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Sixty Years After Sputnik

I was less than one year old and the Space Race assumed ominous proportions with the launching of Sputnik on October 4, 1957 by the Soviet Union.  Its radio transmissions could be picked up easily by amateur radio enthusiasts and its orbit was low enough, the Soviets making sure its orbit was over the most densely populated portions of the planet, to be seen by the naked eye.  The propaganda victory for the Soviets was immense and the US saw its claim to be ahead in science seem to be hollow.   Politicians had a herd of collective cows and the Space Race was kicked into high gear.  The US satellite Explorer I was launched on January 31, 1958, the day following my future bride’s birth, after the Soviets had launched their second Sputnik in November of 1957.  Developing satellite technology in response to Sputnik and beating the Soviets to the moon  became  a key element in the Cold War.  Sputnik burned up on reentry on January 4, 1958, but its impact on history continues to reverberate to today.

 

March 16, 1926: Robert Goddard Launches First Liquid Fueled Rocket

 

How many more years I shall be able to work on the problem, I do not know; I hope, as long as I live. There can be no thought of finishing, for “aiming at the stars”, both literally and figuratively, is a problem to occupy generations, so that no matter how much progress one makes, there is always the thrill of just beginning.

Robert Goddard to H.G. Wells, 1932

 

A very humble beginning to the Space Age 91 years ago, courtesy of Doctor Robert Goddard:

 

 

March 17, 1926. The first flight with a rocket using liquid propellants was made yesterday at Aunt Effie’s farm in Auburn…. Even though the release was pulled, the rocket did not rise at first, but the flame came out, and there was a steady roar. After a number of seconds it rose, slowly until it cleared the frame, and then at express train speed, curving over to the left, and striking the ice and snow, still going at a rapid rate.

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January 27, 1967: Apollo I Tragedy

 

Hard to believe it has been fifty years.  I was ten years old and watching the television show Time Tunnel when a news flash interrupted the show to convey the grim news that Apollo 1 astronauts Pilot Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Senior Pilot Edward H. White II, and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee had died in a fire in the space capsule during a simulated practice launch.  Subsequent investigation indicated that the fire probably started due to faulty electric wiring in the capsule, but the exact cause of the fire ignition has never been pinpointed, which has created a fertile ground for conspiracy theorists usually centering around an alleged plot to kill Grissom.  A sad day for the American Space Program fifty years ago.

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January 10, 1946: Project Diana

Scientific advances from World War II revolutionized our world and beyond.  Sixty-one years ago the experiment of the United States Army Signal Corps, called Project Diana, in bouncing radar signals off the moon bore fruit.  Radar took 2.5 seconds to make the round trip of almost half a million miles.  Thus radar astronomy, along with the United States space program, was born.  Careful calculations had to be made each day to account for the Doppler effect.  Moonbounce radio communication is still used by some amateur radio operators.

E. King Stodola, the scientist who served as the technical director for the project, recalled it in 1979 during an interview conducted by his daughter, Cindy Stodola Pomerleau: Continue Reading