October 03, 2007

50 Years Ago today....

... a little metal sphere captured the imagination of the world.

   

  Happy Sputnik Day!!!

An excellent overview of the events leading from WW2 to Sputnik1's launch can be found here in a recently added page at Encyclopedia Astronautica.

Also, is a good overview of several official  PRE(!) Sputnik designs from the US and Germany, going back to 1947 which were quite technically feasible for the day and would have worked too if not for a lack of vion in the USAF...and interservice rivalry which inspired the USAF to kill a navy program they didn't want to do themselves.

feh...

Nor was their a cornucopia of foresight on the USSR's end, for despite official propaganda to the contrary, the Soviet leadership was very unenthusiastic about the whole endeavor. The only thing that caused it to happen was the persistence of several visionary engineers and the fact that they convinced the leadership that the size of the R4 launcher would enable them to throw a small satellite into orbit with no additional development cost....and right it off as an extreme range test. Almost as an afterthought a scientific satellite was designed but it was not completed in time (that was Sputnik 3) Indeed the Sputnik 1 itself contained no scientific instruments, it just beeped....(HT Lileks )

But it beeped from space, where no manmade thing had ever been and it caught the imagination of the world....and scared the Bejeezus out of the US, as the ability to reach orbit implied global reach...with atomic weapons.
The US began a crash program to catch up to the Soviets....that program was Vanguard.

A bit later the US decided to embark on a program with rather less "crash" and  Explorer 1 (which the Army could have launched in 1956 if not forbidden to) finally made a tardy appearance in orbit. It even managed to discover the Van Allen Belts (as it did more than beep).

The launch of the Sputniks incited a frenzied fit of federal meddling in education from which the US educational system has never recovered, but it also showed that the surly bonds of earth can be broken and opened the way to the stars. 12 years later, inspired in part by this 185 pound beep machine, Americans landed on the moon!

Woot!

Now 50 years on, we don't seem to have made as much progress as many of us would have hoped, indeed we've made negative progress since 1972, but the point of today is to remind us that space was conquered ...
50 freaking years ago!!

So it's not that hard.

The heavens still beckon. It's time to answer their invitation.

There's a great roundup of Sputnik Day posts at Rand Simberg's place.

Some additional perspective below the fold:

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