[May 15, 1960] Soviets take the Lead! (Sputnik 4)

At long last, the Soviets have launched another Sputnik.

While Americans try to pierce the sky with almost fortnightly frequency (more on that shortly), the Russians seem content to proceed at a more leisurely pace, but to get more bang for their buck.  Their latest shot, which the press has dubbed Sputnik 4, but should really be called “Pre-Manned #1,” is something of a revolution.

We don’t know too much about the craft yet: only that it weighs an unprecedented 4 and a half tons, and that, like the Air Force’s Discoverer series, it has a reentry capsule.  But whereas Discoverer’s putative biological sample return mission is likely a cover for a film capsule recovery surveillance system, Sputnik 4 is actually carrying a mannequin astronaut.  Moreover, the craft is far too big for plain surveillance (I imagine, but perhaps the Soviets are not as good at miniaturization as we are; they don’t really have to be given how much more powerful their rockets are).

It’s definitely another milestone for the East in the Space Race.  Now let’s see if they get their dummy spaceman back…

Sadly, the American space program had a setback day-before-yesterday when a Delta rocket, the evolution of the workhorse Thor Able, failed to make it to orbit when its second-stage attitude thrusters didn’t fire.  At its tip was America’s next foray into satellite communications, Echo 1.  It’s just a big metal balloon, but it would have allowed all sorts of message bouncing experiments.  Now it’s a rusting hunk at the bottom of the Atlantic.  That’ll teach NASA not to launch on Friday the 13th!  Next launch is scheduled for the Summer.

Happier times for the Superpower chiefs

Meanwhile, the four-party (U.S., U.K., France, U.S.S.R.) Peace Summit begins tomorrow in Paris, despite the turbulence caused by the shooting down of an American spy plane over Russia on May 1.  Nikita’s threatened to torpedo the whole thing many times, but perhaps the gorgeous Spring weather of the French capital will calm him down.  Planned topics include the settling of the Berlin question and weapons disarmament–the same topics that have been on the table since 1948.

In Democratic Primary news, it looks like Humphrey is out, which essentially seals the nomination for Jack Kennedy, unless Johnson can arrange some sort of upset at the convention.  The clincher came with a disappointing defeat for the Minnesota senator in West Virginia, after which, Humphrey announced the withdrawal of his candidacy for President.  Despite Humphrey’s populist charm, Jack Kennedy simply had the better ground game and a more presidential demeanor.  I also understand Kennedy is pushing for a minimum wage hike to $1.25 per hour (it’s at $1.00 right now).  Good timing.

Finally, on a more personal note, I’m extending an invitation to jump on the bandwagon.  As you know, I review only the most current literary and film science fiction and fantasy material.  I started this column not just to make me rich and famous, but to discuss the material with fellow fans.  I distribute copies where I can, but that’s not always possible.  To that end, I’ll be letting you all know ahead of time what I plan to be reading the next month so you can read along with me.  You can also keep up on current publications by perusing the announcement tables

This month, the only new novel coming out is Judy Merril’s The Tomorrow People.  There are some anthologies also coming out, but, I don’t tend to review anthologies since I generally catch the stories in their first run.  I do occasionally cover reprints, as I did with Anderson’s Brain Wave.  Of course, I will be covering the June 1960 magazines for this month (I’ve already reviewed Galaxy and some of Amazing).

See you in two!

6 thoughts on “[May 15, 1960] Soviets take the Lead! (Sputnik 4)”

  1. If it makes you feel better, I agree it would, indeed, take an awful lot to make Kruschev miss Paris in spring.

    I’m sorry Humphrey got whipper-snappered out, and hope Kennedy’s big spending doesn’t oblige him to the wrong people. The minimum wage rise s certainly a good plank.

  2. I really have no idea how Kennedy will be as a President.  On the other hand, Ike has had a rather laid-back attitude toward the space program.  Jack may kick it into higher gear.

    Or he may get us all killed.  Omelettes and eggs, I suppose.

  3. Kennedy’s never going to get elected.  The American people aren’t going to vote a Catholic into the highest office, no matter how much charisma he has.

    I wouldn’t get too worried about the “great Soviet space program” either.  Tass talks up their launches, but who knows how many of theirs blew up on the pad?  They’re off in Tyuretam or someplace, with no independent observers, not all out in the open like ours. And just because they sent something up, doesn’t mean it does all they say it does.

    In a few months we’re going to have an American going up into space, and that’ll beat those dogs the Rooskies have bragged so much about.

    1. You may well be right about the hidden launch failures.  I’ve opined as much in earlier articles. 

      On the other hand, Wisconsin and West Virginia are strong litmus tests that show that Kennedy’s Catholicism isn’t that big an issue.  It may even be an asset.  Only Kennedy can appeal to a voter’s tolerance, or a voter’s fear of being seen as intolerant.

      It’s been working so far.

  4. Arthur C. Clarke has talked about putting high-resolution cameras in orbit, beyond the reach of Soviet interceptor rockets or planes.  They’re not as convenient as a U2, which can overfly and develop its film as soon as it returns to base; a “spy satellite” would have to make a successful re-entry and recovery, which would make them quite expensive… but nothing could hide from the “Eye in the Sky.”  Maybe then we can keep a closer eye on what the Reds are doing.

    Clarke may be a science fiction writer, but I wouldn’t discount his ideas because of that.  He worked on part of the British radar program back during the war, and Bell Telephone is putting a chunk of money into Clarke’s “communication satellite” idea.  Unlike the Echo satellite, the new one is supposed to be an active relay instead of a passive reflector, and some of the wild-eyed types are claiming it might be capable of handling a television signal as well as telephony.  (I’ll believe that one when I see it!) Of course, this sort of depends on NASA being able to work the bugs out of their launch vehicles.  I don’t know if it has an official name or launch date yet, though.

    The Reds are still the most important issue of this election; things are starting to look ugly in Germany, particularly around Berlin, and Khruschev has been sending troops all over the place, from Southeast Asia to Africa.  Richard Nixon knows how to deal with those people; he faced down Khruschev right there on Soviet television just a year ago, and he’s been working against the Communists since he uncovered Alger Hiss when he was a junior Congressman.  He’s the obvious choice for our next President.  Kennedy talks a hard line, but that’s likely his speechwriters; I’m sure he’d wind up backing down if he and Khruschev wound up butting heads over anything important.

  5. I don’t think I could bring myself to vote for Tricky Dick, but you’re right–the proof will be in the November pudding.

    As for Bell Labs and repeating satellites, I think they are a great idea.  We’ll see if AT&T, virtually a public utility, will allow a threat to their monopoly.

    Thanks for reading!

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