ICBMs

The Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) carrying thermonuclear weapons was the central weapons system of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Today ICBMs remain on alert in various parts of the world.

The early ICBMs deployed by the Cold War superpowers at the end of the 1950s also went on to carry the first astronauts and cosmonauts into orbit, and most of the early robot spacecraft into Earth orbit and beyond. They therefore played a crucial part in the space race of the 1960s.

Updated versions of the Soviet R-7 ICBM that launched Sputnik are still in use today to launch crews to the International Space Station. America’s first ICBM, Atlas, was the workhorse of the U.S. space launch fleet until the end of the twentieth century.

While historians have written extensively about many rockets and spacecraft, the vital competition between the R-7 and the Atlas has received relatively little attention.

My fifth book, titled The Bomb and America’s Missile Age, looks at the background of the decision to build Atlas. This decision was made in March 1954 by officials in the United States Air Force, and for many years the timing of this decision was criticized for being tardy and for being the cause of America’s embarrassment when the Soviets successfully put Sputnik into orbit in 1957 ahead of any American satellite.

This will be the first book to set this decision in its true context, not only in the America of the postwar years, but also in comparison with the real story of Soviet missiles that emerged after the end of the Cold War.

This book will be published this fall by Johns Hopkins University Press.

Chris Gainor