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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).

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

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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.

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


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