Monday, January 31, 2011

Celebrating 53 Years of American Space Exploration

Happy 53rd birthday, American Space Program

Explorer 1 (1958 Alpha 1)[5] was the first Earth satellite of the United States, launched as part of its participation in the International Geophysical Year. The mission followed the first two Earth satellites the previous year, the Soviet Union's Sputnik 1 and 2, beginning the Cold War Space Race between the two nations.

Explorer 1 was launched on January 31, 1958 at 22:48 Eastern Time (this is equal to February 1, 03:48 UTC because the time change goes past midnight) atop the first Juno booster from LC-26 at the Cape Canaveral Missile Annex, Florida. It was the first spacecraft to detect the Van Allen radiation belt,[6] returning data until its batteries were exhausted after nearly four months. It remained in orbit until 1970, and has been followed by more than 90 scientific spacecraft in the Explorer series.

The U.S. Earth satellite program began in 1954 as a joint U.S. Army and U.S. Navy proposal, called Project Orbiter, to put a scientific satellite into orbit during the International Geophysical Year. The proposal, using a military Redstone missile, was rejected in 1955 by the Eisenhower administration in favor of the Navy's Project Vanguard, using a booster produced for civilian space launches.[7] Following the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, the initial Project Orbiter program was revived as the Explorer program to catch up with the Soviet Union.[8]

Explorer 1 was designed and built by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), while a Jupiter-C rocket was modified by the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) to accommodate a satellite payload; the resulting rocket known as the Juno I. The Jupiter-C design used for the launch had already been flight-tested in nose cone reentry tests for the Jupiter IRBM, and was modified into Juno I. Working closely together, ABMA and JPL completed the job of modifying the Jupiter-C and building Explorer 1 in 84 days. However, before work was completed, the Soviet Union launched a second satellite, Sputnik 2, on November 3, 1957. The U.S. Navy's attempt to put the first U.S. satellite into orbit failed with the launch of the Vanguard TV3 on December 6, 1957.[9]

The Vanguard TV3 rocket explodes 2 seconds and 4 ft. above the launch pad on Dec. 6, 1957.
Well, they can't all be winners. We got better. On March 17, 1958, Vanguard 1 became the second artificial satellite successfully placed in Earth orbit by the United States.
UPDATE: Thanks to the good folks at Universe Today weblog, we are reminded that today is also the 50th anniversary of American Chimp-o-naut Ham's successful suborbital flight, and the 40th anniversary of the launch of  Apollo 14


Pat B said...

Amazing how slowly the old rockets used to build up speed... 4 ft in two seconds, at that rate it would take a while to get into orbit...Would love to see data about height, velocity and time on the launch of one of these..

Steven Colyer said...

It's easily understandable, assuming one understands the mathematics, in particular, calculus, differential equations, and linear algebra.

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