Two for two (Vanguard and Discoverer failures; 6-26-1959)

It’s another Space Race update from The Traveler!

A Vanguard went up on the 22nd, but I decided to hold off on writing a column as I knew a Discoverer was set to launch on the 25th.  I’m afraid I’ve got a double-whammy of disappointment for my good readers.

This new Vanguard had two thermistors (heat-activated electrodes) adorning the magneisum-alloy skin of the 20″ diameter sphere, one facing the sun, one facing inward.  The point of this experiment was to measure the heat balance of the sun’s radiation on the Earth.  Why is this important?  The primary engine for the Earth’s weather is the sun’s heating of the atmosphere.  Hot air rises, cold air sinks, and the spinning Earth mixes all of this thoroughly and chaotically.  If we knew how strong the sun’s rays were at various latitudes, we could correlate these findings to heat flow in the lower atmosphere and learn a great deal.


NASA photo–I don’t know who those folk are.

The rocket soared out of sight of observers, seemingly on a flawless trajectory.  However, it appears that one of the second-stage pressure valves was faulty; no signal from the satellite was ever caught on the ground by any of the many Minitrack receiving stations around the globe.

The sad news is that there is only one booster left to the Vanguard program.  After the next shot, it’s all over.  I hope these experiments don’t get abandoned!


From a postcard I picked up this week–wishful thinking, as it turned out.

Discoverer 4 took off yesterday, and it seemed to be a good launch, but then the second stage (the “Hustler”) failed, and the payload never reached orbit.  From the press releases, the Air Force was testing a new capsule designed to carry monkeys.  Given that there were no actual passengers on the mission, I can think of two possibilities:

1) The Air Force doesn’t want to actually send up any more animals lest the critter-lovers of the world let out a cry and hue (bigger than they already have), at least until the flyboys have perfected their rockets, or

2) There was a payload on Discoverer 4 equipped with eyes, but it wasn’t an animate one.

Which one do you think is more plausible?

In other news, my F&SF and Astounding magazines have come in for this month, and I picked up last month’s IF as well.  I’m also reading Sam Merwin’s Well of Many Worlds, one of the first “sideways in time” stories.  So expect a lot of fiction reviews in the near future!



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