Monday, December 15, 2008

V II Declassified -- Item 4: Ludicrous Speed

The V-2 rocket was Nazi Germany's last ditch effort in the ballistic arms race of WWII and touted as Hitler's secret miracle weapon. The "V" is for vergeltungswaffe, or "vengeance weapon". It was also known as the A-4, for aggregat-4, referring to it's incredibly delicate and intricately timed 4 stage launching and propulsion process. The V-2 was the first man made object to reach sub-orbital heights, thus it was man's first forays into the space age. In fact, most rockets constructed since then have been derived from the V-2 model. Particularly the rockets used for spaceflight.

<a href="">Ludicrous Speed / Brenschluss by Hosey</a>

The V-2 was preceded by the V-1 flying bomb. The V-1 was an early model of what we'd call a missile today. It was characterized by an incessant buzzing sound that alerted targets to its impending approach. The buzzing would become a common noise that many Europeans would eventually learn to react instinctively to and seek shelter from. The V-2 by contrast traveled faster than the speed of sound. This meant that the rocket would reach its destination and explode before any sound of its approach could reach the target. While the V-2 was notoriously inaccurate, its silent approach was nevertheless a highly successful form of psychological terror. In fact more people were killed building and launching V-2s than actual enemies, but after observing the effects of the terror it caused, Hitler put all his chips into further development and construction of V-2 rockets.

The V-2 would propel itself for up to a minute, while gyroscopes and a primitive computer would guide the rocket. After this propulsion stage, all systems in the rocket would shut down. This point was known as Brenschluss, or burnout to Americans. Much of this album was inspired by the book, Gravity's Rainbow, which used the V-2 rocket as the center theme that the cast of thousands revolve around; or to use a Vonnegut phrase: the V-2 was the wampeter. The book makes heavy metaphorical usage of brennschluss, likening it to predestination and the illusion of time. Once brennschluss occurs, all is done. Nothing can stop the trajectory of the rocket, no more systems can fail because all is burnt. The chronological and physical space between brennschluss and the explosion of its target is merely an illusion, created by our imperfect abilities to perceive spacetime. Once that Doppler radar or the accelerometers signal engine cut-off, everyone who will die is already dead, everyone who survives gets to die later. This is particularly accented by the reverse causality of the explosion: fire and shock first, sound later. To hear the rocket means you'll live--have already lived--through it.

Originally Posted Monday December 15th, 2008