Tag Archives: Apollo

[July 29, 1962] What a Diff’rence a Month Made (July 1962 in spaceflight)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Gideon Marcus

Sometimes, the future comes so fast, it bewilders.

This rushing feeling I’ve had all month must be similar to what my grandparents felt when the Wright Brothers first took off.  For millennia, people have dreamed of flight, envying the birds.  Yet flying was always the province of make-believe, of fanciful stories.  Then, on one day in 1903, airplanes became a reality, and the world was transformed.

Ditto space travel.  That dream has been alive since the Ancient Greeks, yet it was entirely a theoretical concern until the Soviets pierced the heavens with their first beeping Sputnik.  It is easy to forget, now that there have been well over one hundred successful orbital missions, that just five years ago, there had been none.

The advances made just this month are tremendous, each one as significant as the breakthroughs I’ve just detailed.  Let’s review:

Ma Bell, Orbital Division

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few weeks, you can’t have missed virtually non-stop coverage of the first civilian communications satellite, AT&T’s Telstar.  Launched July 10, it circles the Earth every 90 minutes; for 20 minutes of every orbit, North America and Europe are linked via the dappled spheroid.

Now, it’s not as if the two continents had been completely cut off before.  However, the only way to communicate was via undersea phone line (expensive, not useful for television), or shortwave radio (no pictures).  If the UK wants to watch reruns of The Twilight Zone, or if we wanted to see airings of Danger Man or Supercar, we have to wait for videotapes to be shipped/airmailed across the Pond.  News from abroad is often days out of date.

That’s about to change.  Starting with a fairly humdrum broadcast of a flag in France, Telstar’s programming has now included a host of shows including a Presidential address and a sports match.  And everyone can receive them (so long as the local stations rebroadcast the feed).  Over the next few years, expect satellite coverage to become continuous.  Arthur C. Clarke’s dream of comsats fixed in the sky, 22,500 miles overhead, will soon become a reality, and the world shall be connected as never before.

Jousting Space Shutterbugs

Since April, the Soviets have been orbiting a series of disparate probes under the unified designation, “Kosmos,” the latest being Kosmos 7, which launched yesterday.  Details on these flights have been sketchy, and while they are all billed as scientific missions, it is beyond doubt that some or all of them have been spy satellites.  I infer this based on the fact that at least one of them was deorbited and recovered a few days after launch – the same modus operandi as our Discoverer film-return satellites.

Speaking of which, yesterday we launched the 47th in the Discoverer series.  As usual, the Air Force did not announce the flight, but it was in the papers anyway.  It’s really hard to hide a rocket launch in the middle of California.

It is unlikely that the two satellites took pictures of each other, but wouldn’t that be a snapshot to develop?

Getting to Space the Old-Fashioned Way

Until this month, the only way into the deep black was at the tip of a rocket, as Messrs. Shepard, Grissom, Glenn, Carpenter, Gagarin, and Titov can attest.  But on July 17, Major Robert White flew his X-15 rocket plane to an altitude of 59 miles.  For NASA, that’s close enough to outer space to count, and they’re giving the Major a pair of astronaut wings to wear on his flight suit. 

White experienced three minutes of weightlessness during his flight, and the stars were brilliant and unwinking at the journey’s apex.  While this is close to the highest the X-15 can ever fly, it strongly suggests that, in the not too distant future, the next generation of spaceplanes will zoom into orbit from a conventional runway.

Just try not to live right under the take-off point.  That could get loud.

Bits and Pieces

The Apollo moonship design is moving right along.  One lingering question, however, was how the thing would get to the moon.  After all, it is the heaviest manned spacecraft yet developed.  The original concept involved building a giant version of the already giant Saturn booster.  This eight-engine monster is dubbed Nova, and it would take Apollo directly to the moon.  Appropriately, this mode is called “Direct Ascent.”

A cheaper idea involves using two Saturn C-5s (a simpler, 5-engine variant), one carrying the Apollo, and the other carrying the fuel.  The two would meet in Earth orbit before jetting off to the moon.  This mode is called “Earth Orbit Rendezvous.”

But it was the plucky underdog idea that was ultimately chosen this month.  Called Lunar Orbit Rendezvous, it requires just one Saturn C-5.  At its tip will be an Apollo, some fuel, and a teeny Lunar Excursion Module (or LEM).  The Apollo, itself, won’t land on the moon.  Instead, two astronauts of the three will cram into the LEM for the landing. 

This mode was, at first, deemed too complicated to be practicable.  Computers are getting better these days, however, and the cost savings are significant.  Moreover, there’s less to go wrong with one rocket than two.

I’m wholly in favor of this move.  After all, anything with the acronym LEM must be incredible.

Conquered by (the Planet of) Love

The one bit of sad news accompanies the loss of Mariner 1, our first planned mission to Venus.  Launched on July 22, its Atlas Agena rocket, the biggest one we’ve got right now (save for the still-in-testing Saturn 1), glitched during take-off and had to be destroyed five minutes into the flight.

Unlike Pioneer 5, which two years ago flew to Venus’ orbit and demonstrated the possibility of long-range telecommunications, Mariner 1 would have flown by the planet, itself.  It would not have been able to take pictures; the Atlas Agena combination isn’t powerful enough to lift a spacecraft with a big enough radio to send scans of photos.  We’ll have to wait for the beefier Atlas Centaur for that.

Instead, Mariner 1 is really a retool of the first generation of Ranger moon probes, carrying a slew of particle and electromagnetic wave detectors.  If an “R-type” Mariner makes it to Venus, we won’t get a look under the planet’s shroud of clouds, but we will, at least, finally know hot the world is and get some information on its magnetic field.

The good news?  Mariner 2 is scheduled for launch next month.  Let’s hope that one works – otherwise, we’ll have to wait another year and a half for Earth and Venus to be in favorable position for a mission.

Live via Visi-Phone!

Courtesy of Telstar and the miracle of Visi-phone(tm) technology, the Journey had a smashing second Tele-Conference on July 29, covering a wide range of topics: from news of the day, to discussion of the upcoming Hugo Awards, to talking about this Summer’s blockbusters.

If you missed the live broadcast, catch the rerun.  Check your local listings for details.

Congratulations go out to Mark Yon and Nathan “Rocky” Anderson for asking the best questions!  You can expect your prizes to arrive over the next few weeks.  And to the rest of our audience, warm thanks from the Galactic Journey staff.  We look forward to seeing you again when we do our third Tele-Conference in 2-3 months.

In the meantime, enjoy this revolutionary new era.  The future is only going to come more quickly, I predict…




[October 28, 1961] Heavy Lifting (Saturn C-1 SA-1)


by Rosemary Benton

It’s a great leap forward for the United States.  This morning, October 28th 1961, one can open the newspaper and learn about yesterday’s launch of the Saturn C-1.  Some of us even saw the live coverage of the launch on television, watching as the giant rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida and flew 95 miles into the air before plunging into the Atlantic Ocean.  A rocket this powerful has never been launched before, and I can only imagine that the scientific community must be trembling like the ground beneath Saturn C-1’s S-1 first-stage cluster of nine tanks and eight engines. 

It was, quite simply, the biggest rocket ever launched.  By far.

As the world reaches farther and farther past the stratosphere, I wanted to take a look into the recent past in order to better appreciate where we are today.  The development of this impressive rocket was a potent combination of money, ambition, and potential, beginning in December 1957 when renowned rocket scientist Dr.  Wernher von Braun and his team proposed the creation of a booster with one million five hundred thousand pounds of thrust – that’s five times that of the Atlas (the rocket that will take an American astronaut into orbit).  The Department of Defense listened, and by August 15, 1958 the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) began work at the Redstone Arsenal to create the vehicle that would culminate in the tower of flame that lifted slowly, inexorably, from its Florida launchpad yesterday.

The initial design of the booster was something of a lash-up, fusing the liquid oxygen and fuel tanks from the Redstone and Jupiter missiles with the tried and true S-3D engine from the Thor and Jupiter missiles.  After significant retooling, the upgraded S-3D engine was clearly a new beast.  So it got a new name: H-1.  As the development of the H-1 continued through 1958, ARPA began to take a more ambitious approach to the aims of the project.  It would not be enough to develop a booster capable of propelling enormous payloads.  Instead they set their sights on creating a multistage carrier vehicle for a long term manned expedition to space.  The result was the October 1958 project tentatively called Juno V, the name indicating the booster’s kinship with its predecessor Juno rockets) based on the Jupiter missile.  The project quickly outgrew any resemblance to the Jupiter family.  On February 3, 1959 that the ARPA renamed the project after the next planet out from the Sun: Saturn. 

Saturn’s development has been nothing less than breakneck.  Dr.  Von Braun’s group at the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) delivered the first production H-1 engine on April 28, 1959 and successfully tested it on May 26.  The Department of Defense prioritized the civilian Saturn.  July of that year was a particularly productive month.  At Cape Canaveral there began construction on a blockhouse for the project’s Launch Complex 34, and the Redstone Arsenal shops shifted their focus away from Jupiter rockets in favor of the Saturn project.  By the end of July, the Army Ordnance Missile Command (AOMC) was ordered to cease work on the Titan second stage boosters in favor of the Saturn project. 

NASA stepped in to assume direction of the Saturn Project from ARPA on March 16, 1960.  From the start NASA saw the three stage Saturn C-1 as a starting point in the creation of more powerful, larger vehicles.  Through April and March of 1960, success after success met the Saturn project.  As is tradition, private companies were brought on board to design and construct components of the vehicle.  Contracts between NASA, Douglas Aircraft Company, and Pratt & Whitney, were drawn up in July and August of 1960 respectively.  Douglas Aircraft Company would be responsible for the conceptualization and production of the four-engine S-IV stage of Saturn C-1.  Pratt and Whitney would produce the LR-119 engines to be used in the S-IV and S-V stages. 

As forward thinking as he is driven, Dr. von Braun had bigger plans for the Saturn C-1.  In January 1960, shortly after Convair Astronautics submitted a proposal for an S-V upper stage for the Saturn vehicle, Dr. von Braun floated the idea past NASA administration that the developing lunar project “Apollo” did not need a three-stage C-1; two would be sufficient for the early orbital missions planned for the spacecraft.  His proposal was approved, and NASA removed the S-V stage.  But the S-V stage was not completely scrapped.  In May 1961 the S-1 stage of the vehicle was modified to allow the Saturn C-1 to be a two or three-stage vehicle, increasing its versatility. 

Even before its launch on October 27th, the Saturn C-1 design was already being improved upon in the form of the bigger C-2 and C-3 plans.  In March 1961, considerations were well under way to make use of the Centaur’s LR-115 engines in Saturn C-2 rather than the more expensive LR-119 engines developed for Saturn C-1.  Fins were added to the C-2 design in order to make it more structurally sound, and the thrust capacities of the S-1 stage were reviewed for improvement.  Work continued to accelerate on the Saturn C-2 design until recently on June 23, 1961, when Dr. von Braun announced that the C-3 would hold priority over the C-2 due to the preferable use of the C-3 for the later stages of the Apollo project.

Even as the first of its family, the Saturn C-1 launch is a milestone of astronautics.  First and foremost it represents a great leap into the future of propulsion.  Developed under the guiding hand of Dr. von Braun, the The Saturn C-1 rocket itself is one hundred sixty two feet tall, four hundred sixty tons in weight, and packs one point three million pounds of thrust.  The payload of this particular rocket is 10 tons — far outstripping that of any previously launched rocket. 

More than anything, however, is the fact that the Saturn C-1 was a success on its first flight (albeit with a dummy 2nd stage — that will get tested next year).  This bodes well for future Saturn projects.  In terms of the evolution of rocket science, the C-1 has broken new ground in all aspects of rocket design, execution and function. 

The Saturn project has brought us one step closer to manned expeditions beyond orbital space.