[May 27, 1960] Stalled Flights (Midas 2, Pioneer 5, Ozma, and Eichmann)

There was another mystery Atlas Agena launch from Cape Canaveral on May 24.  My sources tell me it was in the same series as the mission late February that broke up before it could reach orbit.  It appears to be some kind of infrared missile launch detection system.  I even got my hands on some conceptual art, though there’s no way of knowing how accurate it is.  Its project name appears to be MIDAS–I’m guessing this stands for “Missile Infrared Detection Alarm System” or something like that.

I don’t know if the system works or if the satellite performed properly, but I understand “MIDAS 2” did make it into orbit.  With tensions between American and the U.S.S.R. at an all-time high, thanks to the whole spy plane kerfuffle and the break-down of summit peace talks, we need probes like this more than ever.

In civilian space news, a bit of a setback.  Pioneer 5 switched on its big 150 watt transmitter a few weeks ago so that it could be heard from any point in its orbit around the sun, perhaps more than 100 million miles from Earth.  Unfortunately, the 150 watt transmitter is now off-line due to battery deterioration, and Pioneer has gone back to using its little 5 watt transmitter.  This means its voice will soon be too faint to pick up from the smaller Hawaii dish, and the Big Ear at Jodrell Bank in England will only be able to track the probe to a range of about 25 million miles.  Of course, that’s still quite a feat. 

Speaking of Jodrell Bank, remember Dr. Frank Drake’s Project Ozma, the program designed to listen for messages from the stars?  Would you believe that positive results were found within the first week of operation? 

It seems that no sooner did the investigating astronomers turn their antenna to the nearby star, Epsilon Eridani, they received an intense signal.  They listened for a few breathless minutes and then turned the antenna away to confirm that the star was indeed the source.  The signal faded as the antenna moved from the star.  Excitedly, they pointed the antenna at Epsilon Eridani again and waited. 

And waited.  Nothing happened.  Was it just a spurious signal?  Had the aliens gone off the air?

Dr. Drake and his team gave Epsilon Eridani and the frequency on which they had received the signal extra attention for the next week, but to no avail.  Then it came back, but not just from the star–from somewhere close by.  The astronomers confirmed this by poking a little antenna out of their observatory window, not focused anywhere in particular.  They picked up the signal there, too.  So, it was probably just a high-flying airplane that they’d picked up.  So much for easy pickings.

On a more personal note, Adolf Eichmann, the notorious Nazi right-hand man for Himmler, in charge of “solving” the Jewish Question, has been apprehended by the Israeli secret service and will stand trial.  He disappeared from Germany as the Third Reich fell, and has presumably been living it up in some Latin American refuge.  I look forward to justice being served.

Finally, a happy birthday to that skinny, outspoken fan and writer, Harlan Ellison.  He is 26 today!

8 thoughts on “[May 27, 1960] Stalled Flights (Midas 2, Pioneer 5, Ozma, and Eichmann)”

  1. Lot of interesting news. Bravo for the Israelis, as always. That bit about Ozma really had me on the edge of my seat – I shudder to think how disappointed the Drake team must have been. I expect we’ll be getting a crop of science fiction to explain that snatch of radio..? Joining in your birthday wishes for Ellison.

    And I was sorry to hear about Pioneer 5’s transmitter.

  2. I think Dr. Drake knew from the outset that it was highly unlikely that the signal actually came from the star.  It does make for a fun story, though!

    As for Pioneer 5, I shouldn’t be too sorry.  That probe is doing an amazing job.  We’ll get perhaps three months of data on the interplanetary medium.  It’s unprecedented and worthy of all the laurels one can shower upon it.

  3. Wow, Harlan Ellison looks like a male fashion model in that picture.

    I remember stumbling across a letter to the editor written by Ellison in an old magazine from the early 50s (I forget which one). It was clear even then that A. This guy had more opinions than any single person is entitled to, and B. he was someone who was absolutely burning to be a writer. I showed it to my wife and she said “Wow, he was already a pompous [bleep] back then!”

    1. I’d argue that a certain level of arrogance is necessary to achieve in the world… but I don’t actually believe it’s true.

      I’m coming to writing rather late in life (or, at least I thought so; it seems my age is about median for most in the field).  At least for fiction.  I’ve been a published non-fiction writer for a decade.

      Wish me luck.  I’ve submitted some pieces to Astounding/Analog.  I’ll demur from reviewing them, however, should they be published.

      1. I have to take a moment to be confused by “analog” as a magazine title for an SF pulp. I admit, I must commend any change at this point, and I can understand seeing “Astounding” as being a tad, oh… juvenile, while simultaneously a bit dated. But “analog”? I have to admit – I don’t get it.

        I mean, it’s not terrible. I’m just not getting what idea he’s trying to present. If he wants to be presenting the idea that the stories are interpretations (neé analogues) of our world, why not, oh, albedo? That’s an interesting science term that is directly related to the space sciences, which are obviously and deeply au currant.

        It also starts with an A, which seems to be important. I truly hope alphabetical order isn’t actually driving this.

        I suppose I should just be glad he didn’t rename it Aardvark.

  4. Best wishes on selling something to JWC.

    Ellison has been publishing a lot of stuff lately.  It seems his mainstream fiction is better than his SF, much of which is forgettable.  A novel like “Rumble” or the hard-hitting stories in the collection “The Deadly Streets” are superior to anything he has yet done in the speculative genre, in my opinion.

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