Introducing: Against Mars, Space Colonization and Its Discontents.
In 2023, La Campagne Changes!
Happy New Year to all! In 2023, La Campagne changes.
I dedicated 2022 to writing a book about my French grandfather, survivor of Nazi concentration camps and, as it turns out, Directeur de la Jeunesse (Director for Youth) in the 1940 Vichy government.
The manuscript is currently in the hands of the publisher in Paris, and hopefully I’ll share with you some good news soon (publishing in France is equally chaotic as in the US, although in its own particular French way).
In the book, I tracked my grandfather’s path through the camps’ maze almost to the day. In October 1944 he was sent from Buchenwald to the Laura Kommando, in the slate mine of Oertelsbruch, near the small town of Saalfeld.
There, he was assigned to test the V2 rocket engines. The finished motors and their tulipe-shaped exhausts would arrive at Laura by train from the main manufacturing facility, the underground Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp.
The engines would be set on steel platforms above the mine pit. Then, the slave laborers would hook them up to the gigantic liquid oxygen tanks built inside the slate mine. They would fire each engine for a minute or two. Enormous blue flames pushed from the cones in a deafening roar. Some days they would test more than thirty engines. It was a well-oiled industrial operation in all but name, and the dawn of what became known later as the Space Age. Along with many others, my grandfather was there, famished, tortured and broken.
My grandfather once claimed to have met Wernher Von Braun, the Nazi engineer and rocket scientist who went on to mastermind America’s space program. Based on the evidence I gathered, it is entirely possible. Von Braun would regularly tour the V2 construction sites, which were spread across various underground tunnels so as to avoid Allies’ air raids. He may very well have visited Laura while my grandfather was there.
After the war, the Nazi rocket scientists were scooped up by the winning powers. Some ended up in Soviet Russia, others in France, and many in the United States. Everywhere they went, they contributed to the development of ballistic missiles and local space programs. It is not just Von Braun. For instance, it is not often known, but engineer Karl-Heinz Bringer is behind the development of Ariane’s Viking engine, one of the most reliable ever built (and still produced under license by India’s space program).
I began to investigate my grandfather’s story of survival while doing research for another book project. His story became a book. It amply deserved it.
Now I go back to the original plan: a critical inquiry into the origins, prospects and future of humanity in space.
I am inviting all of you to follow along as I complete the manuscript.
This newsletter will be an experiment. Writing a book is an incredibly lonely endeavor. By letting readers into the process and by soliciting your considered feedback and your support, I hope to make it more of a collective undertaking. If all goes well, together we will transform this into an old-fashioned, if digital, salon.
The working title for the book is “Against Mars: Space Colonization and its Discontents”.
As I write it, I will post chapter excerpts, research, interviews, reading notes as well as philosophical and methodological thoughts. As of today, the book is about half-way done. I am convinced that sharing and discussing the drafts with you will improve the finished book immeasurably.
You are warmly welcome to keep your email subscription as is. Feel free to unsubscribe if the subject matter does not pique your curiosity.
Given the topic and the very public nature of some of the characters involved, this newsletter will soon become payment-based. I plan to keep the price as low as possible: it is the best way to maintain a safe and engaged space for discussion. For those who wish to support the work, you may sign up as a Founding Member.
Happy New Year, Bonne Année!
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