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"This is Eagle 1 to Mission Control. We are Losing The Space Race"

The first satellite in space
The first satellite in space
In 1915 a man named Goddard packed liquid oxygen and gasoline into the base of a cylinder and then ignited the liquids creating a quick burst of thrust from the rear of the cylinder. This pushed the cylinder up towards the sky in an important, if not very dazzling, display of rocket science. The rocket hurled forty feet into the air and crashed back down into a nearby cabbage field. This was the first successful liquid fuel rocket launch. Until then, only solid fuels (much less powerful than liquid) had been used.

Goddard must have suspected what uses this new form of rocket would have for in his next experiments with liquid fuel rockets he increased the size of the cylinder to accommodate scientific instruments, installed a gyroscope for better stability, and attached a parachute to make for safe recovery of the rocket after launch.

Sound familiar? Well, that's because in nowadays we launch liquid fuel rockets into space all the time and they almost always carry scientific instruments. NASA's Gemini missions launched astronauts into space atop huge liquid fuel rockets. The capsule containing the astronauts was then dropped back to earth, slowed by large parachutes.

What happened in between Goddard's experiments and the successful usage of liquid fuel rockets to send people into space? Well…

During the Second World War, Germany completed production of the A-4 rocket. It burned a mix of liquid oxygen and alcohol and could wipe out a whole city block. This was the culmination of years of German rocket science. The Germans had seen great potential in rockets and societies of rocket scientists had sprung up in pre-WWII Germany. When the war broke they were enlisted to build rockets for battle, but the true aim was always the stars. When the A-4 debuted, though, the war was already ending.

Blast off!
Blast off!
When Germany fell, the scientists were quickly scooped up by Allied countries. The U.S. and the Soviet Union scrambled to obtain as many of these scientists as possible. Thus began the rocket race and the Cold War. Immigration paperwork was processed faster than you could blink an eye for the scientists soon became U.S. and Soviet citizens.

One of the most talented of these scientists was Wernher von Braun. He had lead the team that designed the A-4 and now worked on the Redstone rocket for America. A version of the Redstone rocket was used to launch the U.S.'s first satellite into orbit and three years after that, three Mercury Redstones launched Alan Sheppard into a suborbital space flight.

The Soviet Union stunned the world on October 4th, 1957 when they successfully launched the first satellite into orbit. It was called Sputnik I. From its orbit, anyone with a radio could pick up its little beep. The rocket that took it there was called the A(SL-1) and used liquid oxygen and kerosene as a fuel. It had two stages which separated at specific points to maximize the boost into orbit. Sputnik I weighed 184 lbs. The Soviet Union had won the first battle in the space race.

The American response to the Soviet success was profound. In one instance the U.S had gone form being the greatest civilization to grace the planet to the second greatest. It was devastating to everyday Americans. With the Soviet Union so obviously ahead of the U.S. in rocketry, what was to stop the Soviets from destroying America? Both nations were nuclear weapons owners and now the Soviets had a very powerful and functional missile.

President Eisenhower responded by creating the National Aeronautical and Science Association - NASA. The President knew from intelligence gathered from planes over the Soviet Union that Soviets had not gained a strong lead in the missile race. But, this was all classified information and Eisenhower did nothing to stop the fear that had developed in the minds of the American public. It would cost his vice-president, Richard Nixon, dearly in the next election against John F. Kennedy.
Space Dog!
Space Dog!

Project Vanguard was put into effect in the late 40s. It would carry a grapefruit sized satellite into orbit. With the launch of Sputnik I the process was speeded up. The first attempts at a U.S. satellite launch ended in fire and explosions as the rockets (Vanguard rocket TV-3) destructed early in the launch.

The Juno I rocket (a modified Redstone rocket) would take the first U.S. satellite, Explorer I, into orbit on Jan. 31, 1958

Only 31 lbs, Explorer I was much smaller than Sputnik I. But Explorer I carried a Geiger counter to detect the presence of cosmic rays. This lead to the discovery of earth's radiation belts, later named the van Allen Belts after the scientist who devised the experiment.

Americans fear was eased for the moment. But between the time that Sputnik I had launched and Juno I had taken Explorer I into orbit, the Soviets had launched Sputnik II which carried the first living creature from the face of the earth into space. The animal was Laika, a female husky. She died aboard the spacecraft when her oxygen ran out about seven days after the launch.

First human in space
First human in space
On April 12,1961 Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. Again the Soviet Union took the lead in the race for space superiority. They had successfully launched the first satellite, the first animal, and the first human into space. And again the U.S. public was shocked and dismayed.

A month after Vostok I took Gagarin into space, NASA put astronaut Alan Shepard into a brief suborbital flight, and on Feb. 29, 1962, astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the planet.

The Americans were still in the race, but not winning it.

The Team


Links to Other Dispatches

Neda - How would you like your martini? Shaken, stirred, or radioactive?
Irene - And while we're at it, let's burn down some movie theaters!
Neda - Guilty as charged, but should they get the chair?
Neda - "Pumpkin papers for sale! Hot and fresh!"