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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