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Isn't it frustrating when you try to tune into your favorite program and hear nothing but static?

Sorry folks! I'd planned to give you Part 2 of this (last) month's F&SF. Well, the last third of the issue is taken up by a Poul Anderson novelette, and I know I won't be able to devote a whole article to just that, assuming I can even get through it. But I don't have enough to fill an article with the remaining stories.

Therefore, I have resolved to just give you all an extra-long column day-after-tomorrow! It will be worth the wait, I promise. There are some fine stories this month. And who know? Maybe the Anderson story will be good.




All right, I can't hold my breath that long.


In other news, if you've been tracking the flight of Pioneer IV, you may have heard that we finally lost communications with the plucky little probe at more than 400,000 miles away. This isn't the fault of the ground antennas, which could probably track the vehicle much further out. The satellite's batteries just ran out of juice. Hopefully, when we have bigger rockets (perhaps the Air Force's Thor "Hustler"?), we can send out satellites with solar panels on board that can broadcast indefinitely.

Anyway, the Russians are crowing that their Mechta made it further, but we're saying that our science was better. But can we really trumpet our mission as a triumph without a sodium flatulence experiment?

See you on the 10th!

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

In any nascent endeavor, it is human nature to trumpet even the most modest of achievements. Sure, Pioneer I, didn't make it to the moon, but it went pretty high and confirmed the Van Allen Belts. Sure, Vanguard I was the size of a grapefruit, but it taught us that the Earth is pear-shaped.

In that vein, sure, Pioneer IV, NASA's latest moon shot, may not have been entirely a success, but at least it will be the first (American) probe to sail beyond our planet's celestial companion and into solar orbit.

Launched yesterday on a Juno II, Pioneer IV is essentially an exact duplicate of the less-successful Pioneer III, with a little extra shielding around one of its charged particle detectors to better measure cosmic radiation. In the tradition of focusing on the positive, I will note that Pioneer IV's mission is not just to take snapshots of the moon, but to duplicate the mission profile of its predecessor so as to provide a comparative data set. This is the soul of science--the repeating and repeatability of experiments.

As far as the trip to the moon is concerned, there have only been a couple of minor hiccoughs: one of the three scaling factor taps on one of the counters got knocked out when Pioneer IV's engines shook it a bit too roughly. In English, a scaling factor allows scientists to convert the raw voltages, recorded when charged particles hit the spacecraft, into usable numbers. I don't think this critically damages the instrument. Pioneer IV's transmission also went on the fritz for about 30 seconds while the craft traversed Earth's outer radiation belt.

While we're on the topic of problems, it looks like the little spacecraft is going to pass wide of its target, missing the surface of the moon by some 37,000 miles. This is too far to activate the photoelectric sensors on the spacecraft, which would have been used to activate a camera--if the probe had been heavy enough include a camera! Not a huge loss.

What will really be exciting is to finally give the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's deep space tracking network a full run through its paces. We've never tried to monitor a spacecraft several hundred thousand miles from Earth before. On the other hand, if the Soviets can do it, I suspect we can, too.

So there you have it. We launched a probe that weighed sixty times less than Luna I and which missed its target my a distance ten times greater. And we did it two months after Luna I.

A success? You be the judge...

P.S. Following up on Discoverer I, the Air Force is claiming that they are still receiving sporadic signals from their spacecraft. They've also confirmed that their new rocket is a Thor-Hustler, whatever that is. The Swedish press is calling Discoverer I "The Whispering Satellite" since they can barely hear it, if at all.

I'm still unconvinced. Something's fishy. I just can't tell you exactly what.

See you on March 6 with a book review!

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


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