Thursday, January 27, 2011

Vanguard In Orbit After 52 Years

Sometimes it's not who gets ahead first, it's who wins.

With all this talk about Sputnik, it's important
 to remember a few facts about the early space race:

Sputnik launched in October 1957. (Its regularly emitted 
beeps enabled Soviet scientists to study upper atmosphere friction.) 
It honked and died. It fell back to Earth in January. 

How many days did it take the Army to build 
and launch America's first satellite, 
Explorer 1? 84 days.
(Shown above.)

While the Army undoubtedly did tolerably fair work, Eisenhower, 
being a wise man, turned space exploration 
over to the Navy, because, hey, there's no 
difference between the oceans and outer space.

Vanguard 1, America's second satellite, 
blasted off in March 1958. 
(Space ships used to 'blast off' before the phrase became
 an early victim of political correctness.)

I know a little about Project Vanguard because 
my father was a Navy Commander who served
in some capacity on the project. 
(It was secret, so he never said nothing about it, even
when I tortured him during my teenage years.)

Vanguard's space age transistor technology.

Not only is Vanguard I still in orbit, 
it achieved the following goals:
It was the first solar-powered satellite,
and for six years, thanks to its solar cells,
 it radioed to Earth data about
our planet's size and shape, the effects of
micrometeorites, and upper air density and temperatures.

"It goes without saying that, in the eyes of the public, 
the members of the Army team remained the heroes 
of the space age; it was they who had put up 
America's first satellite," according to an NASA history of the project. 

"But the Project Vanguard people had the satisfaction
 of knowing that in record time—only two years, 
six months, and eight days—they had developed from 
scratch a complete high-performance three-stage 
launching vehicle, a highly accurate worldwide 
satellite-tracking system, and an adequate launching 
facility and range instrumentation; more to the point, 
they had accomplished their mission, which was to put 
one satellite in orbit during the International Geophysical Year."