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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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There was another mystery Atlas Agena launch from Cape Canaveral on May 24. My sources tell me it was in the same series as the mission late February that broke up before it could reach orbit. It appears to be some kind of infrared missile launch detection system. I even got my hands on some conceptual art, though there's no way of knowing how accurate it is. Its project name appears to be MIDAS--I'm guessing this stands for "Missile Infrared Detection Alarm System" or something like that.

I don't know if the system works or if the satellite performed properly, but I understand "MIDAS 2" did make it into orbit. With tensions between American and the U.S.S.R. at an all-time high, thanks to whole spy plane kerfuffle and the break-down of summit peace talks, we need probes like this more than ever.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Photo found here

Hold onto your ears, folks, because the Pioneer 5 interplanetary satellite just turned on the big transmitter.

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Imagine doing brain surgery by remote control.

That's just what STL engineer, Robert E. Gottfried, did over the weekend, on an ailing deep space probe.

(read the rest at Galactic Journey!
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Remember the years before Sputnik when space news comprised semi-annual rocket launch reports, annual Willy Ley books, and the occasional Bonestell/Von Braun coffee table book?

Even after Sputnik, weeks would go by without a noteworthy event. But, slowly but surely, the pace of space launches has increased. Just this last week, I caught wind of four exciting pieces of news. I can imagine a day in the not too distant future when I have to pick and choose from a myriad of options rather than reporting on every mission.

So what happened this week?

Find out at Galactic Journey!
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Who calls a press conference at 2:00 in the morning?

And what sort of fool journalist covers a 2 A.M. press conference?

NASA and me, respectively.

Dr. Keith Glennan, NASA's administrator, admitted that it was an unorthodox time to gather scientists and reporters together, but given the unprecedented nature of the event to be discussed, it's quite understandable. After all, never before in the history of humanity has a message been received from an artificial probe 1,000,000 miles from Earth.

Pioneer 5, the interplanetary mission launched last week, is now four times as far from the Earth as the Moon, and its 5 watt transmitter is still being picked up loud and clear. In a dramatic flourish, just after the conference started, Dr. Glennan ordered the tracking station in Hawaii to query the spacecraft. The plucky probe responded in a jiffy (discounting the 5-second delay since radio signals travel at the speed of light) to the delight of the audience.

One of the great advancements of Pioneer 5 is its use of digital data. Earlier probes used analog data, faithfully transcribing experimental results as a steadily varying voltage that would be transmitted, real-time, to Earth. Not only can digital data be easily stored so complete results can be sent back to Earth at any time, it also requires no "translation" to a language ground-side computers can understand. This means that data can be analyzed far more rapidly.

In fact, Pioneer 5's latest space weather report on the cosmic radiation, magnetic field, and micrometeorite situation a million miles out was reduced and presented during the course of the half-hour press conference. How's that for instant service?

Pioneer also gave an account of its own health. NASA's week-old baby is healthy and happy: its interior remains at a balmy 63 degrees Fahrenheit, its solar-powered batteries are charging nicely, and the transmitter is strong.

In the weeks to come, Pioneer 5 will remain on the air out to an anticipated distance of 25,000,000 miles. This flight will challenge NASA's ability to track and hear the probe to the limits of current technology.

And, apparently, any notions that I might have a reasonable sleeping schedule! Not that I'm complaining—it's an amazing time to be alive.


(Confused? Click here for an explanation as to what's really going on)
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The Space Race headlines were anything but exciting last month, but today's news makes up for February's doldrums in spades.

Last year, there was a great deal of fanfare regarding last August's launch of Explorer 6. This testbed of an orbital spacecraft was developed by Los Angeles based Space Technology Laboratories (STL), the Air Force's pet contractor. Its purpose was to make use of the experiments designed for the marginally successful lunar Pioneer probes (0-2) and also to test a new digital telemetry system that will allow communication with spacecraft over interplanetary distances.

Explorer 6 was a huge success, and it appeared that a Venusian probe utilizing the technologies pioneered and verified by the paddle-wheel satellite would be launched late last year. That launch never materialized, probably due to setbacks in the parallel Atlas-Able luar missions, which will use the same technologies in a larger package to explore the Moon. 

Instead, the folks at STL made an interstellar copy of Explorer 6 for a deep space mission past the orbit of Venus without the possibility of a planetary rendezvous.

Dubbed Pioneer 5, this morning it was successfully launched atop that proven workhorse of prior STL missions, the Thor-Able booster.

Pioneer 5 is now beep-beeping its way through interplanetary space on a journey of unparalleled distance and longevity. While both the Americans and Soviets have launched probes into solar orbit (Pioneer 4 and Luna 1), these were battery-powered ships whose transmissions faded shortly after whizzing past the moon.

Solar-powered Pioneer 5, with its long-range communications abilities, will relay information about the interplanetary medium up to a distance of 25 million miles away. That's 100 times further than the distance from the Earth to the Moon!

Such a long trip can hardly be summed up in a single article, so expect status reports as this intrepid little (100 pound) probe zooms through the vastness between Earth and Venus' orbits. For the first time, we will have an in depth analysis of the radiation and magnetic fields beyond terrestrial boundaries. Moreover, the lessons learned on this mission will be invaluable to future efforts, particularly upcoming flights to Venus and Mars.

Can you tell that I'm excited? I hope you are too!


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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