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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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It's enough to break an engineer's heart: yet another Atlas Able launch has gone awry, sending its Pioneer payload not to the Moon, but into the drink.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Analog, formerly Astounding, has a reputation for fielding the fewest female authors. Perhaps its because Campbell's magazine is the most conservative of the science fiction digests, or maybe its because of the conception that women's STF is somehow softer than the "real" deal. You know, with characterization and such.

So you can imagine my delight when I saw Pauline Ashwell once again has the lead novella in this month's Astounding, the second in her tales starring the spunky Lysistrata Lee. You may have caught the fun Unwillingly to School a couple of years ago in which Lee wins a scholarship to study on old Earth (after a bit of adversity, of course). The Lost Kafoozalum, which takes place after Lee graduates, and covers her first field mission, has that same unusual first person storytelling style as the earlier story.



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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It's enough to make a fellow cry.

There she stood, a proud and lovely Atlas Able booster, with the largest American lunar probe ever built at its tip. Well, perhaps it wasn't so lovely. The Atlas ICBM is impressive enough, with three mighty engines at its base and a hot temper that has resulted in an unimpressive operational record to date. On top were the second and third stages of the Vanguard rocket, the same "Able" that has served the Air Force so well when mated to the Thor IRBM. That's how NASA got its first Pioneers into space, if not to their desired target: The Moon.



The Able looked a bit like a silly Q-tip perched above the Atlas. Nevertheless, it's the best combo we've got at the moment to compete with the Russians at their game.

Just 30 seconds after the launch, early morning on Thanksgiving (November 26), a piece fell off the nose. Four-and-a-half minutes later, the second stage failed to ignite, and the rocket plunged into the ocean along with its precious cargo, the a 300 pound Pioneer posthumously dubbed "P3."

This setback may push the program back a full year. There is a back-up payload but no rocket to launch it, the Atlas being in high demand for both the military and the Mercury program.

What went wrong? I gave my friend, John Vehrencamp, a call last night to commiserate and get the inside dope. John designed the payload shroud, you see, which appears to be the likeliest culprit for the failure. Sure enough, his long face was clearly expressed in the morose tones of his voice. He took the full blame for the incident. You see, he hadn't taken into sufficient consideration the drop of air pressure outside the nosecone as the rocket ascended. The thing wasn't properly vented and exploded like a balloon in vacuum. It's going to be a many-beers kind of weekend for John, I'm afraid.

I don't think this mishap will have any impact on the Thor-Able deep space mission planned for early next year, thankfully.

In related news, the Air Force had another bad Discoverer mission on November 20. The eight in the series of "biomedical capsule recovery flights" (which ironically have not carried a biomedical payload in many missions) launched all right, though I understand the orbit was eccentric and not optimal. The recovery capsule ejected, but no parachute was spotted. Much like Thomas Edison, the flyboys are finding many ways to get the process wrong. Their losing streak can't continue forever, right?

See you soon—December looks to be a great month (he said hopefully).

Note: I love comments (you can do so anonymously), and I always try to reply.

P.S. Galactic Journey is now a proud member of a constellation of interesting columns. While you're waiting for me to publish my next article, why not give one of them a read!







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