Monday, November 12, 2007

Tintin and the Syldavian rocket range

I was never really into Tintin as a kid, but on my last visit to France I picked up copies of Objectif Lune and On a marche sur la lune. I also included an analysis of Tintin's rocket range in the mythical country of Syldavie in a 2005 presentation about early Cold War launch facilities.

I've been thinking about this again lately - perhaps because there seems to be a resurgence of interest in Tintin.

In Objectif Lune, Professor Tournesol (I think he is called Professor Calculus in the English translations) is working on a moon rocket in a Syldavian research facility. It is located in a remote mountain area with rich uranium deposits and indeed an atomic research centre was the first installation at this site.

Professor Tournesol says:

"They put out a call to experts in different countries, specialists in nuclear physics, and the work began. It goes without saying that the research is exclusively directed in a humanitarian sense. No question of making atomic bombs here. On the contrary, we are researching the means to protect humanity against the dangers of this new engine of destruction".

So much packed into this brief statement! The thing that strikes me forcibly is the emphasis on international cooperation, freely given. Immediately after WW II, in France, the USSR and the USA, German rocket scientists were virtual prisoners - actually so in the USSR, but even in France and the US they were corralled away. I'm not sure if we are to read Frank Wolff, Tournesol's right hand man at the facility, as a German.

Then there are all the complex moral issues of working with nuclear energy .... no need to go over this ground. What's interesting is the assumption that a rocket to the moon will of course be powered by nuclear energy. In the 1950s, the USA was working on a nuclear rocket, and later on they trialled nuclear power sources in military telecommunications satellites.

Despite the peaceful intentions of the Syldavian project, the facility is crawling with secret police and there is the constant threat of sabotage.

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