Issue Date: January 12, 2009
Satellites And History
IN SUSAN MORRISSEY'S article "NASA Celebrates 50 Years," she says, "When the National Aeronautics & Space Administration was established in 1958, people likely had little idea that during the next five decades, the new agency would successfully send satellites into orbit, men to the moon, and probes deep into space" (C&EN, Nov. 17, 2008, page 54).
At that time, there may have been a little doubt about placing men on the moon, but not satellites in Earth orbit and probes into space. As Morrissey mentioned, the Russian Sputnik I was launched Oct. 4, 1957, and later the U.S. had placed satellites in orbit and even attempted a lunar probe before NASA opened for business on Oct. 1, 1958.
I was fortunate to be the launch weather officer for the first U.S. satellite, Explorer I. When I saw it roar into the night sky on Jan. 31, 1958, from Cape Pad 26A on the Juno I launch vehicle, I knew that America had entered the Space Age. Explorer I proved to be more than just a satellite novelty as it confirmed the presence of the Van Allen radiation belt and also confirmed that Earth was slightly oblate rather than a perfect sphere.
John L. Meisenheimer Sr.
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