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June was a busy month for space travel buffs, especially those who live in the Free World. Here's an omnibus edition covering all of the missions I caught wind of in the papers or the magazines:

(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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Two days ago, there were three active satellites—two Vanguards and one Explorer.

Yesterday, there were two: Vanguard 3 has gasped its last beep.

For 84 days, the last of the Vanguards circled the Earth, returning data from its solar X-Ray detectors, its magnetometer, and its micrometeoroid sensors from an orbit higher than that of its dumber, smaller older brother, Vanguard 1.

Did you know that the Sun emits X-Rays? That's what happens when you heat gasses to millions of degrees Kelvin; such temperatures are common in the solar corona, the bright fringe of gas surrounding the sun's disk that one can see during a solar eclipse. The atmosphere absorbs most extraterrestrial X-Rays, so a satellite is needed to gather comprehensive data. Sadly, all of the energetic particles trapped in the Earth's Van Allen Belts swamped Vanguard 3's detectors, and no useful data were obtained.

On the other hand, Vanguard 3's magnetometer did a heck of a job, returning more than 4000 signals, nearly 3000 of which were of high quality. We have never had such a comprehensive map of our planet's magnetic fields, and it is likely that scientists will be studying these results for years to come, learning how these fields interact with the solar wind to cause phenomena from radio storms to aurorae.

Speaking of radio, if you've ever listened to your shortwave, you might have heard "Whistlers"--those enigmatic sound that calls to mind a skyrocket flying overhead or birds chirping or even a flying saucer. Such signals have been heard since radios were invented, and it is now known that they are emitted by lightning and propagated in the ionosphere. Vanguard 3 was able to "tune in" to Whistler emissions with its magnetometer, which allowed scientists to make some estimates of the density of electrons in the ionosphere. Two for one is a good deal!

No micrometeoroids pierced Vanguard 3's hull for the duration of its mission, but that doesn't mean the satellite didn't run into its share of space junk. The first preliminary estimates from returned data suggest that 10,000 tons of space dust crash into the Earth's atmosphere every day. That sounds like a lot, but considering that it is spread out over the entire surface area of the planet, it's a negligible concern to a small satellite.

With the silence of Vanguard 3, the Vanguard program has come to a virtual end (though Vanguard 1 still keeps beeping away). Three successful launches out of eleven seems like a pretty lousy record. Consider this legacy, however: the bonanza of returned data, the comparative inexpensiveness of the program, the first stage being turned into the Vega second stage booster for other rockets, the second and third stages being used on the Atlas Able and the Thor Able rockets, the Vanguard worldwide signal receiving station pioneering space communications. Vanguard surely must count as a raging success. Moreover, Vanguard set an important precedent by showing that rockets can be used for purely civilian purposes as well as for sending weapons of mass destruction across the globe.

If my epitaph is half as laudatory, I shall be a very happy corpse.

Up next—The Twilight Zone and then... Astounding!

Note: I love comments (you can do so anonymously), and I always try to reply.

P.S. 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!

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A bit of a stop press on the Space Race as I wade through this months Astounding, which I unwisely saved for last. You should never eat dessert first…

Have you ever noticed how a train’s whistle seems to rise in pitch as the locomotive approaches and then the pitch lowers as the train departs? This is caused by the compression of sound waves as they whistle heads toward your ears followed by a decompression as it heads away. It’s called the Doppler Effect (after the 19th century Austrian scientist, Christian Doppler).

This concept will be used by satellites to provide accurate navigation aids for American military craft and, someday, civilians as well. The idea is that the satellites, called Transit, will broadcast at a fixed frequency. A receiver on the ground can tell from the quality of the Doppler frequency shifts, knowing the satellite’s orbit, where it is to within a small degree of error. Very simple in concept.

Sadly, Transit 1 failed to orbit the day-before-yesterday when its Thor Able booster malfunctioned after liftoff. On the other hand, the Navy (the service that developed the satellite) did get some useful data from the sub-orbital flight, I’m told.

Speaking of the Navy, the final flight of the Navy/civilian Vanguard program ended in success yesterday with the orbiting of Vanguard 3. It is another x-ray, magnetosphere, and micrometeoroid detecting probe along the lines of the Explorers. Its long-lasting orbit and conical shape will also allow the satellite to be used to determine the density of the upper atmosphere for decades to come.

I’ll publish more on the scientific findings of this probe as I hear them. We are beyond the days where just getting the things up is the whole story.

And with that, the Vanguard program comes to an end with three successful flights out of 11. This may sound like a poor record, particularly given the rather vicious coverage given the program by both domestic and foreign media (remember “Flopnik”?)

But Vanguard has enabled the reaping of a tremendous harvest. As a booster, it was remarkably efficient and cheap. The reliable second and third stages have been adopted as supplemental stages on other rockets, and it looks like the first stage will be turned into NASA’s new Vega second-stage system. Thanks to Vanguard, there will be American property in space for the next several hundred years.

Most importantly, Vanguard paved the way for a truly civilian space program. Though it was derived from a Navy proposal, and spin-off technology from the program is being used by the military, the idea of a purely scientific and non-military space endeavor is a powerful and important one. Our new space agency, NASA, owes much to it.


P.S. 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!

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It's another Space Race update from The Traveler!

A Vanguard went up on the 22nd, but I decided to hold off on writing a column as I knew a Discoverer was set to launch on the 25th. I'm afraid I've got a double-whammy of disappointment for my good readers.

This new Vanguard had two thermistors (heat-activated electrodes) adorning the magneisum-alloy skin of the 20" diameter sphere, one facing the sun, one facing inward. The point of this experiment was to measure the heat balance of the sun's radiation on the Earth. Why is this important? The primary engine for the Earth's weather is the sun's heating of the atmosphere. Hot air rises, cold air sinks, and the spinning Earth mixes all of this thoroughly and chaotically. If we knew how strong the sun's rays were at various latitudes, we could correlate these findings to heat flow in the lower atmosphere and learn a great deal.

NASA photo--I don't know who those folk are.

The rocket soared out of sight of observers, seemingly on a flawless trajectory. However, it appears that one of the second-stage pressure valves was faulty; no signal from the satellite was ever caught on the ground by any of the many Minitrack receiving stations around the globe.

The sad news is that there is only one booster left to the Vanguard program. After the next shot, it's all over. I hope these experiments don't get abandoned!

From a postcard I picked up this week--wishful thinking, as it turned out.

Discoverer 4 took off yesterday, and it seemed to be a good launch, but then the second stage (the "Hustler") failed, and the payload never reached orbit. From the press releases, the Air Force was testing a new capsule designed to carry monkeys. Given that there were no actual passengers on the mission, I can think of two possibilities:

1) The Air Force doesn't want to actually send up any more animals lest the critter-lovers of the world let out a cry and hue (bigger than they already have), at least until the flyboys have perfected their rockets, or

2) There was a payload on Discoverer 4 equipped with eyes, but it wasn't an animate one.

Which one do you think is more plausible?


In other news, my F&SF and Astounding magazines have come in for this month, and I picked up last month's IF as well. I'm also reading Sam Merwin's Well of Many Worlds, one of the first "sideways in time" stories. So expect a lot of fiction reviews in the near future!

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It's been an exciting though disappointing week in the world of space exploits. Here is a summary of what you've missed if you haven't been following the papers:


The Air Force launched another Discoverer on April 13. After 17 orbits, the satellite ejected a capsule for recovery. The landing spot was supposed to be around Hawai'i, but a task force of ships and aircraft were unable to find the capsule. Now, there wasn't anything on board this one, but later shots are supposed to carry biological specimens. And maybe film for developing. Oops! Did I say that out loud?

In any event, no one knows where it landed. Since Discoverer is in a polar orbit (and still otherwise functioning, to all reports), I suppose the capsule could have fallen anywhere along its trajectory. If the capsule was ejected too early, it would have hit Antarctica or the South Pacific. If late, the track crosses Alaska, the Arctic ocean, and down through Scandinavia, the Eastern Bloc nations, and all along central Africa.

Assuming the latter, its destination could be somewhere in the ice, perhaps a communist station, or next to some frightened zebra. We may never know.


The Navy boys tried to launch a sequel to the orbiting but unsuccessful Vanguard 2. This shot was a two-fer--atop the slim rocket was not only a 10kg ball with a new magnetometer on board (for mapping magnetic fields) but a balloon for tracking air density.

Sadly, the rocket only got up a hundred miles before falling back to Earth. It's a shame--Von Braun's team is having success after success, but the Vanguard program is stuck in first gear. Let's hope they can get Vanguard 3 up before the year's end!


The Atlas is America's first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). It is being manufactured just a dozen miles from my house at Convair's Kearny Mesa plant. The first incarnation of the Atlas was test-launched in 1957 with a dummy warhead. Since then, Atlases have been launched with some regularity from Cape Canaveral, including the December launch of SCORE, which went on the improved Atlas B. The Atlas C was the last of the prototypes, and it may be used this year for an upcoming Venusian mission.

But the Atlas launched on April 14 was an Atlas D, a more-powerful version designed to be the first operational ICBM, the one they'll bury underground in protective silos to be turned loose on the Soviet Union on a moment's notice.

Eventually. The one launched last Tuesday malfunctioned right out of the gate, one of its three engines blasting at reduced capacity. It limped along for 20 seconds, burst into flames, and was destroyed 17 seconds later by ground control. And this is the booster that the Mercury astronauts will ride into orbit. Brave men they!

So, as they say, "All the news that fits, we print!" See you in two days!

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At long last, the Vanguard team has launched the satellite it had always wanted to. Vanguard II soared into orbit atop its 3-stage launcher yesterday joining four other satellites (three American, one Soviet) around the Earth. It is expected to orbit for the next 300 years.

The Navy and NASA have been trying for almost a year to duplicate their first success back in May 1958. Vanguard I was ridiculed by Soviet Premier Khruschev as a "grapefruit." Truth to tell, he wasn't far off. The first Vanguard did little more than duplicate the work of Sputnik I. On the other hand, the Vanguard project also entailed the building of Earth's first world-wide satellite tracking system as well as the development of the first purpose-built civilian booster.

Well, that booster finally got some good use this year. Vanguard II is much bigger (beachball-sized) than its ancestor. Moreover, the new satellite has been touted as the first "eye in the sky." There are two photocells located at the tip of two optical telescopes mounted inside the probe. Their mission for the next two weeks (the lifespan of their batteries) will be to detect reflections off of clouds in the Northern Hemisphere.

If that doesn't sound exciting to you, how about if I tell you that this is the first step toward bonafide weather satellites? Within a couple of years, we will have automated orbital observatories with a clear view of much of the globe at any given time. They'll be able to spot hurricanes, cold fronts, jet streams.. you name it. After a few years, they will accumulate enough data to revolutionize our climatology models and maybe even lead to large-scale weather control. Aside from communications (pioneered in December with the launch of Project SCORE), weather is the prime commercial use for satellites.

Even more nifty is the tape recorder set-up they've got in Vanguard. This allows the satellite to collect and store data for later transmission down to Earth. As Space Age as this sounds, rumor has it that this sophisticated system is about to be superseded by an all new, digital development. That will be an exciting story to break, when I can.

Another interesting tidbit, to me, is how the Vanguard team chose to moderate the temperatue onboard the satellite. There is no air in space, so all heat is received and transmitted away by radiation, and not by the more-efficient methods of conduction and convection, as on Earth. Translation: it's hot in the sun and cold in the shadow, and there is no moderation by a surrounding medium. It is important that the satellite not absorb too much heat or too little. On the Pioneers, at least the first three, they had an alternating black and white paint scheme to address this problem.

Vanguard, on the other hand, is coated with powdered silicon monooxide as insulation underneath the shiny aluminum picked for maximum visibility. Inside, the satellite is gold-plated! I assume this is to conduct heat to the silicon monoxide shell. I wonder how much that cost.

The only disappointment is that Vanguard II is tumbling as it spins like a wobbly top. This is going to make interpreting the photoscanner data a challenge. Still, it's an exciting first step. The next few years are going to be incredible.

Back to fiction in two days. Thanks for all the well-wishes!

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