[Sep. 17, 1959] A hike and a flight (Oct. 1959 Astounding and two Space Races)

The big news this week is Astounding is raising its price from 35 cents to four bits.  It’s a big jump, but I’m sure it’s a necessary move given that Galaxy and F&SF also cost 50 cents (though IF is still at 35 cents).

It is significant that I have nibbled around the edges of the October Astounding, so to speak, starting with the non-fiction articles.  I didn’t like the first half of That Sweet Old Woman, and I doubt I’ll care much for part two.  I’ll bite the bullet tonight.  Probably.

But the non-fiction is pretty nifty.  Campbell’s editorial, for once, does not stink of psionics.  He probably saw the writing on the wall when everyone, but everyone, at Worldcon ribbed him about his editorials and story-selection policy.  So now John is openly asking for science articles, and he’s hoping to introduce a slick page element to the magazine come the beginning of next year.  I’m a science writer, so I’ll be interested to see how it goes.  Perhaps I’ll submit an article or two.

I also liked Bill Boyd’s article on obtaining blood-typing reagents from vegetables, Blood from a Turnip.  It really sings the praises of basic research to see such a medical boon to humanity come from such a simple, off-the-wall experiment.  The price of such reagents has been dropped a thousand-fold, as a result.

Next time, I promise to talk about fiction.  Probably.

In Space Race news, the X-15 rocketplane made its maiden powered flight on September 17 with veteran pilot Scott Crossfield (the man who broke the Mach 2 barrier) at the controls.  It was just a 9-minute flight using two underpowered XLR-11 engines rather than XLR-99 engine designed for the plane.  The XLR-11 is actually the engine that sent Chuck Yeager past the sound barrier in 1948. 

Moreover, the plane developed mechanical problems, and a small fire broke out.  Crossfield was able to get the craft down safely, however. 

And now to the ballistic manned space program.  In a way, the Mercury project, that one-manned space capsule that will carry the first American into space, has already succeeded.  Last week, on September 9, a boilerplate spacecraft was launched atop an Atlas ICBM.  I’ve written about “Little Joe,” designed for low-level test firings of the Mercury.  Naturally, the Atlas missions are called “Big Joe.” The recent mission marks the first time the Atlas has been used in support of the manned space program.

For the capsule, the mission was a complete success.  It was lofted to a height of 90 miles, separated from the Atlas, and crashed into the ocean some 1424 miles away from its launching site at Cape Canaveral.  The craft was in good shape, proving the sturdiness of its heat shield.

The Atlas, on the other hand, suffered some teething troubles.  The Atlas missile has three engines, two of which are supposed to drop away when fuel is depleted.  They didn’t.  The Atlas also took its time separating from the spacecraft. 

The flight was good enough, though.  It is my understanding that NASA is considering the cancellation of “Big Joe 2,” scheduled to be launched sometime in the Fall.

So there you have it.  Not only are the Americans and the Soviets neck and neck, but it seems that the two American space programs are also competing closely.  It’s an exciting time for those who bet.

P.S. 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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