[Feb. 21, 1960] A birthday treat (A Tale of Two Space Programs)

Happy birthday to me!  In celebration of the second anniversary of my Jack Benny birthday, here’s my gift to you: a quick stop press of some recent military space endeavors, with a side of jocular sarcasm.

You may remember a certain Dr. Von Braun, formerly of the German Third Reich, lately of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) in Alabama.  This esteemed immigrant was a rocket engineer of sorts during the war, and he was prevailed upon to ply his trade in the service of Democracy, developing improvements to the international mail-carrier known as the Vergeltungswaffe 2.  In this role, he helped create the Jupiter IRBM for the Army, currently being deployed at Russia’s doorstep in Turkey. 

Von Braun’s team was recently transitioned to a civilian position; it now reports to NASA and is hard at work building the Saturn series of moon rockets.  Meanwhile, the former head of ABMA, Major General John Medaris, retired last month, had harsh words for our President’s handling of the space program.  He believes the Army should have had free reign to launch a satellite before the Soviets.  Medaris also thinks that splitting up the military and civilian programs is wasteful and redundant.  I can’t imagine who Medaris might suggest to lead such a unified space program. 

Personally, I think Ike’s handling of our space programs has smacked of subtle genius.  Let the Soviets launch the first satellite so that they can’t complain about overflights, create a civilian space agency so the world can see that there are purely peaceful uses for rockets.  It’s a public relations masterpiece.  Given the volatile situation in Cuba and Berlin, the good press helps us keep the moral high ground.

Moreover, having a civilian space program allows us to, as a country, focus on science for science’s sake rather than forcing it to be a handmaiden to the war machine.  Besides—this country thrives on healthy competition.

In any event, it’s not as if the military has got such a great track record.  Just two days ago, the Air Force lost yet another Discoverer, number 10.  The booster veered off course during take-off and had to be destroyed by range safety just a minute into the launch.

I shouldn’t be too hard on the Air Force, though.  Their Thor-Able booster (a hybrid military/civilian design) will be launching the first deep space probe next month under NASA auspices.  If the mission is successful, it promises to be a science bonanza.  The probe was developed by Air Force contractor Ramo-Wooldridge, better known for developing ICBMs.  Thus, this upcoming flight shows the advantages of having two separate space programs that can share their expertise.

Vive la difference!

Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns.  While you’re waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!

(Confused?  Click here for an explanation as to what’s really going on)

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