Edited by Gerald Boerner
The space race was a fascinating journey down memory lane. I enjoyed re-reading my blog posting from two years ago (August 24, 2009, “Sputnik I, the Space Race, and the Cold War”. See the Reference section for the hyperlink). The launch of Sputnik I by the Soviets in October of 1957 was a feat that proved a wake-up call to Americans. If the Soviets could put such a small satellite into earth orbit, then they could also use their Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles to deliver a warhead to any of our cities in the United States. So, not only was the launch of Sputnik provides Americans with a new challenge to our country’s scientific prestige, it was also a military of threat as well.
So NASA was forced to demonstrate that we also had the launch capacity to put our own satellite into earth orbit. The launch of a Vanguard rocket with the TV3 naval satellite was scheduled for the morning hours on this day in 1957. The countdown started and went according to plan. The OK for launch was given and the Vanguard’s rocket engines came to life. The forces started the lift-off from the launch pad and reached a height of four feet before dropping back to the launch pad and exploding. We experienced our first space disaster that day at Cape Canaveral, in public!
Fortunately, the TV3 satellite was thrown wide from the exploding rocket. It kept functioning, although later inspection would show that it was too damaged to be launch on another rocket. Back to the drawing board. This first satellite now greets visitors as they enter the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. NASA would live to see another day; it really suffered few major disasters in the Space Race, but those that did occur were in the full view of the public, in this country and abroad.
Sitting in the wings were a group of engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at Cal Tech in Pasadena, California. The had been pursuing a the development of their own satellite, the Pioneer 1. NASA turned to this group for the next try. In January of 1958, this JPL group successfully launched the Pioneer I satellite atop a Red Stone rocket, patterned after the V2 developed by Wernher von Braun for the Nazis during World War II. That event marked the transfer of responsibility from the military to civilian groups.
At that point, we too had joined the Space Race with the Soviets. This competition would take place over the next decade. It ended in July of 1969 when we landed two Americans on the moon and returned them to earth safely during the Apollo 11 mission. Thus, the challenge of John F. Kennedy was fulfilled. So was the dreams of that visionary author, Jules Verne, realized by the reality of Apollo 11. And it all started with the launch, in October of 1957 of a small gadget, the Sputnik I, by the Soviet Union. Isn’t life so sweet!
But now we need to get on with our exploration of the attempted launch of the TV3 satellite by a Vanguard rocket on this day in 1957... GLB
These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2011 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved
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Quotations Related to Space (Race):
“America has tossed its cap over the wall of space.”
— John F. Kennedy
“Space ails us moderns: we are sick with space.”
— Robert Frost
“It is only in the world of objects that we have time and space and selves.”
— T. S. Eliot