galacticjourney: (Default)
Well, at least we're consistent.

The past few months, the newspapers have run headline after headline describing America's failures in trying to shoot the Moon. The Air Force had the first at-bat with its three Pioneers. #0 blew up so early that it wasn't even dignified with a name. #1 limped about halfway to the Moon before falling back down. #2's performance was somewhere in the middle.

If you believe the papers (and/or the Vice President), all of these flights were successes. After all, any launch, even one that doesn't meet its goals, is a learning experience. Sarcasm aside, Pioneers I and II were not total washes--they sent back a lot of good data on the Earth's magnetic field and the radiation trapped therein. Moreover, they went a lot higher than any of our previous probes, certainly higher than anything the Russians have sent up.

The day before yesterday (Dec. 6, 1958) was the Army's chance to step up to the plate. If hitting the Moon is a Home Run, I'd say they hit a double. Pioneer III, a teeny 13-pounder launched on a Juno II made it out about 67,000 miles before falling back to Earth.

As always, I collected as many papers as I could and kept my ears glued to the radio. Early editions simply announced the launch, but it was clear pretty quickly that something had gone wrong. Apparently, Pioneer's rocket ran out of fuel about four seconds early, which sent the probe off at too low an angle. Even though Pioneer III left Earth with more speed than Pioneer I, its journey was only half as high. 38 hours after launch, the poor little probe was ashes in the ionosphere.



Silver lining: A good 22 hours of data was collected from the probe, and it is already adding to our knowledge regarding the two (count them: two!) radiation belts girdling the Earth. As a matter of fact, those belts are the only phenomenon Pioneer III could report on. Unlike Pioneers 0-II, which had a whole suite of experiments including even a TV camera, Pioneer III had just one experiment: a pair of Geiger-Muller tubes for counting the cosmic radiation particles hitting the spacecraft. I am not sure why Pioneer III was such a simple probe. It may be that the Army got the assignment in a hurry and had to rush things. It might also be that the Army's Juno II doesn't have the enough strength to lift anything heavier.

In any event, this isn't the last we'll be hearing from the Army. Pioneer IV will be up sometime soon, though Major General John Medaris, head of the Army's rocket development center in Alabama, had no firm dates for the press.

"See me after Christmas," he told the television people.



Get a load of that puss. That looks more like a toothache than a booster failure.

Here's an interesting question: The Space Race has been marked by more failures than successes. Did anyone ever write a science fiction story that predicted this level of teething pain in a space program? It seems to me that space vehicles in fiction simply work. If they don't work perfectly, they have maintenance issues like those that afflict an automobile or perhaps a naval vessel. This goes back to my previous comments regarding the focus of science fiction on the pilot rather than the large and necessary logistical tail.

It's a pity we don't see more stories incorporating launch failures. They could be an exciting dramatic device.

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galacticjourney: (Default)


I'm still waiting for my January F&SF to show up, so here's another topical scientific post. Just call me Willy Ley's poor cousin.

The space stories in today's newspapers are filled with a mixture of alphabet soup and Roman mythology. Keeping track of what's what can be a headache. For instance, there has been a lot of confusion regarding the naming of the rocket that launched Explorer I (and III and IV, and tried to launch II and V). Some accounts called it a Jupiter-C. Others have since called it a Juno I. Which is correct? Is there a Jupiter missile somewhere in there? Does it even matter?

Let me clear things up. The answer shines an interesting spotlight into the politics of naming and the jockeying for position being done by this country's armed services.

Back in 1953, Von Braun and his Alabama team of German expatriates finished the first significant rocketry development since the V2 (which they had also built). It was the Redstone Medium Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM) with a range of more than a hundred miles. Von Braun knew he had a vehicle that was powerful enough to send something into orbit, and he lobbied heavily for his "Project Orbiter" so that he, and the Army, could launch the first artificial satellite. He lost that fight to the Navy, who started work on the Vanguard, based in turn on the Viking sounding rockets, which were based on the V2.

Nevertheless, Von Braun did win the contract to build the longer-ranged successor to the Redstone, the Jupiter Intermediate Ranged Ballistic Missile (IRBM). This let Von Braun keep Project Orbiter alive, at least under wraps. The first step toward turning the Redstone into a satellite booster was a series of test launches with Jupiter IRBM components on board. He called the resulting machine "Jupiter-A," even though at its heart, it was really a Redstone. This helped ensure launch pad availability, since the Jupiter was a higher-priority program.

Then he added 11 miniaturized solid-rocket boosters called Sergeants (descendants of the WAC Corporal rocket, of course) as a second stage and one more as a third stage. This new booster was used as a sounding rocket, probing the outer reaches of the atmosphere in short suborbital flights, and was called the "Jupiter-C." I don't know if there were ever plans for a "Jupiter-B."

Once Sputnik was launched, America was hard-pressed to make a quick response. Von Braun trotted out the Jupiter-C, all ready to launch a payload. It wasn't quite enough to get Explorer I into orbit, however, so another mini-Sergeant was attached to the satellite and placed on top of the Jupiter-C third stage. This technically made the Jupiter-C a four-stage rocket, even though one could argue that the fourth stage was really part of the payload.

It was important that there be little connection between the military space programs and the civilian space programs, at least in the press. That's why Vanguard was given the nod for the first satellite launch. While it was developed by the Navy, it was run under the auspices of the civilian National Research Laboratory. Jupiter-C was renamed "Juno I" to distance the rocket from its military origins.

It was not a very successful move. Contemporary newspapers universally referred to the rocket as the Jupiter-C (which, of course, it was). The name "Juno I" is only now common in retrospective use, as its last flight was on October 23. It is a useful distinction, however, as Von Braun has taken the 2nd, 3rd and "4th" stages from the Juno I and affixed them to a true Jupiter IRBM, thus creating the "Juno II." This new vehicle should have about the same lifting capacity as the Air Force's Thor-Able, maybe a little less. It will launch Pioneer III next week. Note: Pioneer III has nothing to do with Pioneers 0-II save that they have the same destination, the moon.

All clear?

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galacticjourney: (Default)


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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