Tag Archives: echo

[August 12, 1960] Two for two! (Space News Round-up)

I promised an exciting week in space flight, and I’m here to deliver.  Both the Air Force and NASA are all smiles this week thanks to two completely successful missions that mean a great deal for our future above the Earth.

First off, the military side.  13 had proven to be a lucky number for the Air Force with Discoverer 13 performing perfectly: from launch, to orbit, to capsule re-entry, to recovery.  This is a big deal–for the past year and a half, the Air Force has been struggling with its dud of a program. 

Ostensibly, the aim of Discoverer is to test a biological capsule return system as a prelude to manned space travel.  I suppose this is more plausible now that the “Dynasoar” spaceplane, a successor to the X-15 rocketplane, is in the first stages of development. 

On the other hand, none of the Discoverer capsules since the early ones have carried live animals, and I find it hard to believe the Air Force would try thirteen times to test a capsule return system that has no direct connection with any upcoming Air Force project.

What is more likely is that the biological mission is a cover, or at the very least, incidental, just like when mice were launched on nosecone test shots of the Thor missile.  So what do you do with a recoverable capsule that circles the Earth in a polar orbit, overflying every inch of the Earth as it goes?  The same thing you can do with a U2 spyplane, but with no worry about being shot down–at least for now.  Given the strain that the incident back in May had on international relations (and you’ve probably all read yesterday’s headline about downed pilot Gary Powers’ “confession”), I think this is a positive development.

On to the civilian side.  Let’s talk telephones: currently, to make a telephone call to another continent, one has to use undersea cables.  Not only does this pose a bottleneck to transmission, but one can only place a call to a place cable has been extended.

In the United States, Ma Bell got around the phone line bottleneck by using microwave transmitters to relay calls.  That’s why you’ve seen phone towers popping up all over the country, and nearly a quarter of all calls now go through this system.  But microwaves work in a straight line… and the Earth is round.  To send a microwave message around the planet, one needs a signal tower hundreds of miles tall!

12 years ago, science fact and fiction author, Arthur C. Clarke, wrote about such a tower: the orbital communications satellite.  This morning, NASA brought us one step closer to building this virtual tower.

On the face of it, Echo 1, launched this morning on the new Thor Delta booster, is not that impressive. It’s actually just a giant balloon with a couple of radio beacons on it.  But it’s a balloon you can bounce messages off of… to anywhere.  It’s the first generation of a class of satellites that one day will allow you to pick up the phone and make a call to anywhere in the world.  Or allow you to receive television channels from across the globe. 

Echo will also be a scientific satellite.  NASA has tried several times to launch a big balloon into orbit to measure atmospheric density at high altitudes.  Now we’ve got one.  As a bonus, it makes a pretty, easily seen addition to the evening sky.

Thus concludes the latest Space News wrap-up, one that makes up for July’s dry spell.  I’ll be back in a couple of days with an update from the world of science fiction.

Stay tuned!

[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!