[Feb. 7, 1960] The sports that matter (Discoverer 9 and solar radar)

The score for this week–Civilian Space Science: 1, USAF Space Science: 0.

In the Little Engine That Couldn’t department, we have the Air Force’s Discoverer project, ostensibly for sending up biological specimens in a returnable capsule, probably for launching recoverable reconnaissance film capsules, actually not much good for anything.

The ninth in the series didn’t even make it to orbit, the second stage of its rocket having failed during launch on February 4.  It’s a good thing there weren’t any animals on board.  Of course, I’m guessing that once they get the bugs worked out of the booster, there still won’t be any.

In other news, scientists at Stanford University have just bounced a radar signal off the Sun.  Actually, the transmission happened last April—it’s taken all the time since then to verify that the stunt really worked!

It’s quite an impressive accomplishment—the 100 watt signal came back at .00000000000001% of its original strength, yet the Stanford team was still able to detect it.  Our ability to receive spacecraft telemetry at tremendous distances has been validated, and this is also a boon to the new science of radio astronomy.  In 1947, scientists first bounced a radar beam off the Moon.  Just two years ago, Venus was added to the list of pinged targets.  Eventually, every object in the Solar System will be systematically bombarded with radar.  This will complement our visual astronomical findings, and we’re likely to learn a lot.

“Lovell Telescope Rear” by Mike Peel; Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, University of Manchester.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lovell_Telescope_Rear.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Lovell_Telescope_Rear.jpg

See you soon!

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!

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