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by Larry Klaes

[The Space Race continues to run at an ever-accelerating pace. To keep up with all the new developments, I've tapped my friend and fellow professional space historian to tell us a very special program that just might score for the United States in the next inning…]



President Kennedy declared three weeks ago before Congress that America shall make the bold step of “sending a man to the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth” before the end of this decade. This has given a much needed – and quite literal – boost to the American space program.

It couldn’t have come at a better time. Since that day in October of 1957 when our geopolitical and space rivals, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR for short, lofted that 184-pound silvery sphere they called Sputnik 1 into Earth orbit, the Communists have handily outpaced us on virtually all key fronts of the Space Race. First animal in orbit. First man in orbit. First probe to Venus. First victories in the race to that big golden prize in our night sky, the Moon.

In one year alone, 1959, the Soviets sent the first space probe flying past the Moon and on into solar orbit. This was followed by the first manmade vehicle to impact another world, with their Luna 2 littering the lunar dust with pennants engraved with the Soviet Coat of Arms. The USSR rounded out their lunar triumphs of 1959 with a circumlunar imaging mission that revealed the hitherto unseen lunar farside.



So which Superpower will be the first to orbit the Moon? The first to land, with robots and then with manned spacecraft? Experts in various fields might understandably side with the Soviet Union, including those in the West. In a mission-by-mission comparison, America’s efforts at exploring and conquering the Moon pale.

All of the first three Air Force Pioneer lunar probes, fell short of their celestial goal. Of the next two, made to order by Jet Propulsion Laboratories in Pasadena, California (JPL), Pioneer 4 alone escaped the confines of Earth’s gravity and headed into interplanetary space in March 1959. Unfortunately, the small conical craft was many thousands of miles too far away for its scientific instruments to examine the Moon and slipped on to join its Soviet counterpart, Luna 1, in solar orbit.

Then it was the Air Force’s turn again with their advanced Atlas Able Pioneers. All four of them failed. Spectacularly.

And so, back to JPL. They have a new robotic lunar exploration program named Ranger that they are confident will return some of NASA’s prestige in space and ensure that one day soon the Stars and Stripes will be standing tall on the lunar surface -- before the Hammer and Sickle.


(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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For many of us, the motivation for reading science fiction is the opportunity to explore worlds beyond our own. Only in fantasy can we fly to faraway planets and see the unusual sights they afford us. But, as I try to convey in this column, science can also reveal places every bit as interesting as the those that are the fruits of imagination.

For instance, there are eight planets besides the Earth whirling around the sun, each of them a wildly different orb from ours and each other. Moreover, while we are still on the eve of a new era of observation, utilizing space probes like the recently failed Venera and the ambiguously targeted Pioneer 5, yet the progress of technology has revolutionized even ground-based observation. Our conception of the planets has evolved significantly in the last half-century (to say nothing of a full century ago). It boggles the mind to imagine what we might know in another fifty years.

Let me show you these worlds, as we know them today, and as we used to know them. I've written about Venus, and I've written about Pluto. Today is Mercury's turn.



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Why read science fiction? To act as your headlights as you hurtle faster and faster down the but dimly visible road to the future. Reading through this month's Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, I found Dr. Isaac Asimov's article particularly thought-provoking. I'd like to get your thoughts.

It's called Four Steps to Salvation. The Good Doctor attributes the success of our species to a series of revolutions in communication. They are:



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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I've been asked why it is that, as a reviewer of science fiction, I devote so much ink to the Space Race and other scientific non-fiction. I find it interesting that fans of the first would not necessarily be interested in the second, and vice versa.

There are three reasons non-fiction figures so prominently in this column:

4) I like non-fiction;
5) All the science fiction mags have a non-fiction column;
6) Science fiction without science fact is without context.

Let me expand on Point 3. Science is different from all other philosophies because of its underpinning of reality. My wife and I had this debate in graduate school many years ago with our fellow students. They felt that, so long as their systems were logical, their views on how the universe worked were just as valid as any others – certainly more valid that lousy ol' science, with its dirty experiments and boring empiricism.

They're wrong, of course. Religion and philosophy have discerned little about the natural universe except by accident or where the practitioners have utilized some version of the scientific method. The fact is, there is a real universe out there, and it pushes back at our inquiries. That "friction" is what allows us to experiment as to its nature. It's why we have wonders like airplanes, nuclear power, the polio vaccine, the contraceptive pill.

Similarly, science fiction is nowheresville without an underpinning of science. Science fiction is not make believe – it is extrapolation of scientific trends. Even fantasy makes use of science; ask Tolkien about his rigorous application of linguistics in his construction of Elvish. It is important that my readers keep abreast of the latest science fact so they can better understand and appreciate the latest science fiction.

And it goes both ways – the science of today is directly influenced and inspired by the dreams of yesterday. Without science fiction, science is a lusterless endeavor. Jules Verne showed us space travel long before Nikita Khruschev.



Thus ends the awfully long preface to today's article, which as anyone might guess, covers America's first manned space mission. Yesterday morning, May 5, 1961, Commander Alan B. Shepard rocketed to a height of nearly 190 kilometers in the Mercury spacecraft he christened "Freedom 7." His flight duplicated that of chimpanzee Ham's February trip: a sub-orbital jaunt that plopped him in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. He flew for just 15 minutes.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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They say "You're only as old as you feel," which explains why Asimov pinches co-eds at conventions.

I've been asked why someone of my advanced age is into the bop and rock and billy that the kids are into these days, when I should be preferring the likes of Glenn Miller or Caruso. Truth be told, I do like the music of my youth, the swing of the 30s and the war years (no, I didn't serve. I was 4F. My brother, Lou, was in five Pacific invasions, though.) But there's something to the new music, something new. I think Lou's kid, David, really turned me onto this stuff – the Cubano and the Rock n' Roll. Music beyond whitebread and Lawrence Welk.

It makes me feel...young.



I've got a full month of space news to catch up, in large part because I was remiss around the end of last month thanks to Wondercon. Of course, Gagarin's flight eclipsed all else in significance for a while, but there is more to off-planet exploration than men in capsules.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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The jangling of the telephone broke my slumber far too early. Groggily, I paced to the handset, half concerned, half furious. I picked it up, but before I could say a word, I heard a frantic voice.

"Turn on your radio right now!"

I blinked. "Wha.." I managed.

"Really!" the voice urged. I still didn't even know who was calling.

Nevertheless, I went to the little maroon Zenith on my dresser and turned the knob. The 'phone was forgotten in my grip as I waited for the tubes to warm up. 10 seconds later, I heard the news.

It happened. A man had been shot into orbit. And it wasn't one of ours.



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Here's an end of March, real-world round-up for you before we plunge into the science fiction of April:


http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/JFKWHP-AR6454-B.aspx

President Kennedy devoted a good deal of time to the civil war in Laos at his fifth press conference, March 23. This three-cornered fight between the nationalists (propped up by the United States), the Communist Pathet Lao (backed by the Soviets and the North Vietnamese), and the neutralists has been going on since the end of last year. The Seventh Fleet was dispatched to the region along with a contingent of troops. For a while, it looked as if we were looking at another Korea.

I'm happy to report that both Kennedy and Premier Khruschev have now proposed plans for a peaceful solution to the crisis, one that involves the invading North Vietnamese disarming and going home. I fervently hope that this means Southeast Asia won't be the site of war in the 1960s.

(read the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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We are definitely not far away from a person in space. The Soviets launched another of their five-ton spaceships into orbit. We're calling it Sputnik 9; who knows what they call it? On board was just one dog this time, name of Chernushka, who was recovered successfully after an unknown number of orbits. It is pretty clear that the vessel that carried Chernushka is the equivalent of our Mercury capsule, and once the Russians have gotten the bugs out of the ship, you can bet there will be a human at the controls.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Before we move on to the latest Space Race update, why don't you mosey on down to your local record store and pick up a copy of Wheels, by the String-a-lomgs? It's a swinging tune, and it's been on the radio a lot lately. It'll keep a smile on your face even when the news threatens to be a drag.



There are good weeks and there are bad weeks. For the Space Race, this wasn't the best week.

(see more at Galactic Journey!)
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With all of the talk about Mercury capsules on Redstone rockets, it's easy to forget that the main mission to get a person into orbit--and you just can't do that without a bigger booster.

It appears that bigger booster, in the form of the Atlas ICBM, is ready to roll.



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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February is definitely making up for January's relative paucity of space flights; this week, in particular, has been noteworthy.

I'd held off reporting on NASA's February 16 launch of Explorer 9 since, well, NASA lost it. You see, the satellite's beacon was tracked through half an orbit, but then the signal was lost, and no one could confirm that the thing was still up there. Yesterday, the vehicle was tracked optically, and it looks as if the probe will be able to fulfill its mission.



(read more at Galactic Journey!)
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Look out, Venus! The Russians are coming to open your shell.

Venus, forever shrouded in a protective layer of clouds, may soon be compelled to give up her secrets to a 1400 pound probe. Launched by the Soviet Union on the 11th, it is the first mission from Earth specifically designed to investigate "Earth's Twin."



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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It's hardly kosher, but it's certainly good news: a Redstone rocket launched the first piloted Mercury capsule on a 15-minute flight into space. No, we didn't put a man in orbit--we sent a three-year old chimpanzee named Ham on a vertical jaunt over the West Atlantic.

(see more at Galactic Journey!)
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I miss one lousy newspaper...

December is a busy month. There are the holidays to shop for, the tax year is wrapping up, family to visit, etc. This December has been particularly crammed with work and domestic concerns such that I (gasp!) missed a very important pair of newspaper articles 'round the beginning of the month.

I caught up on my 'paper reading over Christmas and was astonished to find that, in my haste to read this month's magazines, resolve a few corporate calamities, and clean the house for company, I had missed the latest Soviet launch.

(see what happened to the Sputnik at Galactic Journey!)
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There are days when everything goes right.

Here we are at the end of a difficult year for space travel. The Air Force had nearly a dozen failures in a row with its Discoverer proto spy satellite. The Pioneer Atlas Ables moon shots were all a bust. Even the successful probes rarely made it into space on the first try, viz. the communications satellites, Echo and Courier. The American manned space program was dealt a number of setbacks, limping along at a pace that will likely get it to the orbital finish line quite a bit behind the Soviets.

But Discoverer now has enjoyed a several-mission success streak. The latest Explorer probe is sending back excellent data on the ionosphere, and it's elder sibling is still plugging away in orbit, returning information on the heat budget of the atmosphere. TIROS 2 provides up-to-date weather photos from overhead.



And this morning, just a few hours ago...

(find out what happened at Galactic Journey!)
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Today, NASA made a record; just not one it wanted to.

For the first time, a space program has been a complete failure. Sure, we've had explosions and flopniks and rockets that veered too high or too low. We've had capsules that popped their tops and capsules that got lost in the snow. But never has there been a clean streak of bad missions.



(see what happened at Galactic Journey!)
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November is done, and the first chill of winter is upon us (for the rest of you, that happened about a month ago—we San Diegans are a happy lot). As we head into the Christmas shopping season, it's good to take a moment to reflect on where we've been and where we're going. Then we can dive into 24 commercially hectic days.

(read it at Galactic Journey!)
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The American manned space program is on a tight schedule if it wants to place an astronaut in orbit before the Soviets. The Communists already have a striking lead. They had it three years ago when they launched the first Sputnik, and they've maintained it with the recent Sputnik 5, which featured two Muttniks, who were returned safely to Earth after an orbital flight.

It may well be that, as I write this, the Soviets will already have put a man in space.

NASA is moving at as brisk a pace as they can manage while doing their best to guarantee the safety of our spacemen. I can only imagine the frustration and impatience of the seven Mercury Astronauts, who were picked a year and a half ago as they cool their heels watching the test program play out.

So far, we've seen several low altitude launches of the Mercury spacecraft (Little Joe). There has been a test of the Atlas orbital booster )Big Joe). But there had yet to be an all-up suborbital test of the Mercury-Redstone, mimicing the first few missions that will be flown.

Until the day-before-yesterday.

(read the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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If the United States is doing well in the Space Race, it is in no small thanks to a group of German expatriates who made their living causing terror and mayhem in the early half of the 1940s. I, of course, refer to Wehrner von Braun and his team of rocket scientists, half of whom were rounded up by the Allies after the War, the other half of whom apparently gave similar service to the Soviets.

I don't know if the Russian group is still affiliated with the Communist rocket program--I don't think so. Last I heard, they had all been repatriated. But bon Braun's group is still going strong. Until last year, they worked under the auspices of the Army, but now they are employed in a civilian capacity by NASA. Their giant Saturn project is the backbone of our nascent lunar program.

Of course, the fact that an ex-Nazi is playing such a pivotal role in our space program may not sit well with some. Perhaps to address this concern, the rather hagiographic movie, I Aim at the Stars has been released.

(read the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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The bird finally has wings!

By bird, I mean that lawn-dart of a rocket plane, NASA's X-15. Until yesterday, that sleek black vehicle, designed to probe the edges of space from underneath, had been a work in progress. The X-15 had already flown 25 times, zooming at faster than Mach 3 and climbing to a height of 40 kilometers. But its engines, a pair of Reaction Motors XLR11s, were an old set of training wheels: virtually the same rockets that pushed Chuck Yeager's X-1 past the sound barrier in 1947.

Together, these engines gave the plane a thrust of 32,000 lbf (pounds of force--or the force of Earth's gravity on one pound of matter). That's nothing to sneeze at, but it was always an interim solution. Yesterday, veteran test-pilot Scott Crossfield took the X-15 for a spin with the engine it was always meant to have: the Reaction Motors XLR99.

(find out how the flight went at Galactic Journey!)

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