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2017-07-29 02:35 pm

[July 29, 1962] What a Diff'rence a Month Made (July 1962 in spaceflight)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]

by Gideon Marcus

Sometimes, the future comes so fast, it bewilders.

This rushing feeling I've had all month must be similar to what my grandparents felt when the Wright Brothers first took off. For millennia, people have dreamed of flight, envying the birds. Yet flying was always the province of make-believe, of fanciful stories. Then, on one day in 1903, airplanes became a reality, and the world was transformed.

Ditto space travel. That dream has been alive since the Ancient Greeks, yet it was entirely a theoretical concern until the Soviets pierced the heavens with their first beeping Sputnik. It is easy to forget, now that there have been well over one hundred successful orbital missions, that just five years ago, there had been none.

The advances made just this month are tremendous, each one as significant as the breakthroughs I've just detailed. Let's review:

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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2017-04-30 09:49 am

[Apr. 30, 1962] Common Practice Era (April Spaceflight Round-up)

by Gideon Marcus

The radio plays Classical music on the FM band now.

The difference is palpable. Bach and Mozart on the AM band were tinny and remote. It was almost as though the centuries separating me and the composers had been attenuating the signal. This new radio band (well, not so new, but newly utilized) allows transmissions as clear as any Hi-Fi record set could deliver.

Don't get me wrong; I still listen to the latest pop hits by The Shirelles and The Ventures, but I find myself increasingly tuned into the local classics station. The sound, and the selections, are just too good to ignore. The last movement of Robert Schumann's Symphony #1, with its stirring accelerando is playing right now, and it is a fitting accompaniment for the article I am currently composing.

Time was I would write an article on a space mission about once a month. This wouldn't be a wrap-up, but an article devoted to a single satellite. But the pace of space launches has increased – there were two successful orbital flights in 1957, nine in 1958, 13 in 1959, 20 in 1960, 38 in 1961. There were six flights just last week. Either I'm going to have to start abbreviating my coverage, or I'll need to start a satellite (no pun intended) column.

But that's a decision for next year. Right now, with a bit of musical texturing, let me tell you all about the exciting things that happened in spaceflight, April 1962:

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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2016-11-30 07:22 pm

[November 30, 1961] Man vs. Machine (November 1961 Space Round-up)

November 1961 been an exciting month for space buffs with several sequels to exciting missions as well as one brand new satellite.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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2016-10-01 09:38 am

[Oct. 1, 1961] Over and Above (America's surprising lead in the Space Race)

When the news is full of Soviet spacemen and bomb tests, it's easy to get the impression that America's losing the Space Race. The Russians got the first Sputnik, the first Muttnik, the first Lunik. They launched the first two men into orbit; America's two astronauts had shorter missions than most people's commutes. Not a week goes by without some cartoon in the papers depicting a Sickle and Hammer festooning a space station or the Moon.

And yet, are we really behind?

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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2016-08-31 08:41 pm

[August 31, 1961] Look on the bright side (August space round-up)

Did you ever eagerly wait for Christmas only to be disappointed by what you found under the tree (or, for my fellow Jews, under the menorah)? That's what this month must feel like for fans of the American space program. While the Soviets achieved a huge success in August with the multiple orbiting of Gherman Titov, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration had a lousy 31 days.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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2016-06-30 06:17 am

[June 30, 1961] Reaping the Harvest (June 1961 space science results)

June was a busy month for space travel buffs, especially those who live in the Free World. Here's an omnibus edition covering all of the missions I caught wind of in the papers or the magazines:

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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2016-03-31 08:56 am

[March 31, 1961] Real-world round-up for March

Here's an end of March, real-world round-up for you before we plunge into the science fiction of April:

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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2016-02-28 07:15 am

[February 28, 1961] Strings of Success... and Failure (Transit 3B, Venera)

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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2016-02-18 04:53 am

[Feb. 18, 1961] Lost and Found (Explorer 9 and Discoverer 20)

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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2015-12-31 06:17 am

[December 31, 1960] Dog Days of Winter (Sputnik 6 and Discoverer 19)

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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2015-12-15 08:42 am

[Dec. 15, 1960] Booby Prize (Pioneer Atlas Able #4)

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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2015-11-16 08:30 am

[November 16, 1960] Fully Fledged (a November Space Race update)

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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2015-10-31 09:21 am

[Oct. 31, 1960] Looking both ways (October wrap-up, November preview)

As the month of October comes to an end, it's worth taking a pause and reflecting on all the things that did and didn't happen this month before moving on to a preview of November.

(see the p/review at Galactic Journey!)
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2015-09-30 08:19 am

[Sep. 30, 1960] Discoverer 15 and a preview for October

It's the end of the month, and that means a sneak preview at what's in store next month on the Journey. There is also a bit of space news I missed. Things are now moving fast enough in the world of rockets that it's easy to fall behind!

For those following along at home, here's what's coming out in October. Items that I plan to review are listed in bold:

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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2015-08-20 07:06 am

[August 20, 1960] Up and Down (Americans and Soviets recover space capsules)

Talk about a good week for Space news!

There I was, all ready to discuss the latest IF Science Fiction (which is quite good, by the way), and then both the United States and the Soviet Union came out with a couple of bombshells that I couldn't ignore. And neither should you.

Firstly, right on the heels of last week's Discoverer 13 launch, the Air Force has successfully flown another Discoverer. For those who don't remember, Discoverer is a "biological-sample-return" capsule designed to send living payloads into orbit and then retrieve them. Supposedly.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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2015-08-12 11:51 am

[August 12, 1960] Two for two! (Space News Round-up)

I promised an exciting week in space flight, and I'm here to deliver. Both the Air Force and NASA are all smiles this week thanks to two completely successful missions that mean a great deal for our future above the Earth.

(read the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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2015-06-30 08:27 am

[June 30, 1960] On a roll! (Space Race Wrap-up)

Something very exciting happened this week: Spaceflight became routine.

Remember just a couple of years ago? The press was full of flopniks, grapefruit-sized spacecraft, and about a launch every other month. Every mission was an adventure, and space was the great unknown.

All that has changed. Not only are we launching more, and more advanced scientific satellites, but we are launching satellite systems. Only two months ago, the Navy launched the first of the Transit satellites. These satellites allow a ground-based observer to determine one's location to a fair degree of accuracy. But since there's no guarantee any one satellite will be overhead at a given time, you need a constellation of Transits.

Number two was launched last week on June 22. The age of reliable space utilization has dawned.

(learn more at Galactic Journey!)
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2015-02-21 07:27 am

[Feb. 21, 1960] A birthday treat (A Tale of Two Space Programs)

Happy birthday to me! In celebration of the second anniversary of my Jack Benny birthday, here's my gift to you: a quick stop press of some recent military space endeavors, with a side of jocular sarcasm.

You may remember a certain Dr. Von Braun, formerly of the German Third Reich, lately of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) in Alabama. This esteemed immigrant was a rocket engineer of sorts during the war, and he was prevailed upon to ply his trade in the service of Democracy, developing improvements to the international mail-carrier known as the Vergeltungswaffe 2. In this role, he helped create the Jupiter IRBM for the Army, currently being deployed at Russia's doorstep in Turkey.

Von Braun's team was recently transitioned to a civilian position; it now reports to NASA and is hard at work building the Saturn series of moon rockets. Meanwhile, the former head of ABMA, Major General John Medaris, retired last month, had harsh words for our President's handling of the space program. He believes the Army should have had free reign to launch a satellite before the Soviets. Medaris also thinks that splitting up the military and civilian programs is wasteful and redundant. I can't imagine who Medaris might suggest to lead such a unified space program.

Personally, I think Ike's handling of our space programs has smacked of subtle genius. Let the Soviets launch the first satellite so that they can't complain about overflights, create a civilian space agency so the world can see that there are purely peaceful uses for rockets. It's a public relations masterpiece. Given the volatile situation in Cuba and Berlin, the good press helps us keep the moral high ground.

Moreover, having a civilian space program allows us to, as a country, focus on science for science's sake rather than forcing it to be a handmaiden to the war machine. Besides—this country thrives on healthy competition.

In any event, it's not as if the military has got such a great track record. Just two days ago, the Air Force lost yet another Discoverer, number 10. The booster veered off course during take-off and had to be destroyed by range safety just a minute into the launch.

I shouldn't be too hard on the Air Force, though. Their Thor-Able booster (a hybrid military/civilian design) will be launching the first deep space probe next month under NASA auspices. If the mission is successful, it promises to be a science bonanza. The probe was developed by Air Force contractor Ramo-Wooldridge, better known for developing ICBMs. Thus, this upcoming flight shows the advantages of having two separate space programs that can share their expertise.

Vive la difference!


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!

(Confused? Click here for an explanation as to what's really going on)
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2015-02-07 09:01 am

[Feb. 7, 1960] The sports that matter (Discoverer 9 and solar radar)

The score for this week--Civilian Space Science: 1, USAF Space Science: 0.

In the Little Engine That Couldn't department, we have the Air Force's Discoverer project, ostensibly for sending up biological specimens in a returnable capsule, probably for launching recoverable reconnaissance film capsules, actually not much good for anything.

The ninth in the series didn't even make it to orbit, the second stage of its rocket having failed during launch on February 4. It's a good thing there weren't any animals on board. Of course, I'm guessing that once they get the bugs worked out of the booster, there still won't be any.

In other news, scientists at Stanford University have just bounced a radar signal off the Sun. Actually, the transmission happened last April—it's taken all the time since then to verify that the stunt really worked!

It's quite an impressive accomplishment—the 100 watt signal came back at .00000000000001% of its original strength, yet the Stanford team was still able to detect it. Our ability to receive spacecraft telemetry at tremendous distances has been validated, and this is also a boon to the new science of radio astronomy. In 1947, scientists first bounced a radar beam off the Moon. Just two years ago, Venus was added to the list of pinged targets. Eventually, every object in the Solar System will be systematically bombarded with radar. This will complement our visual astronomical findings, and we're likely to learn a lot.

"Lovell Telescope Rear" by Mike Peel; Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, University of Manchester.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

See you soon!


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!

(Confused? Click here for an explanation as to what's really going on)
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2014-11-28 10:24 am

[Nov. 28, 1959] Broken nose (Atlas Able and Discoverer 8)

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!

(Confused? Click here for an explanation as to what's really going on)