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by Gideon Marcus

January has been a frustrating month in the Space Race. We are no closer to matching the Soviets in the manned competition, much less beating them, and our unmanned shots have been a disappointment, too. That said, it's not all bad news in January's round-up: stick to it through the end, and you'll see cause for cheer!

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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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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[August 17, 1961] Voyages of Discovery (Explorer 12)

Every so often, a discovery comes along that shatters our conception of the universe. Galileo turned his telescope to the heavens and discovered moons around Jupiter – suddenly, it was clear that Earth was not the center of everything. Roentgen and Curie showed that matter was not entirely stable, leading to our modern understanding of physics (and the challenges that come with the harnessing of atomic energy). Columbus sailed to find Asia; instead, he was the first to put the Americas on European maps.

Until 1958, space was believed to be a sterile place, a black void in which the planets and stars whirled. Maybe there was an odd meteoroid or two, and far away, one might find a big cloud of gas, but otherwise space was synonymous with vacuum.

Then Explorer 1, America's first space mission, went into orbit around the Earth. Its particle detectors, designed to measure the free-floating electrons and cosmic rays whizzing around up there, quickly became saturated. Girdling the planet were hellish streams of energy, particles ionized by the sun and trapped by the Earth's magnetic field.

Overnight, our idea of space was revolutionized; a few scientists had speculated as to the existence of the Belts, but the idea was hardly mainstream. More probes were sent up to determine the nature of these belts. Pioneer 5 went beyond far into interplanetary space and sent back news of a solar atmosphere that extended far beyond the shiny yellow bits – a field of particles and rays that went beyond even Earth's orbit. Other probes returned maps of the turbulent region where the sun's field met Earth's.

Space was hardly empty – it was a new ocean filled with waves, eddies, and unknowns to be explored.

Yesterday, Explorer 12 zoomed into orbit, NASA's latest voyager to ply the charged sea of space.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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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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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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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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Here's some exciting news: NASA has launched number eight in its Explorer series of small science satellites, the first in over a year.

The 41kg probe has a brand-new type of mission, to explore the atmospheric layer where the sun's merciless energy strips atoms of their electrons, thus ionizing them. This so-called Ionosphere has some fascinating properties, most significant of which is its ability to reflect radio waves. This is why you can pick up shortwave broadcasts from around the globe. From a purely scientific standpoint, knowing about the mechanics of the ionosphere allows you to learn more about atmospheric electricity and the base of our planet's magnetosphere. It is, essentially, our first sea wall against the ocean of space.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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So far this month, it's Air Force: 1, Army: 0. The latest Explorer probe, launched today atop an Army contractor-made Juno II booster failed to orbit. This is in contrast to Pioneer 5, launched March 11 on an Air Force contractor-built Thor Able, which is still beeping merrily away to the orbit of Venus. Both launches were made under the auspices of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The failed probe was the 10.2 kilogram "S-46," and it was another University of Iowa special designed to further investigate those belts of charged particles girdling the Earth. They're called "Van Allen" belts after the professor whose team first discovered them back in 1958, and which has produced many of NASA's satellite experiments to date.

S-46 was sent toward the heavens by the Juno II, a modified version of the Jupiter missile now being based in Turkey and Italy. At the Jupiter's top is the same cluster of Sergeant rockets that, mated with the smaller Redstone rocket, launched America's first space probe in January 1958. S-46 was supposed to go into a high, eccentric orbit, similar to that of Explorer 6, to give all of the belts a thorough mapping.

To those wondering why anyone would bother to pull the same stunt twice, the answer is that the environment around the Earth is always changing. There are terrestrial and solar factors, all of which increase and decrease the magnetic and particlular characteristics of orbital space. The more data we can collect, the more continuously we can collect it, and the more vantages from which it can be collected, the more complete can by our understanding of geophysics.

Sadly, while the Jupiter first stage performed fine, it looks like one of the Sergeants misfired, which caused the whole second stage to go cock-eyed. The ill-fated would be Explorer never made to orbit.

I feel badly for the folks at UoI, many of whom have become personal friends. This Juno II was the last back-up left over from the Army's lunar Pioneer program (that launched Pioneers 3 and 4). It looks unlikely that NASA will have another spare booster handy to launch another copy of S-46 for some time, if ever.

This doesn't mean we'll never have another Van Allen mapper in orbit. It just means the fellow after whom they were named may not have first dibs on their next investigation.

Next up: this month's Fantasy and Science Fiction!


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Here's a couple of interesting space news items:

Firstly, a new Explorer (#7) has soared into the sky. This one was launched at the tip of the Juno II rocket, the one that sent Pioneer 4 past the Moon and into solar orbit. Whereas Explorer 6 was known as "The Windmill," the quite different Explorer 7 has been nicknamed "The Gyroscope." Though the craft bears the same Explorer designation as its predecessor, it was actually made by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratories, the (somehwhat) friendly rival of Space Technology Laboratories, darling of the U.S. Air Force.

Explorer 7 is a lovely, complex satellite, with a battery of scientific instrumentation. Not only will it probe the radiation and micrometeoric environment of space, as prior spacecraft have done, it also wields a new experiment designed to measure the heat budget of the Earth. Simply, it will help determine how much of the sun's energy is absorbed and reflected by our planet, measuring quantitatively the sun's effect on the Earth. Pretty neat stuff! I will definitely report on the science as it is published.

Secondly, Explorer 6 has finally gone silent, but even mute, it has proven useful. On October 13, the Air Force shot a plane-launched Bold Orion anti-missile rocket at it to test our ability to intercept Soviet missiles in flight. I can't get exact figures, but it got pretty close, apparently. Probably close enough that, if the rocket had a little nuclear bomb on it, it could destroy an enemy missile.

Meanwhile, in the "why bother" department, a piece in the Miami News caught my attention. The first, titled Space Science Called Foolish, has Brown University Professor Emeritus Dr. Charles A. Krause humbugging all over the space program. "There's a lot of nonsense going on in the field of space science," the esteemed doctor opined. "I'm for forgetting this nonsense and keeping our earth science up to date." He went on to say, "Space is a vacuum, void of matter or gas. There is nothing to be gotten out of a vacuum. We can get a lot out of the Earth."

Apparently, Dr. Krause is not aware that the Earth's upper atmosphere and magnetic field, integral parts of this planet, can only be surveyed from space. Moreover, he is blissfully ignorant that there is plenty to be gotten from a vacuum, one far better than any that can be manufactured on Earth. In any event, the Sun, the Moon, the planets, the asteroids, meteors, comets, micrometeoroids, charged particles, solar wind, etc. all exist in space. It is hardly devoid of matter or gas. Understanding how they move and interact perfects our knowledge of Earth-bound physics.

In short, Dr. Krause is a schmuck. And so are the editors of the Miami News.

Oh, and here's another one: Rockets too Puny for Moon. It's less inflammatory, but it is already out of date. The seminal quote is, "U.S. guidance systems are on par with those of Russia. The weight-carrying capacity of our moon rockets is not." The unknown author's point is that, until we get beefier rockets, we can't send guidance good enough to get a probe on the moon.

Given that the new Atlas Able will be launching before the end of the year, this defeatism seems misplaced. I guess we'll see.

Footage from a new TV show, Destination Space


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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For more than a month and a half, Explorer 6 has been a busy bee, happily conducting the most advanced science in orbit to date thanks to its highly eccentric orbit, taking it several thousand miles above the surface of the Earth, and its battery of sophisticated instruments.

What has this intrepid little fellow reaped in terms of scientific data? A veritable bonanza.

Firstly, let’s look at the most accessible treasure—the first picture of the Earth taken from orbit.

On August 14, 1959, one week after launch, Explorer 6 turned its photographic eye to its mother planet. It wasn’t a camera in the normal sense of the word; such a device would have been too heavy. Rather, it was a simple eye that scanned the sky in strips as the satellite spun around (it rotates for stability). Engineers on the ground then attempted to assemble the strips so that they might piece together into something recognizable as the Earth. It was much like trying to restore a shredded document. As Charles P. Sonnet, head of the scientific team commented, “You have to make the a priori judgment that the Earth is round.”

Apparently, one recent press conference attendee called the photo a “fake.” Chuck replied, “No, it’s not a fake… but it is pretty limited.”

Chuck Sonnet

So as a phototourist, Explorer 6 was a bit of a dud. In other categories, however, Explorer 6 is an unqualified winner. For two weeks, before the probe’s ion chamber broke down, Explorer 6 returned an unprecedented map of the Van Allen Belts of trapped radiation encircling the globe, and results are still coming in, though it is harder to determine the energy of encountered particles. The on-board cosmic ray scintillator has determined that the “solar wind,” the waves of particles emanating from the sun, are not modulated by Earth’s magnetic fields but rather are controlled almost exclusively by the solar magnetic field. Explorer 6’s magnetometer has returned a comprehensive map of Earth’s fields, which conform to theoretical predictions only out to a distance of five Earth radii—after that, they get unexpectedly variable.

Explorer 6's magetometer and the ones who built it: Paul Coleman and George Takahashi

The only field we still don’t have good data on is micrometeorites. Virtually every launched space probe has had an experiment to measure the number and energy of little orbital particles to see if they might pose a significant threat to satellites and spaceships. The data they have returned has not been robust enough to reach any real conclusions. All we can determine thus far is that there are some particles up there, but they can’t be too hazardous since our satellites haven’t been damaged by them!

Explorer 6 continues to return data, not only augmenting humanity’s fund of scientific data, but also proving the efficacy of the first digital telemetry system—a necessity for any interplanetary space shot. It is unknown how long the satellite will last, but there is no question that it has done yeoman’s work to date. It is arguably the most successful orbital probe ever launched, and it is a harbinger of good tidings for the upcoming Pioneer Able launches to the moon and Pioneer Thor deep space probe.


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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We are now in the second phase of the Space Race.

Decades from now, people will debate over the exact date of the turning point. Some will argue that it started when countries started sending rockets to the moon, leaving the shackles of Earth's orbit. Others will say that spaceflight didn't leave its infancy until humans had been sent into space.

But, I contend that a whole new ballgame opened up yesterday with the launching of Explorer VI.

This latest satellite is, in some ways, just an evolutionary step. Its payload of experiments is little different from the slew of instruments carried by its predecessors, the Air Force Pioneers. It's got geiger tubes and scintillators for measuring cosmic rays, magnetometers for mapping Earth's magnetic fields, a micrometeroid detector, and a crude TV camera--all devices that went up on the ill-fated Pioneer II.

But, the probe also has an impressive array of solar cells affixed to four paddle wheels that make Explorer look like a little windmill. Moreover, the satellite is equipped with two communications systems. One of them is analog, like those employed by all previous satellites, in which information is communicated by modulating the amplitude and/or frequency of transmissions, like your AM or newfangled FM radio. The other is digital using nothing but streams of ones and zeroes. This method is far less prone to error and noise, and it uses bandwidth more efficienctly, requiring less power.

A digital system is above and beyond the needs of an orbital probe, so why bother including it? Because Explorer VI is a test-bed. A spacecraft very much like it will be launched to Venus some time in the near future, and it will need a digital system to communicate from that vast 25 million mile distance.

Until Explorer VI, we were launching little experiment packages. Now, we have a bonafide orbital scientific and engineering laboratory in space, the results of which will revolutionize where spaceflight goes from here.

A natural extension of this is that I don't have this satellite's results for you yet. Unlike my other columns, where I've been able to sum up a mission and its findings generally in one article, Explorer VI is going to collect mountains of data, and it will take time to sort it out.

So stay tuned!

P.S. The October 1959 issue of Galaxy has come out. I'm half-way through and will be telling you all about it next week. Come join me in my journey (but try not to send me letters about it until I publish the articles).

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Just a quick stop-press today while I wait for the new magazines to come in. Apparently, NASA tried another satellite launch last week on the 16th. A Juno II rocket, which is a modified Jupiter Intermediate Ranged Ballistic Missile, had the latest in the Explorer series installed at its tip. Weighing 42 kilograms (that’s 92.4 pounds for the metrically uninitiated), it looked a bit like a bigger Pioneer 1--two truncated cones welded together at their base.

As might be expected from the choice of booster, it’s a product of Von Braun’s Alabama Army-sponsored team (which, rumor has it, may well be folded into NASA proper soon).

Its instrument complement was pretty standard stuff: geiger counters, x-ray detectors, micrometeoroid plates, thermometers. What makes this craft special are the solar power elements built into the design; the probe was built to provide long-term measurements of cosmic radiation and the Earth’s heat balance.

Sadly, the rocket lost power to its guidance system immediately after launch, and the thing started to spin in a wide, dangerous ark. A range controller detonated the booster just 5 and a half seconds into the flight. Too late for the Fourth of July, and I doubt the scientists were pleased.

I understand that the next flight of the package is scheduled for October. My fingers are crossed, but I understand NASA is planning an Air Force-contracted shot next month, and that probe, made by my friends at Space Technology Laboratories, may well include all of the same instruments and more.

Thus, the Space Race continues domestically as well as abroad. Nothing like good ol’ fashioned American competition to keep the satellite makers on their toes!
See you soon!

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These are exciting times we live in. The drop in published science fiction is (almost) made up for by the increase in space-related articles in my newspaper. I read an Associated Press piece yesterday that I thought was particularly interesting:

"NEW YORK (AP) Colonies of Earthmen will occupy the Moon, Mars and Venus. Rockets will be burning their way toward the outer planets, more than three billion miles from Earth. Engineers will fashion huge space transports, capable of carrying hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of people on space expeditions that may last most of a lifetime.

These are among the predictions for the next 25 years -- the coming generation -- made yesterday at a panel of nine space experts in astronautics, the journal of the American Rocket Society.

These experts were agreed that the Earth would soon be ringed with satellites and space stations... Huge rockets would roar between continents carrying cargo and passengers in minutes."

The panelists included Dr. York, chief scientist for the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), Dr. Hugh Dryden, deputy administrator at the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA, formerly NACA), Dr, Si Ramo, President of Space Technology Laboratories, and Dr. Wehrner von Braun, who had a minor rocketry position during the War and has since gone on to greater things with the U.S. Army.

Now is this a mainstream recognition that science fiction is becoming science fact? Or is this merely the wishful thinking of a bunch of folks whose business, frankly, is making a living off space travel?

Are they the same thing?

Either way, there is no question that bigger and better things are just around the corner. Dr. Dryden opines that there will be people in orbit in just a few years. Von Braun outlined a 2nd and 3rd generation of rockets in development that will ultimately throw up to 50,000 pounds into orbit at once!

I know that the Redstone-based Juno I, the famous booster that launched America's first satellite (Explorer I), was retired last week after failing to launch Explorer VI. Its replacement will have the same upper stages but will be based on the much-larger Jupiter missile. I don't know if that rocket will be big enough to put a person in orbit, but I'll bet something based on the new Atlas ICBM could do it.

And it's pretty clear that the Soviet rocket that put the ton-and-a-half Sputnik III into space could do it. Of course, I'm not sure where they'll get the volunteers to fly in the thing if its anywhere near as balky as our rockets have been. If the first Russian satellite was Sputnik, and the second was Muttnik (because it carried a dog cosmonaut), I'm guessing the first manned ship will be called "Nutnik."

It may well be that the first person in space won't ride a cannonball but a spaceplane. I clipped from the paper on October 16th a picture of the Air Force's new aircraft, the X-15. It's a beautiful ship made by the same people who built the P-51 and the F-86. It's supposed to fly at Mach 6 or 7 and go up as high as 50 miles above the ground. Vice President Nixon (remember him?) said of the craft, "We have moved into first place in the race to enter outer space."

We'll see how long we stay there.

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