I found this grainy image posted on Neatorama today. It’s a photo taken from a V-2 rocket, of the Earth’s surface from outer space. What I find fascinating is that it was taken in 1946—a year after the end of World War II. By war’s end, the Germans had developed technology that was capable of spaceflight. Not that they weren’t too preoccupied using it to kill people in London, or that they didn’t use slave labor to build them—or that more of their armies relied on horses and bicycles to move around in 1945 than they had in 1939. The fact that German technology was technically able to reach the edge of Earth’s atmosphere is chilling.
It reminds me of the Paris Gun, a gigantic fixed siege cannon that the Germans built during World War I to bombard Paris. The concept of a terror weapon was similar: there was no way for Parisian civilians to hear the gun or its projectile approaching. The shells would hurtle over the horizon—a 210 pound projectile with a range of over 80 miles—and drop out of nowhere on the city. Supposedly, because the shells climbed nearly out of Earth’s atmosphere and traveled so far, special calculations had to be made to account for the lack of wind resistance and the rotation of the earth. The Paris Gun’s projectiles travelled as high as 25 miles—the highest altitude weapon until the V-2s were test fired decades later.
Unlike the V-2 rockets, the Paris Gun was never captured by the allies. It simply disappeared at the end of the Great War—though it is believed to have been destroyed by the German military along with most of the plans in order to prevent this terrible technology from falling into the wrong hands. By contrast, the V-2s provided the United States and the USSR with the basis for both space exploration and the ultimate terror weapons—intercontinental ballistic missiles.