Tag Archives: science fact

America SCORES! (12-22-1958)

Unless the Soviets can pull a rabbit out of their hat, it looks like the United States will come out the winner in the Space Race for 1958.

It was only a matter of time before we finally used our Atlas rocket, the nation’s first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), to launch a satellite.  With the Atlas, we can finally throw up payloads of similar weights to those launched by the Soviets with their ICBM.

The first Atlas mission, Project SCORE, was launched on December 18, 1958.  It is the heaviest payload ever to be launched by the United States into orbit—a whopping 8000 pounds’ worth!  That compares favorably to the 9000 pound payload launched by the Soviet Union in May (Sputnik III).  Of course, those figures are a little less impressive when one realizes that the vast bulk of that weight actually comprises the last stage of the rocket.  Moreover, Sputnik III carried over a ton of instrumentation.  SCORE carries a bare 150 pounds of payload.

What SCORE does, however, is unprecedented.  Quite simply, it is the world’s first communication’s satellite.

Currently, if one wishes to send a message across the country or the world, one must either use archaic transoceanic cables or, more frequently, send the signal via some sort of radio.  The former method puts strong limits on destination (messages can only go where the cables are strung), and the latter is only as reliable as the atmosphere will allow.  Reception at remote locations is virtually impossible.  But with a satellite, one truly has the high ground.  Messages can be beamed anywhere along the satellite’s line of sight, which is essentially limitless. 

Developed jointly by the Air Force and veteran communications company, RCA, SCORE has the ability both to broadcast messages as they are beamed to it from ground stations and to store received messages and transmit them later.  Seeing how it was an Air Force mission, there were probably plenty of classified messages sent and re-transmitted, but the one everybody got to know about was this one, recorded by President Eisenhower the day after launch:

“This is the President of the United States speaking.  Through the marvels of scientific advance, my voice is coming to you from a satellite circling in outer space.  My message is a simple one: Through this unique means I convey to you and to all mankind, America’s wish for peace on Earth and goodwill toward men everywhere.”

Once again, science fiction has become fact.  Arthur C. Clarke predicted communications satellites in the ’40s, and here we are at the dawn of a new era. 

If that era comes.  It must be cynically pointed out that this launch had a second purpose—to show the Soviets that we, too, have the ability to send a nuclear bomb 6,000 miles across the globe.  While this represents a technological achievement and another example of science fiction become fact, I somehow can’t be as excited about this development.  It is yet another reminder that, thus far, the exploration of space has been primarily a military endeavor, and our plowshares are barely modified swords.

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Brrrr!  IGY wrap-up (12-18-1958)

Last time, I talked about some of the wonders of the International Geophysical Year.  The term is a bit of a misnomer–it has actually lasted some 18 months, and the dividends from its successes will be paid out for many years to come.  For those who don’t know, the “IGY” is actually the third event of its kind, a twice-a-century international effort to learn about Earth’s more exotic mysteries.  Originally, the event was known as the International Polar Year; the first started in 1882, and the second in 1932.  Due to the growing science of aeronautics and the newfound ability to directly measure the astronomical medium, the scope of the IPY was expanded to include outer space, and the IGY was scheduled to occur just 25 years after the last IPY.  In this period, America has launched seven successful (or semi-successful) space missions, and the Soviets have launched three.  As discussed last time, American submarines have stayed underwater for months on end and have cruised underneath the North Pole.

In keeping with the original intention of the international year-and-a-half of science, the poles have been subject to the most massive investigation in history, particularly the forbiddingly cold continent of Antarctica.  The United States, the United Kingdom, France, Japan, and the Soviet Union all have sent large teams into the frozen wastes of the world’s southernmost continent, and more than 50 other countries have contributed scientists and resources. 

As the punctuation mark to cap off an unprecedented 18 months, an expedition has finally arrived at one of Earth’s most exotic locales–the Southern Pole of Inaccessibility.  You are likely familiar with Earth’s South Pole, the southernmost point of Earth’s axis of rotation, and also with the Earth’s South Magnetic Pole.  The Southern Pole of Inaccessibility was a headscratcher even for me when I first heard it.  It is the point in Antarctica equidistant from any ocean shore.  It is probably the hardest place to get to in the world (hence the name).  Of course, calling anything inaccessible is just begging to be challenged.  It is appropriate that the team that made it there, just in the nick of time, was from a country quite used to freezing climes: the Soviet Union.

On December 14, a team of the Third Soviet Antarctic Expedition reached the Southern Pole of Inaccessibility and established a small research facility.  Yes, you can now get weather reports even from the bottom of the world (or the top, if you’re from Australia).  This team will brave the -72°F temperature for two weeks.

So let us all give a nazdarovya toast to our brave Soviet comrades.  One can only imagine where we’ll be for the next IGY in 2007.  Colonies on the moon, under the deep sea, and at the Southern Pole of Inaccessibility, I’ll wager!

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Fact and Fiction (February 1959 Galaxy, Part 2; 12-14-1958)

For your reading pleasure today, a piece in two parts.  First a bit on fiction, and then a bit on the other stuff.

Plowing on through the new maxi-sized Galaxy, the first story after Installment Plan is a slight bit of atmospheric by Charles A. Stearns called Pastoral Affair.  If you’ve read the Wells classic, The Island of Dr. Moreau, then you’ve essentially read this story.  Stearns, I understand, largely wrote for the pulps and less prestigious magazines, and his work reads like something from the 30s.  Not bad, just not much.

But the succeeding Fred Pohl piece, I Plingot, Who you?, is quite good.  My father was a science fiction fan of “Golden Age” vintage before his untimely passing some twenty years ago.  He once said, rather presciently, that the only way one could ever really unite the world would be the invention of an external threat, perhaps a world-destroying asteroid or (even better) an extraterrestrial invasion. 

Pohl takes this concept and turns it on its head: What if someone convinced all of the world leaders separately that an alien race was approaching, and the first to encounter it would get an exclusive and most rewarding deal?  And what if the race landed their spacecraft not in America or the U.S.S.R., but in the neutral powder-keg of French Algeria.  Why, it might kick off a bloody competition resulting in an all-out atomic war!  Now, what if that instigating someone were actually a representative of an alien species whose job was to fabricate the alien arrival to cause the destruction of Earth and ensure that interstellar competition was kept to a minimum?  You’d get Plingot.

The pacing and the writing really make this story, as well as the unexpected ending (which is very Heinlein-esque).  The story is from the eponymous Plingot’s point of view, and his wording and mood are subtly and suitably alien.  Interestingly enough, it is decidedly fixed in a very specific period of time—perhaps the next few months.  For the flag of the United States has 49 stars, and it is pretty clear by now that Hawaii will be a state very soon, to balance Republican and Democratic votes in the Senate, if nothing else.  Moreover, given the recent turmoil in France that brought DeGaulle back to the fore and created yet another French Republic (Number 5!), I can’t imagine that France’s hold on Algeria is anything but tenuous.  This all works, however, since the story is not a prediction of the future but rather a prediction of how the present might deal with a futuristic threat.

Now the non-fiction.  Willy Ley’s article this bi-month wraps up his article on “The World Next Door:” the alien realm of the deep sea, and ties in nicely with the unusually large number of undersea accomplishments achieved by the United States this year.  Did you know that the nuclear-powered submarine, the U.S.S. Seawolf stayed underwater for 60 consecutive days?  The air its crew left port with was the air the crew breathed for two straight months.  That kind of self-contained endurance is relevant to travel in Outer Space, where fresh air is even less accessible.

The Seawolf is the younger sister of the U.S.S. Nautilus, which made history in August by being the first ship to travel to the North Pole under water.  I saw/heard in a recent newsreel that there is talk of opening up underwater polar trade routes between East and West.  I don’t know how feasible that would be, but it is exciting nonetheless. 

So stay tuned!  I predict that the undersea science fiction genre (heretofore severely underrepresented—Fred Pohl’s Slave Ship serialized two years ago in Galaxy, is one of the few examples) will become a big component of published sci-fi in the near future.

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Oops, Part 4 (12-08-1958)

Well, at least we’re consistent.

The past few months, the newspapers have run headline after headline describing America’s failures in trying to shoot the Moon.  The Air Force had the first at-bat with its three Pioneers.  #0 blew up so early that it wasn’t even dignified with a name.  #1 limped about halfway to the Moon before falling back down.  #2’s performance was somewhere in the middle.

If you believe the papers (and/or the Vice President), all of these flights were successes.  After all, any launch, even one that doesn’t meet its goals, is a learning experience.  Sarcasm aside, Pioneers I and II were not total washes–they sent back a lot of good data on the Earth’s magnetic field and the radiation trapped therein.  Moreover, they went a lot higher than any of our previous probes, certainly higher than anything the Russians have sent up.

The day before yesterday (Dec. 6, 1958) was the Army’s chance to step up to the plate.  If hitting the Moon is a Home Run, I’d say they hit a double.  Pioneer III, a teeny 13-pounder launched on a Juno II made it out about 67,000 miles before falling back to Earth.

As always, I collected as many papers as I could and kept my ears glued to the radio.  Early editions simply announced the launch, but it was clear pretty quickly that something had gone wrong.  Apparently, Pioneer’s rocket ran out of fuel about four seconds early, which sent the probe off at too low an angle.  Even though Pioneer III left Earth with more speed than Pioneer I, its journey was only half as high.  38 hours after launch, the poor little probe was ashes in the ionosphere. 

Silver lining: A good 22 hours of data was collected from the probe, and it is already adding to our knowledge regarding the two (count them: two!) radiation belts girdling the Earth.  As a matter of fact, those belts are the only phenomenon Pioneer III could report on.  Unlike Pioneers 0-II, which had a whole suite of experiments including even a TV camera, Pioneer III had just one experiment: a pair of Geiger-Muller tubes for counting the cosmic radiation particles hitting the spacecraft.  I am not sure why Pioneer III was such a simple probe.  It may be that the Army got the assignment in a hurry and had to rush things.  It might also be that the Army’s Juno II doesn’t have the enough strength to lift anything heavier.

In any event, this isn’t the last we’ll be hearing from the Army.  Pioneer IV will be up sometime soon, though Major General John Medaris, head of the Army’s rocket development center in Alabama, had no firm dates for the press.

“See me after Christmas,” he told the television people.

Get a load of that puss.  That looks more like a toothache than a booster failure. 

Here’s an interesting question: The Space Race has been marked by more failures than successes.  Did anyone ever write a science fiction story that predicted this level of teething pain in a space program?  It seems to me that space vehicles in fiction simply work.  If they don’t work perfectly, they have maintenance issues like those that afflict an automobile or perhaps a naval vessel.  This goes back to my previous comments regarding the focus of science fiction on the pilot rather than the large and necessary logistical tail. 

It’s a pity we don’t see more stories incorporating launch failures.  They could be an exciting dramatic device.

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What’s in a name? (12-4-1958)

I’m still waiting for my January F&SF to show up, so here’s another topical scientific post.  Just call me Willy Ley’s poor cousin.

The space stories in today’s newspapers are filled with a mixture of alphabet soup and Roman mythology.  Keeping track of what’s what can be a headache.  For instance, there has been a lot of confusion regarding the naming of the rocket that launched Explorer I (and III and IV, and tried to launch II and V).  Some accounts called it a Jupiter-C.  Others have since called it a Juno I.  Which is correct?  Is there a Jupiter missile somewhere in there?  Does it even matter? 

Let me clear things up.  The answer shines an interesting spotlight into the politics of naming and the jockeying for position being done by this country’s armed services.

Back in 1953, Von Braun and his Alabama team of German expatriates finished the first significant rocketry development since the V2 (which they had also built).  It was the Redstone Medium Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM) with a range of more than a hundred miles.  Von Braun knew he had a vehicle that was powerful enough to send something into orbit, and he lobbied heavily for his “Project Orbiter” so that he, and the Army, could launch the first artificial satellite.  He lost that fight to the Navy, who started work on the Vanguard, based in turn on the Viking sounding rockets, which were based on the V2.

Nevertheless, Von Braun did win the contract to build the longer-ranged successor to the Redstone, the Jupiter Intermediate Ranged Ballistic Missile (IRBM).  This let Von Braun keep Project Orbiter alive, at least under wraps.  The first step toward turning the Redstone into a satellite booster was a series of test launches with Jupiter IRBM components on board.  He called the resulting machine “Jupiter-A,” even though at its heart, it was really a Redstone.  This helped ensure launch pad availability, since the Jupiter was a higher-priority program.

Then he added 11 miniaturized solid-rocket boosters called Sergeants (descendants of the WAC Corporal rocket, of course) as a second stage and one more as a third stage.  This new booster was used as a sounding rocket, probing the outer reaches of the atmosphere in short suborbital flights, and was called the “Jupiter-C.”  I don’t know if there were ever plans for a “Jupiter-B.”

Once Sputnik was launched, America was hard-pressed to make a quick response.  Von Braun trotted out the Jupiter-C, all ready to launch a payload.  It wasn’t quite enough to get Explorer I into orbit, however, so another mini-Sergeant was attached to the satellite and placed on top of the Jupiter-C third stage.  This technically made the Jupiter-C a four-stage rocket, even though one could argue that the fourth stage was really part of the payload. 

It was important that there be little connection between the military space programs and the civilian space programs, at least in the press.  That’s why Vanguard was given the nod for the first satellite launch.  While it was developed by the Navy, it was run under the auspices of the civilian National Research Laboratory.  Jupiter-C was renamed “Juno I” to distance the rocket from its military origins.

It was not a very successful move.  Contemporary newspapers universally referred to the rocket as the Jupiter-C (which, of course, it was).  The name “Juno I” is only now common in retrospective use, as its last flight was on October 23.  It is a useful distinction, however, as Von Braun has taken the 2nd, 3rd and “4th” stages from the Juno I and affixed them to a true Jupiter IRBM, thus creating the “Juno II.”  This new vehicle should have about the same lifting capacity as the Air Force’s Thor-Able, maybe a little less.  It will launch Pioneer III next week.  Note: Pioneer III has nothing to do with Pioneers 0-II save that they have the same destination, the moon.

All clear?

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Less is More; Rocket Clusters in Science Fiction (12-02-1958)

Science advances rapidly, and with it, our visions of the future.  People have been dreaming about traveling to outer space for thousands of years, and their dreams have necessarily been based on extrapolations of the time.  For instance, when Daedalus and Icarus made their flights, they used bird-like wings.  What else was there?  When Jules Verne wrote about a trip to the moon, a giant cannon was the propulsion. 

Then the rocket came along, and that became the vehicle of choice for space jaunts.  Yet the portrayal of rockets in science fiction even just a few years ago differs dramatically from how they ended up actually being used for space travel.  One crucial development changed the whole game in the span of just five years.

Two books in my library illustrate what I’m talking about.  In 1953, Jeffery Lloyd Castle wrote Satellite E One, and Murray Leinster wrote Space Tug, both near-future tales of space stations.  In the beginnings of both books, our heroes are blasted into orbit with the use of rockets—lots of rockets.  Castle’s booster is 150 feet tall and has 50 rocket engines.  Leinster’s is even more creative.  Dozens of independent jet engines propel the rocket assembly to about 12 miles up and then detach, whereupon solid rockets fire and subsequently detach.  Finally, the rocket’s own engines (presumably liquid fuel) ignite to finish the journey.

Both of these stories are products of their era.  Until 1953, rockets were pretty small affairs.  In the 30s, they were strictly hobbyists’ stuff.  Even in the 40s, the vaunted German V-2 was what would now be classified a Short Ranged Ballistic Missile (SRBM).  Missile development languished in the early post-war compared to the prodigious effort expended on the development of jet engines.  To science fiction writers, it seemed any space rocket would have to be purpose-built, and it would take a tremendous number of these small engines to get a craft to orbit.  That’s why most predictions saw humanity reaching the moon around the end of the century.  Clarke was particularly visionary in Childhood’s End when he wrote about a manned lunar mission as early as 1975 using atomic rockets.

What few authors predicted was the InterContinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) race.  In 1954, the Air Force and Army began working in earnest to develop titanic missiles to send nuclear warheads across the world.  Since all must crawl before walking, their first product was the Intermediate Ranged Ballistic Missle (IRBM), which will be based in Europe.  The Army finished their first proto-IRBM, the Redstone, in 1956.  All of a sudden, the United States had an off-the-shelf method to send payloads into orbit.  With the completion of the Thor and Jupiter IRBMs in 1957, as well as the Navy’s Vanguard (not a military vehicle but based on the earlier Viking, in turn based on the V-2), America suddenly had a stable of boosters.

That year, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik.  They didn’t use a purpose-built space booster; they borrowed an ICBM from their arsenal and stuck a satellite on top.  We know it was an ICBM for two reasons: the Soviets had, just a few months before, announced that they’d built and tested an ICBM.  And Sputnik III, which used the same launcher as Sputniks I and II (presumably) weighed a ton-and-a-half, so an ICBM class booster was needed to loft it.

We don’t know how many individual rockets make up the Soviet booster, but the Redstone, Thor and Jupiter use just one.  Of course, it is more efficient to send multi-staged rockets into orbit, so the Juno-I that launched the first Explorer actually has 14 engines (the one on the Redstone and 13 solid-fueled Sergeants on top).  The Juno-II also has 14 (Jupiter plus 13 Sergeants).  The Junos are stopgaps, however.  The Thor-Able that launched Pioneers 0-2 only has three engines.  The first crop of American ICBMs, the Atlas and the Titan, have just 2-3 engines.  Even Von Braun’s proposed lunar mission monsters will only have around 12, tops.  So much for cluster rockets with dozens of engines.

It is no coincidence that the Space Race started when it did.  It is a direct side-effect of the ICBM race.  Science fiction authors are going to have to revise their timetables as well as their portrayals of rockets.  It just goes to show that science progresses awfully fast when we want it to, sometimes faster than our ability to predict its progress.

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To the Moon (Alice?); Wrap-up of January 1959 Astounding and more (11-30-1958)

I promised a wrap-up of this month’s Astounding, so here it is.  “Study in Still Life,” by Astounding’s resident satirist, Eric Frank Russell.  It is a 20-page depiction of governmental bureaucracy whose only connection (I should say connexion; Russell is British) with science fiction is its having been printed in a science fiction magazine.  I’m sure some find tedious depictions of tedium humorous (humourous?).  I just find them tedious.  Oh well.

This makes the January 1959 issue of Astounding the worst in quite some time.  With the exception of the lead story, which is undoubtedly good, but not exceptional, and the brief “Seedling,” the book was a bore.  2 stars at most.

Still, it did inspire a think.  I like my science fiction with a touch of verisimilitude.  One of the tropes I find tiresome is the “spaceship as automobile” trope.  Particularly, the one man builds a rocketship in his backyard and flies it to the moon story.  Now, I have no doubts that the Space Age will have spaceship pilots, and they may well be a rare breed.  I also don’t have too much trouble swallowing the idea that, in the far future, spaceships may be as reliable as the present-day automobile. 

But for the foreseeable future, spaceships, and their atmospheric cousins, airplanes, are incredibly finicky beasts that require dozens of hours of prep time for every hour of flight.  The recent Pioneer launches had crews topping one hundred.  Manned jaunts are sure to require more crew, and a lunar shot will have, I’ll bet, thousands of people involved.  A few authors have gotten it right.  I recently read Satellite E One by Jeffery Lloyd Castle, which is half textbook, half British wish-fulfillment, and it does a good job of depicting the long logistical tail any expensive, high-tech aeronautic project has/will have.

I blame World War II, specifically post-war depictions of the war.  We’ve gotten used to tales of doughty pilots soaring into the skies on a moment’s notice, and we’ve forgotten just how much sweat goes into building and maintaining the crates.  Movies don’t get made about mechanics, anymore than they get made about quartermasters and cooks.  And so science fiction stories not only fail to depict their space age counterparts, they omit them entirely.  I think that’s too bad.  While the general public may like reading stories of plucky rocket-jocks making it to the moon on ingenuity and baling wire, I think a far more meaningful story is made when the spaceships sent to the moon (hopefully with more than just one person inside!) have thousands, if not millions of people behind them as part of the effort.  It’s like a mountain, with the spaceship comprising just the very top, and the rest being not just the people who were directly involved in building and supporting the ship, but a collective effort representing all of humanity.

(Note: Danny Dunn and the Antigravity Paint, published in 1956, is actually a delightful story; I almost feel bad using it as my demonstrative picture, but it’s what I have on hand)

By the by, the Air Force may have failed in America’s first efforts toward the moon (Pioneers 0-2), but it looks like the Army plans to launch a probe on a modified Jupiter IRBM next week.  I think their odds are pretty good.  Their “Juno II” rocket is identical to the Jupiter-C that launched Explorer, at least from the second-stage up, and I understand the Jupiter to have a decent record.  Moreover, the probe is smaller and less sophisticated than its Air Force predecessors, and Von Braun said there is no intention of hitting the moon or sending it into orbit; a near miss will be good enough.  I suppose if one sets the bar low enough, it’s hard not to clear it!  I shall cross my fingers, toes and eyes.

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The short flight of Pioneer II (11-13-1958)

Sometimes the third time isn’t the charm.

On November 8, NASA (read: The Air Force), sent the third of its “Pioneers” toward the moon.  For those following the topic, the first one, launched in August, exploded.  The second one, launched last month, strayed from its intended course and made it just halfway to its destination.

There were high hopes for this mission: the new little Pioneer had a couple of new instruments including a proportional counter developed by the University of Chicago for the detection of cosmic rays, and a TV camera designed to take the first picture of the Moon from space. 

Sadly, Pioneer II (the first one was “0”, hence the misnomer), didn’t make it either.  Though the first and second stages worked perfectly, the third one simply refused to fire.  The little Pioneer limped up to an altitude of 1550 kilometers before burning up over Africa.  It was an inauspicious ending for the world’s ninth space shot, but it was not entirely in vain.  I understand Pioneer II returned some interesting data on micrometeors and orbital radiation.  It will be interesting to compare this information to that collected by Explorer IV and see how they line up.

So where do we go from here?  It seems STL, builder of Pioneers 0-2, has shot its bolt for now.  Von Braun’s group has announced that it will be launching its own lunar Pioneers starting next month, and that Venus is in the cards as a destination in the near future.  The Soviets surely have their secret plans, too.  In fact, I have to wonder why the Russians haven’t already launched a lunar rocket.  On October 12, a Soviet ambassador congratulated us for launching Pioneer I and explained that the Communists weren’t interested in a moon probe.  But four days later, the Soviets hinted that a moon probe was in the works.  Perhaps they are having their own failures, but they are unwilling to share this news with the world. 

In any event, it is clear that the moon marks the end of the next lap in the ongoing Space Race.  Watch this space for further updates as they occur. I may not be as punctual as David Brinkley, but I am better-looking.

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Things to Come (10-31-1958)

These are exciting times we live in.  The drop in published science fiction is (almost) made up for by the increase in space-related articles in my newspaper.  I read an Associated Press piece yesterday that I thought was particularly interesting:

“NEW YORK (AP) Colonies of Earthmen will occupy the Moon, Mars and Venus.  Rockets will be burning their way toward the outer planets, more than three billion miles from Earth.  Engineers will fashion huge space transports, capable of carrying hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of people on space expeditions that may last most of a lifetime.

These are among the predictions for the next 25 years — the coming generation — made yesterday at a panel of nine space experts in astronautics, the journal of the American Rocket Society.

These experts were agreed that the Earth would soon be ringed with satellites and space stations… Huge rockets would roar between continents carrying cargo and passengers in minutes.”

The panelists included Dr. York, chief scientist for the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), Dr. Hugh Dryden, deputy administrator at the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA, formerly NACA), Dr, Si Ramo, President of Space Technology Laboratories, and Dr. Wehrner von Braun, who had a minor rocketry position during the War and has since gone on to greater things with the U.S. Army.

Now is this a mainstream recognition that science fiction is becoming science fact?  Or is this merely the wishful thinking of a bunch of folks whose business, frankly, is making a living off space travel? 

Are they the same thing?

Either way, there is no question that bigger and better things are just around the corner.  Dr. Dryden opines that there will be people in orbit in just a few years.  Von Braun outlined a 2nd and 3rd generation of rockets in development that will ultimately throw up to 50,000 pounds into orbit at once! 

I know that the Redstone-based Juno I, the famous booster that launched America’s first satellite (Explorer I), was retired last week after failing to launch Explorer VI.  Its replacement will have the same upper stages but will be based on the much-larger Jupiter missile.  I don’t know if that rocket will be big enough to put a person in orbit, but I’ll bet something based on the new Atlas ICBM could do it.

And it’s pretty clear that the Soviet rocket that put the ton-and-a-half Sputnik III into space could do it.  Of course, I’m not sure where they’ll get the volunteers to fly in the thing if its anywhere near as balky as our rockets have been.  If the first Russian satellite was Sputnik, and the second was Muttnik (because it carried a dog cosmonaut), I’m guessing the first manned ship will be called “Nutnik.” 

It may well be that the first person in space won’t ride a cannonball but a spaceplane.  I clipped from the paper on October 16th a picture of the Air Force’s new aircraft, the X-15.  It’s a beautiful ship made by the same people who built the P-51 and the F-86.  It’s supposed to fly at Mach 6 or 7 and go up as high as 50 miles above the ground.  Vice President Nixon (remember him?) said of the craft, “We have moved into first place in the race to enter outer space.” 

We’ll see how long we stay there.

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One year after Sputnik (10-21-1958)

On October 4, 1957, the world was stunned by the beep-beep of the first artificial satellite.  Well, maybe stunned is the wrong word, because anyone following the papers throughout the summer saw that the Soviets had announced quite candidly that they had planned to do so. 

It didn’t take long for good ol’ American know-how, like that provided by good ol’ Americans like Wehrner Von Braun, to match the Russians at their game.  Thus, Explorer 1 went up less than three months later. 

Given the promptness of the American reply, one has to wonder if Ike wanted the first satellite to be Soviet…

Last week, if you followed the presses, American took the lead in the Space Race, at least for the time being.  Pioneer-1 blasted off on October 11.  Destination: Moon.

Sadly, the intrepid probe didn’t quite make it.  Still, it traveled a good half of the way there, and it returned some pretty interesting science on the way, piercing Van Allen’s dangerous clouds of radiation that may pose a permanent barrier to humankind ever establishing an orbital presence. 

I understand that a second Pioneer is scheduled for launch next month.  I’m crossing my fingers and toes!

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