Science Fact: the Russian R-7 Orbital Lifting Body


One of the remarkable qualities of Wings of Honneamise is that while the film depicts a fictitious world, it draws judiciously upon elements of our own sciences and cultures. The stunning historical accuracy complements the film's rich cultural base, creating one of the most believable yet fictional worlds ever. One such example would be the post World War II era stern-prop aircraft designs researched and ultimately abandoned by the U.S. military in the late 1940s.

However, the prominent technological artifact from the film is the rocket that carries Shiro into orbit. For this, we must go back to the Russian space program of the 1950s...


The SS-6 "Sapwood"

SS-6

SS-6 "Sapwood"

One of the best-known yet least-publicised Russian missiles, the R-7 (known as the SS-6 to the U.S. military) was the original Russian ICBM, which was tested in August of 1957 with complete success. It represented a quantum-jump in Russian rocketry, but to some degree a manifestation of "brute force and ignorance" intended to provide a powerful launcher able to put the massive first-generation thermonuclear warhead into intercontinental trajectories. (One can see how the General's comments in the film pertaining to a "space warship" might have arisen.)

In the absence of large rocket engines the obvious answer was more engines, and at lift-off an SS-6 had 32 engines all firing together, and all burning a liquid oxygen/kerosene mixture. The core was powered by the Russian RD-107, with four fixed-thrust chambers with a combined rating of 211,640 lb (96,000 kg), later raised to 224,868 lb (102,000 kg). Around this were disposed four tapered strap-on boosters, each with an RD-108 of 224,868 lb (102,000 kg). The other 12 chambers were groups of small gimbal-mounted verniers for fine control of trajectory. The total structure weight was about 61,730 lb (28,000 kg). By 1959 the Sapwood was recognized as obsolete as a weapon, and most served as space launchers.

...and they served well. The Space Age was launched with the liftoff of the SS-6 that put Sputnik 1 into orbit on October 4th, 1957--the first man-made satellite to orbit to earth. In an event that directly indicates why the SS-6 was chosen as the spacecraft basis for Honneamise, another SS-6 put Yuri Gagarin into orbit on April 12th, 1961--the first man in space. Other Sapwoods served as the first stage of Sputnik, Vostok, Voskhod or Soyuz launchers.

Other elements of the Russian space program are noted in the film, in particular the launch stage and "flower petal" pump disconnect hoses. Several U.S. space program standards are also noteworthy: the Mercury Redstone launch gantry and Shiro's "splashdown", as opposed to the hard landing of actual Russian spacecraft.

Check out the Russian N-1 Moonshot Rocket
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The Honneamise Rocket Historical Page -- syzygy@oldcrows.net