TO A TOP SCIENTIST

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In 1957, following the announcement that the Soviets had trumped the U.S. with the successful launch of Sputnik 1, Australian schoolboy Denis Cox sent this urgent letter to the Royal Australian Air Force’s Rocket Range at Woomera, in an attempt to enter Australia into the Space Race. Much to Denis’ dismay, his letter, addressed to “A TOP SCIENTIST” and consisting of a basic rocket ship design accompanied by instructions for engineers to “put in other details,” fell on deaf ears; until, 52 long years later, in 2009, Denis’ original letter and rocket ship made the news after being featured on the website of the National Archives of Australia—as a result of the coverage, he finally got a wonderful reply from the Australian Department of Defence. Both letters can be read below.

Enormous thanks to Denis Cox.





The reply, 52 years later...

Australian Government
Department of Defence
Defence Science and
Technology Organisation

Mr Denis Cox

28/8/09

Dear Mr Cox,

I would like to thank you for your letter we received on 20th Oct. 1957 regarding the design of your rocketship. I apologise for the late response to your letters. You will appreciate, that as you requested “A Top Scientist” that uses the “WOOMERA ROCKET RANGE” it took a little while for your letter to get to me and in addition, it took some time to provide due consideration to your ideas.

In any case, I have included a picture of our latest flight of a hypersonic vehicle under the HIFiRE Program, so that you may see that many of your designs have merit. The fins are a little smaller, and on our work, we haven’t advanced sufficiently to put people on board, as you clearly indicated we should. Curiously enough though, people are still toying with the idea of combining rocket engines with turbines as suggested in your letter. These engines are now called Rocket Based Combined Cycle Engines and seem to work about as well as they did back in 1957! I am also quite interested in the shape of the fuselage, it actually shows a lot of merit!

I think that the most interesting statement you made in your letter was “YOU PUT IN OTHER DETAILS”. You were clearly going to be an excellent Program Manager, by providing those that know best the freedom in the matter to get it right. Furthermore, you did have your priorities right as “AUSTRALIAN MARKINGS” are the most prominent feature of the design.

I remember as a boy designing rocket ships and planes at about the same time that you wrote your letter. I don’t know why or how, but somehow I was lucky enough to get to a position where I now head a team that designs planes and engines that will soon fly at Mach 8, or around 9000km/hr. I am proud to tell you that these planes will have an “AUSTRALIAN MARKING” on them as you indicated they should have. My one hope is that we do a sufficiently good job that is worthy of the inspiration, dreams and hopes that you provided in your letter those many years ago.

Once again, thank you for your letter.

(Signed)

Allan Paul BSc PhD MEngSc
Research Leader Applied Hypersonics
Air Vehicles Division
DSTO-Brisbane