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by Gideon Marcus

The radio plays Classical music on the FM band now.

The difference is palpable. Bach and Mozart on the AM band were tinny and remote. It was almost as though the centuries separating me and the composers had been attenuating the signal. This new radio band (well, not so new, but newly utilized) allows transmissions as clear as any Hi-Fi record set could deliver.

Don't get me wrong; I still listen to the latest pop hits by The Shirelles and The Ventures, but I find myself increasingly tuned into the local classics station. The sound, and the selections, are just too good to ignore. The last movement of Robert Schumann's Symphony #1, with its stirring accelerando is playing right now, and it is a fitting accompaniment for the article I am currently composing.

Time was I would write an article on a space mission about once a month. This wouldn't be a wrap-up, but an article devoted to a single satellite. But the pace of space launches has increased – there were two successful orbital flights in 1957, nine in 1958, 13 in 1959, 20 in 1960, 38 in 1961. There were six flights just last week. Either I'm going to have to start abbreviating my coverage, or I'll need to start a satellite (no pun intended) column.

But that's a decision for next year. Right now, with a bit of musical texturing, let me tell you all about the exciting things that happened in spaceflight, April 1962:

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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My brother, Lou, used to tell me that the only way to beat a bully is to not fight fair. Jump the guy when he’s not looking, and fight like there are no rules. That’ll teach him that you’re nuts and not worth messing with.

He learned this lesson honestly. When Lou was in the navy, he immediately got flak for being Jewish. Someone tried to steal his bunk; Lou rammed the guy’s head into the wall. After that, whenever someone tried to take advantage of Lou, by cutting in the chow line, for instance, another sailor would restrain the miscreant. “Don’t do it! That’s Marcus. He’s crazy. He’ll kill you!”

The problem is that these days, there are just two kids on the block: The USA and the USSR. Each one’s the bully in the other’s eyes. If the Russians decide they can get in a sucker punch, they just might do it to get us out of the way, once and for all.

We have the same option, of course, but it is the avowed intention of our leaders that America will never start a nuclear war. The Soviets have not made such a pledge.

That’s why we have invested so much time and money in developing a strategic nuclear force. We want the Russians to know that we can strike back if they launch an attack, so that any attempt at a preemptive blow would be an act of suicide.

But we can’t retaliate if the first indication we have a Soviet attack is the sprouting of atomic mushrooms over our cities and missile fields.

To that end, we recently finished the construction of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line, a string of radar installations along the northern coasts of Alaska and Canada. These can detect a missile some ten minutes from target. Still not a very good window of time in which to order a counter-strike.

Enter Midas...

(see the rest 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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Something took off today from Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, not far from Cocoa Beach.

There was no official announcement, and the mission was almost assuredly solely military in nature. An Atlas ICBM, clearly modified for satellite launch (note the second-stage booster), took off around 10:30 AM, Florida time. After a flawless take-off, observers saw the booster break up before the second stage could separate. No one knows why.

Could the launch have just been a test of this new second stage? Or was there a payload on board? The latter is likely—why waste a perfectly good missile? It must have been something heavy and sophisticated, bigger than the Discoverer spy satellites... er... biological return capsules, to require such a heavy booster. Either that or it was intended for a higher orbit.

The rumor I have been hearing is that the Air Force has been developing satellites for detecting a ballistic missile attack. Right now, it is impossible to tell if the Soviets have launched nuclear missiles against the United States until just a few minutes before impact, when the rockets cross our chain of Alaskan and Canadian radars known as BMEWS (Ballistic Missile Early Warning System). These installations complement the DEW line of radar outposts designed to spot enemy bombers

Five minutes is not much time for the President to evaluate the magnitude of an attack, much less frame an appropriate response. It would be better if we could see the Soviet missiles as they take off, giving our government perhaps twenty minutes to respond.

Unfortunately, you can't see a Soviet missile launch from the ground; the Earth gets in the way. From space, however, a satellite could detect the hot flash as the Russian birds leave their bases, so the theory goes.

Those fifteen minutes could make all the difference. The longer the lead time, the less of an advantage the Soviets get from a surprise strike, and the less likely they are to launch one. With the Doomsday Clock just two minutes from midnight, any defuser of tension is welcome.

Of course, the details of the launch were classified, and the mission was unsuccessful anyway, so we're not likely to hear about the real purpose of the launch for many years to come. But I thought you'd want the latest space news, speculative as it may be.

See you soon with this month's IF!


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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