rocketry since 1942 has been to do that. David Baker’s book, ‘Rocket: 1942 Onwards: Owners’ Workshop Manual’, says what it does on the bottle, it shows the development of the modern rocket. You are shown plenty of photographs and illustrations, so even if the more technical information is beyond you, it will impart the more basic information on mass and payload.


The step from the German V2 to the Jupiter, Thor and Atlas rockets was actually very short. No doubt helped by members of Wernher von Braun’s team, the development stages (sic) were quickly overcome. Reading the details, a lot of the failures can be seen from technical failure than maths. When the rockets moved to breakaway stages, an initial failure when the pieces collided must have seen daunting to beat. With a modern eye, I can’t help feel they forgot Newton’s laws of motion with everything moving at the same speed…up while its still accelerating. When you watch footage of more modern rockets, the earlier stages are pushed away although I’m getting away from myself here. I’m learning a lot about basic design and how the combustible materials have to be kept separate until they are needed for thrust. If anything, as I type this, I’m finding how much information I’ve absorbed. This is always a good thing for any book. If you’re an SF artist wanting background knowledge in design, knowing something about the mechanics and how they evolved is always useful. Those of you who just love tech are going to just going to dig in and I haven’t even got as far as the Atlas rockets yet. Each section goes from their initial creation to their end or current use and Atlas has a very long history.

I thought initially that this book was specifically about American rocketry until page 72 and the R2/Semyorka/Soyuz rocket. What was interesting was that although the USSR had their own German scientists, the real breakthroughs came from one of their own, Sergei Korolev. Baker doesn’t go into Korolev’s history, although you might be familiar with it from a BBC serial a few years back, but you get to see his ingenuity. Oddly, his success actually stop creating other types of rockets. The American failures ensured they kept trying to get better. The only other Russian rocket covered is the Proton. There are also a couple Chinese, French and British rockets but the scene is mostly American.

If anything, seeing who makes the rockets is fascinating. Back in the 50s, there was none of the later amalgamations. Martin wasn’t linked to Lockheed until 1986 and there was no Macdonald-Douglas yet, although they were eventually absorbed into Boeing. This happened as the various companies with particular specialities saw is their interest to merge. Seeing how the fuelling system evolved is quite an eye-opener, especially as the booster rockets shared the same fuel source inside the main rocket. When I was young, books would show diagrams but couldn’t offer much detail. Here, you get the explanation. Interestingly, the evolution of the payload capsule was a lot easier as its shape was designed to withstand temperature as it returned through the atmosphere. Something I hadn’t known was that the Thor rocket was actually tested in the UK and the designs for this and the ground base is shown here. The change from weapons to space race, looking objectively now, was probably the only way to go because there was no war going on to need long range rockets. Although it’s not said, what better way to conceal the development of rocketry and the space race only benefited.

Seeing the development of the Titan rocket is important is because it was used to launch the Gemini program and NASA getting men into space. In less than a decade after that, the Apollo rockets were getting man to the Moon. At the end of the book, we have the European Ariane rocket which is still in use today.

As always, the length of a review tells you how much I absorbed. Although Baker shows how each rocket evolved, it might have been handy at the end of the book to show a collective comparison between them all to put things into perspective in terms of size, weight, payload and longevity, although I suspect some of you will do this for yourselves. You couldn’t get a better insight into rockets than from this book.

GF Willmetts

June 2015

(pub: Haynes. 188 page illustrated indexed large hardback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-85733-371-1)

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Category: Books, MEDIA, Science

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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