Category Something New Under the Sun


4 4 Л /e had from our first presentation improved the control system У У quite a lot and we continued to improve it over the years. We got it down to two thrusters; then we started to work on the precession capabilities of one thruster. I had at first thought it would take four, but Don had come back very quickly with a major improvement. We had four for redundancy, but we still could precess it with one jet. NASA was skep­tical about the single-pulse thruster.” Thus Rosen thirty years later.

NASA, which had some contact with Hughes in February 1960, was skeptical about considerably more than the single-pulse thruster. Rosen had proposed that the inexpensive Scout rocket, which Richard Kershner also favored for Transit, should launch the twenty-four-hour satellite. In the same month that Hyland authorized an in-house program, NASA’s Langley Research Center completed an analysis of the Scout rocket, and concluded that it could not place a twenty-five-pound satellite (the Rosen-Williams satellite had now grown from twenty pounds and would put on more weight, but not as much as Advent) in a twenty-four-hour orbit. Nor could any other launch vehicle.

But Puckett and Hyland were now supportive. Puckett coordinated the marketing, keeping Hyland informed of his progress. There were approaches to GTE (a common carrier) and CBS, attempting to promote interest in the idea of a communications satellite, and to E. G. Witting, the director of research and development in the Department of the Army.

On April 1, 1960, Puckett briefed Herb York, formerly the head of the Advanced Projects Research Agency, now the director of defense research and engineering, and John Rubel’s boss.

In May, the month that the first attempt to launch Echo failed, Williams was immersed in dynamic analyses of the satellite. Rosen was preparing another proposal, specifying Thor-Delta, which had a greater lift capability than Scout, as the launch vehicle. Hughes sent an unsolicited copy of the revised proposal to NASA on June 15, 1960. NASA, however, was confined to work on passive satellites at the time by its agreement with the Department of Defense.

In July, AT&T disclosed its $170 million plan for a constellation of fifty medium-altitude satellites and argued that the Federal Communica­tions Commission should reserve frequencies for satellite communication. Williams was as usual preoccupied with engineering, this time concentrat­ing on calculations of moments of inertia. Hughes made a presentation soliciting support to the space science panel of the president’s science advi­sory committee. They received a polite letter of thanks, but no encourage­ment.

In the meantime, Hughes’ man in Washington had also been busy. He knew one of Vice President Nixon’s bodyguards, and the vice president, said Rosen, owed the bodyguard a favor. He arranged for Hughes to make a presentation to the chairman of the Republican National Committee, who told them that they looked like nice people—surely they didn’t want to get mixed up with politics. They did, however, get a meeting with NASA administrator T. Keith Glennan out of the encounter. “So you can see,” said Rosen, “we were grasping at straws.”

In August, the policy confining NASA to work on passive commu­nications satellites was formally abandoned. Within days, John Pierce and senior AT&T executives briefed NASA on Bell’s experimental active satel­lite plans. On the same day, Hughes executives, by now contemplating a joint venture, had another meeting with GTE.

A few days later Puckett, in the meeting that resulted from the encounter with Hall of the Republican National Committee, briefed the NASA administrator T. Keith Glennan. Glennan said that Puckett was talking through his hat and recommended that Hughes work on medium – altitude satellites.

Glennan’s comment must be judged in context. NASA’s Langley Research Center concluded that the Hughes proposal was marginal, and the new agreement with the Defense Department, signed only days earlier, would soon preclude NASA from involvement in communications satel­lites in twenty-four-hour orbits.

Despite Glennan’s negativity, NASA’s head of communication satel­lites, Leonard Jaffe visited Hughes on September 1. To Samuel Lutz, it looked as though Rosen and the supporters of a twenty-four-hour satellite now thought that they had a NASA contract in the bag. If they did, they either did not know some important things, for example the agreement between NASA and the Defense Department, or there was a high degree of wishful thinking.

Meanwhile, Puckett was hearing negative views from colleagues within the company. Critical memos reached him saying that Hughes was presenting a fragmentary approach to potential military customers and that the best role for Hughes was as a supplier to AT&T. On the other side of the country, at AT&T’s corporate headquarters in New York, the issue of the Hughes repeater surfaced at a meeting of Bell’s engineers on Sep­tember 1, 1960. A report of the meeting says “Hughes is supposed to have an ingenious twenty-pound repeater (TV bandwidth is claimed).” Those at the meeting agreed that if the repeater was any good, Bell should try to obtain it for trial.

The supporters of the twenty-four-hour satellite within Hughes continued to try to involve GTE, and GTE’s technical staff spent four days at Hughes in early September. They made no commitments, but Rosen sensed that GTE would join Hughes. At Hyland’s request, Hughes briefed the RAND Corporation. Puckett warned his people to say nothing about the discussions with GTE. And later that September, John Rubel, who had worked at Hughes before moving to the Office of the Director of Research and Engineering in May 1959, visited his old workplace. Puckett had already briefed Herb York about the Hughes twenty-four-hour satel­lite in April, and presumably, Rubel now learned more.

On October 2, in a meeting that must have been full of tension, Rosen, Williams, and Hudspeth briefed the engineers at Bell. Among those present were John Pierce and Leroy Tillotson. As Pierce listened he became convinced that Rosen was a wild-eyed dreamer, willing to say anything to sell his satellite.

Shortly afterwards, Witting, the Army’s R&D director, wrote to Hughes. He was unapologetically dismissive of the Hughes proposal and fluent in his condemnation of the weaknesses of many of the satellite’s sys­tems. Rosen was infuriated. He called Witting and wrote a deeply sarcastic letter, pointing out the errors in Witting’s evaluation. Just under a year later, Witting’s successor would respond to this letter, reaffirming every­thing that Witting had said. It was written on the day that NASA, sup­ported by the Department of Defense, placed a sole-source contract with Hughes for a twenty-four-hour satellite.

In November 1960, Puckett, Rosen, and Williams briefed ITT, Gen­eral Bernard Schriever, the British military, and Stanford Research Labora­tory. At the Cosmos Club in Washington D. C., Puckett talked enthusiasti­cally of the proposal to Lee DuBridge, the president of Caltech. But, despite the flurry of technical and marketing activities; the optimism and confidence of Rosen, Williams, and Hudspeth; and the support of Hyland and Puckett, the Hughes Aircraft Company was by the end of the year no further for­ward. No one wanted their satellite. GTE had made no more moves towards a joint venture. By the next spring, GTE would be in partnership with RCA and Lockheed, and that group would be proposing its own ideas for satellites in a twenty-four-hour orbit. Hughes had no contract, nor any likelihood of a contract, with NASA, which was bound by its agreement with the Defense Department not to develop twenty-four-hour satellites. The Army had rejected them, and in such a comprehensively dismissive way that there could be no hope remaining from that quarter. The Air Force said that the proposal was marginal and overoptimistic with regard to payload capability. These two branches of the military were engaged in one of their frequent skirmishes, with control of the development of communications satellites the disputed territory. Rosen’s proposal would not have been welcome.

Rather desperately, or so it seemed to some within the company, Hughes announced late in 1960 that it had an off-the-shelf satellite for sale. During the three months at the beginning of 1960 when Hyland had had the project on ice, Rosen, Williams, and Hudspeth had continued their work. Hudspeth had worked on breadboards for the electronics, while Rosen and Williams refined the mechanical structure and ideas about the satellite’s control mechanism. As soon as Hyland had given the go-ahead, they’d put together a little project lab and started making things. In May, Hughes had begun construction, and by the fall, they’d demonstrated the control mechanism in the lab and had tested the satellite’s ability to trans­mit television signals. Thus, with their ideas embodied in hardware, they sought a wider audience. They demonstrated the satellite in December at a meeting of the American Rocket Society.

During the winter of 1960 — 61, very few people were working on the satellite. Bob Roney wrote to Puckett seeking assurances that there would be money in the coming year for further development. Puckett, however, was under pressure to switch the Hughes effort to medium-altitude satellites and to bid in the forthcoming NASA competition for Project Relay. NASA put out its request for proposals in January, and with the same reluctance that characterized AT&T’s response, Hughes prepared to compete. Rosen and Williams remained aloof.

Yet the tide of their fortunes was changing, had probably been chang­ing all through that dismal Christmas in a way that is discernable only with hindsight. Between October 1960 and March 1961, three Centaurs blew up, which set back the Centaur development schedule and thus the sched­ule for Advent, the Army’s twenty-four-hour satellite. There were several downward revisions of the amount of payload that Centaur could lift, yet Advent was getting heavier. John Rubel, of DDR&D, was unhappy about these things and knew that the Department of Defense needed improved communications. Rubel had also visited Hughes in September 1960, and must have learned more about the twenty-four-hour satellite, and he respected Harold Rosen’s work. Together these events and Rubel’s attitude must have influenced circumstances in favor of the Hughes satellite.

An early indication of the changing tide came when Rosen was asked to brief the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA) on January 11, 1961, about the Hughes twenty-four-hour satellite. The IDA was evaluat­ing communications satellites for the Office of the Director of Research Engineering. Rosen’s report of the meeting, written the next day, records that the IDA made generally favorable remarks about his presentation and was critical of Advent. He wrote that one panel member had said that pro­gram managers apparently placed more faith in the development of the Centaur rocket than of a traveling wave tube, and that the panel member did not consider the attitude justified.

This comment alluded to the reservations some felt about John Mendel’s prospects of successfully developing his lightweight traveling wave tube. In February, Rosen, in response to questions for Rubel, sent a telegram saying that the traveling wave tube had been chosen because of its superior performance. He cited publications by Bell and comments from John Pierce to bolster his case. If there were to be problems with the tube, Rosen wrote, it could be replaced with a triode even though the satellite would then operate at reduced power and bandwidth.

In California, Williams was preoccupied by the recently discovered tri-axiality of the Earth and its influence on the motion of satellites in geosynchronous orbit. During that same February, Hughes executives were discussing what the company should do if it did not win the Project Relay competition. And Samuel Lutz, at Puckett’s request, was again reviewing the twenty-four-hour satellite. This time Lutz was much more negative. The satellite, Lutz wrote, had not shown “the high degree of engineering conservatism which would give it sales appeal to the common carrier.” Competitors, he pointed out, offered satellites with a longer life for very little extra delay in development. Lutz recommended that no effort be spared to win the NASA competition for Relay. If successful, the company would save face and recover some of its half-million investment. Lutz’s report clearly shows that he was intimidated by AT&T’s monopoly position, by its financial resources, and by the technical resources of Bell. “Do we,” he asked, “want a future in this field badly enough to make the effort it will require?”

Even as the words clattered out of his typewriter, the moves were being made that would set the Hughes Aircraft Company on its path to Syncom, Early Bird and a preeminent position among satellite manufactur­ers. The hard work of balancing out on a limb had, though they did not know it, been done.

At the end of March 1961, Hughes made a presentation to Rubel in Washington. For the next few months Puckett and other Hughes execu­tives would hang on Rubel’s every word. If they talked with him over din­ner or at a meeting, a memo was circulated, reporting either what was said or what they read between the lines.

Puckett had learned from Rubel that the administration was con­cerned that the country was not moving quickly enough toward a com­munications satellite capable of either military or commercial operation. The current plans, Rubel had told Puckett, were for a system that was “a long way downstream” as well as “very expensive,” and it would be appro­priate to seek an interim system. Puckett had asked what Hughes could do, and Rubel had replied that the Department of Defense had received proposals in varying degrees of formality, but had no reasonable means of choosing among them. Hughes, he said, could perhaps produce a white paper providing a historical and technical context for a decision.

On May 8, Puckett sent Rubel a letter, making no reference to their previous discussion. In it Puckett wrote that Hughes had prepared a special research study dealing with various aspects of the military communication problem. The study’s purpose, he wrote, was to examine the possible value of a lightweight spacecraft as an interim communications satellite. Puckett offered to submit a full proposal “if you believe this deserves continued consideration.” Hughes was at this stage close to having completed the pro­posal mentioned, and Puckett already knew from C. Gordon Murphy what would be an acceptable date for submission of the proposal to DDR&D.

It seems that the contents of these discussions did not filter down to Williams, who on May 11 wrote a long, critical memo to Hyland. It began, “You are aware of my bullish outlook regarding commercial com­munication satellites and my confidence in the Hughes stationary satellite concept. For the past several months, I have been concerned that Hughes is letting its technical advantage slip away for political reasons…He wrote persuasively and at length, but his views were at odds with company policy because he still hoped that Hughes would undertake the project without government involvement.

In Washington events moved apace. The policy debate provoked by monopoly considerations and by Berkner’s assertion that communication satellites would be a billion dollar business was well underway, and a decision had been taken that Advent would continue. But Hughes’s star was still rising.

On June 6, 1961, events had reached a stage allowing Jaffe to recom­mend that NASA negotiate with Hughes to develop a twenty-four-hour satellite. Jaffe thought there was no doubt as to the ultimate desirability of twenty-four-hour satellites even though he remained convinced they would not be operational for years.

Given the division of labor that NASA and the Defense Department had agreed to, this recommendation was possible only because Rubel, along with Robert Seamans, NASA’s associate administrator, was plotting the agreement’s abolition. Seamans viewed the idea of an operational com­munications system based on tens of medium-altitude satellites as imprac – tical. Where, he had asked Bell, do you propose to get all your computers from? Rubel, of course, knew that the Defense Department needed an interim satellite to provide some cover during the solar minimum, but he judged that the time was not right for canceling Advent. If, however, the agreement between NASA and Defense could be set aside, NASA could place a contract with Hughes to explore the alternative technology of a lightweight twenty-four-hour satellite.

On June 17, Rubel was holding discussions with NASA. Another senior Hughes executive, A. S.Jerrems, happened to be in Washington that weekend, and he met Rubel in the evening. Jerrems wrote to Puckett, “He was inscrutable about the detailed content of the meeting, but he made a statement to the effect that, in his opinion, HAC’s [Hughes Aircraft Com­pany] proposal for getting a geosynchronous satellite funded are better now than they have ever been.”

On June 21 the odds in favor of Hughes improved again. The Institute for Defense Analysis met to discuss the merits of an experiment with a light­weight satellite. The IDA concluded that if the country decided to have only one program in active satellites in addition to Advent, then that program


Thomas Hudspeth (left) and Dr. Harold A. Rosen stand atop the Eiffel Tower during the Paris Air Show of 1962. Between them is the prototype Syncom satellite which they and Dr. Donald D. Williams fought so hard for.

should be for medium-altitude satellites. Further, they said that an experiment with lightweight satellites should not interfere with Advent (the Army) or Project Westford (ne Needles—the Air Force), nor should it affect the deter­mination to pursue medium-altitude satellites. Having saved everyone’s face, the panel said that the experiment with a lightweight active repeater was


Harold A. Rosen (right foreground) and Thomas Hudspeth hold the prototype of Syncom, the world’s first synchronous orbit satellite. Behind them is IntelsatVI, a later generation of communication satellite. The tiny Syncom would fit in one of the fuel tanks which Dr. Rosen is pointing toward.

unique and should be undertaken. Two days later, the deputy secretary of defense, Roswell Gilpatrick, wrote to James Webb effectively releasing NASA from its tacit agreement not to work on active satellites in geostationary orbit.

There was still much for the administrators to do, but the Hughes twenty-four-hour satellite was now secure. On July 27, Abe Silverstein,

NASA’s director of spaceflight programs, told Goddard to put together a preliminary project plan for Hughes that was to be prepared with the Army’s Advent Management Agency. On August 11, NASA announced that the Hughes Aircraft Company had been chosen on a sole-source basis to build a twenty-four-hour satellite. Goddard decided that the satellite should be called Syncom (for synchronous communication). The first launch attempt failed. Somehow, it seems almost obligatory that it should have done so. It was a black day for Harold Rosen—elation followed by despair. The second attempt, on July 26, 1963, succeeded. It was launched into a “quasi-geostationary” orbit, which was easier to reach than a true geostationary orbit: it was at geosynchronous altitude but was not coplanar with the equator. Still, Syncom proved that communication was possible via a radio relay at geosynchronous altitude. It had just one voice channel. But together with Syncoms II and III, it demonstrated the technology and led to the selection of one of Harold’s spinners as Early Bird, which opened the still unfolding era of global telecommunications.

But all of you have lived through the last four years and have seen the significance of space and the adventure of space, and no one can predict with certainty what the ultimate meaning will be—

—John F. Kennedy, May 25, 1961

Something New. Under the Sun

When the story of our age comes to be told, we will be remem­bered as the first of all men to set their sign among the stars.

—Arthur C Clarke, The Making of a Moon, 1957

A new age was dawning, in which the organized brain power for military and civilian science and technology was the dearest national asset.

—Walter McDougall,… the Heavens and the Earth: a political history of the space age, 1985.


hen the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation decided to sponsor a series of histories of technology in the 1990s, they asked for proposals about technologies that have had a significant impact on the twentieth century. For some years, I had written news and features about space and had been hooked by the glamour of space exploration. Which aspect of the field would, I wondered, best fit into the Sloan’s proposed series?

It seemed to me that the answer was navigation, weather, and com­munications satellites—that is, so-called application satellites. The National Academy of Engineering has said that of all the technological achieve­ments of the second half of the twentieth century, these satellites are second only to the Apollo moon landing. Application satellites have a stealthy, silent influence on our lives. Most of us would notice them only in their absence. But then we would notice. There would be no early warning of hurricanes, no satellite data for the computer models that predict weather. There would be no instantaneous communication to and from any part of the globe, no satellite TV, and no navigation in bad weather. It would be a more dangerous and expensive world.

So I submitted a proposal. I wrote blithely of a history of every kind of civilian application satellite, from every country, from before the launch of Sputnik up to the 1990s. My book was also to encompass the critical supporting technologies of launch vehicles, electronics, and computers. Somehow, I won the grant.

After a few months of research, I discovered that I had known little about the subject and that it was full of apocryphal tales from imperfect memories. It took about three years to track down participants and locate archives, company records, and small pockets of papers kept by people when they retired. I had to find out what was classified and what wasn’t, what people thought was classified even when it wasn’t, and what, in gen­eral terms, might be in the genuinely classified material.

Not surprisingly, my original proposal was of absolutely no use. Its main fault was that it was about civilian application satellites. But navigation satellites were developed for a purely military purpose. The early history of weather satellites is inextricably intertwined with that of reconnaissance. And the decision that led to Syncom, the precursor of Early Bird, the world’s first commercial communications satellite, owed much to the mili­tary’s urgent need for improved global communication.

So the word civilian was the first thing to be excised from my con­ception of the book. It was followed by a ruthless culling of the 1990s, the 1980s, the 1970s, most of the 1960s, and satellites developed outside the United States. Finally, all but a few of the early American satellites fell by the wayside. Launch vehicles, electronics, and computers survived by the skin of their teeth, and only insofar as they demonstrated the limitations and difficulties surrounding those designing the early satellites.

What is left gives a flavor of yesterday’s technology, which is our own technology in embryo, and a technology that has shaped our world. The book excludes many people, which is a shame but inevitable if it is to be readable.

The title, Something New Under the Sun, is a play on the biblical say­ing that there is no new thing under the sun. It was coined by Bob Dellar, an amateur astronomer who led a group of “Moonwatchers” in Virginia in 1956. The task of the Moonwatchers, who were scattered all over the world, was to track the satellites that the United States and the Soviet Union were planning to launch during the International Geophysical Year of 1957/58. Mr. Dellar is now dead, but Roger Harvey, who was sixteen at the time, was one of Mr. Dellar’s group, and he mentioned the phrase in a parking lot in northern Virginia while we inspected the telescope he had used to search for Sputnik. I asked if I could purloin the phrase as the title of my book, and he said yes.

It is an apt title, because satellites were, literally and figuratively, something new under the sun. The pioneers who designed the first satel­lites admit cheerfully that they hadn’t a clue what they were doing or what they were up against. Their launch vehicles blew up, their electronics were unreliable, guidance and control were primitive, the world was just turning from vacuum tubes to transistors, and those transistors didn’t always work. The list of things they didn’t know and that failed goes on and on and those things are, of course, the reasons why those early participants in the space age were pioneers.

The only non-American participant who is discussed at any length in the book is Sergei Korolev, the mastermind of the Soviet Union’s space program who was responsible for the launch of Sputnik. He was an extra­ordinary man of extraordinary tenacity, who at great personal cost survived Stalin’s paranoid and casual cruelties. Despite his contribution to the Soviet Union’s Cold War armory, some tribute seemed called for, and the so-called chief designer of cosmic-rocket systems has the introductory chapter to himself.

Sputnik, according to the historian Walter McDougall, sparked the biggest furor in the United States since Pearl Harbor. The satellite was Korolev’s baby, and it was launched as part of the International Geophysi­cal Year.

The IGY was the brainchild of Lloyd Berkner, a leading American scientist. While scientists were still in the early stages of planning the IGY, President Eisenhower announced that the U. S. would launch scientific satellites as part of its contribution to the IGY. Within days the Soviet Union made a similar announcement.

It seemed at the time that the White House had bowed to pressure from industry, scientists, and the military. But recent scholarship suggests that President Eisenhower hijacked the IGY and made it, in the words of U. S. Air Force historian R. Carghill Hall, the stalking horse for the admin­istration’s plans for reconnaissance satellites.

As is so often the case, there were many people to whom it didn’t matter at all why what happened, happened. The space age had opened, and the pioneers of navigation, weather, and communications satellites were ready.

At the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) of the Johns Hopkins Uni­versity, in Maryland, Bill Guier and George Weiffenbach listened to Sput­nik’s signal. Within the week, they were developing an approach to orbital determination that broke with a centuries-old tradition. Before Guier and Weiffenbach’s work, the technique was to measure the angles to heavenly bodies and to determine orbits from those values. The scientists of the IGY had an elaborate optical and radio observational system in place for mea­suring the angles to satellites. Guier and Weiffenbach measured changes in

frequency and developed computational and statistical techniques that at the time seemed to be coming from “left field.”

Their boss, Frank McClure, adapted their techniques to form the basis for the Transit navigation satellites. In turn, Transit severed links with millennia of esoteric navigational rituals by providing mariners with com­puter readouts of latitude and longitude. Transit was developed because the Special Projects Office of the Navy needed some way to locate its Polaris nuclear submarines with greater accuracy than possible with existing methods. But the system went on to serve surface fleets, merchant vessels, the oil industry, fishing fleets, and international mapping agencies.

In the Midwest, Verner Suomi, of the University ofWisconsin, heard a lecture about the IGY and proposed flying an experiment to measure the radiation balance of the earth, a value of fundamental importance to meteorologists. The experiment set him on the path to earning the hon­orary title of father of weather satellites. These satellites took twenty years to find widespread acceptance among meteorologists. Because they rely on similar technology to that of reconnaissance satellites, they have a murkier history than that of satellite navigation.

In New Jersey, John Pierce (known in science fiction circles at the time as J. J. Coupling), of Bell Telephone Laboratories, played the pivotal role in the early days of the development of commercial communications satellites. He was swiftly challenged by Harold Rosen, of the Hughes Air­craft Company On the title page of his book How the World Was One, Arthur C. Clarke calls Pierce and Rosen the “fathers of communication satellites.”

Guier, Weiffenbach, McClure, Suomi, Pierce, and Rosen—these were the Edisons and Marconis of satellites for navigation, meteorology, and communication. Pierce and Rosen were rivals; Weiffenbach heard Pierce lecture and learned some things about satellite design; Suomi sought Rosen’s help when he was trying to persuade NASA to fly another of his experiments; Weiffenbach met Suomi in India. They were not all close friends, but the American space community of the late 1950s was small and intimately connected. The same mysteries faced them all: the unimag­ined complexity of the earth’s gravitational field, the unknown space envi­ronment and the radiation belts. All but Rosen benefited directly from the IGY. All were involved in projects that ultimately became the work of hundreds.

Something New Under the Sun is about the ideas of these men and the global, national, and local influences that shaped them.

In the case of Transit, most of the primary source material comes from APL and some of that material could be extracted for me only by people with the necessary security clearances, so there may well be things I am missing that I do not know about. The story is told through the eyes of APL, even though I have tried to set it in context. I’m sure someone view­ing the story from outside APL would have a different tale to tell, but as written, I hope it gives a sense of what it was like to develop a satellite sys­tem in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Meteorology satellites were more difficult to write about because the story is intricately linked with the change from art to science that meteo­rology was undergoing in the 1950s and because much of the primary source material was still classified when I was writing. But key participants helped to steer me through a sea of partial information. Verner Suomi is one of several who played a critical role in the early days, and perhaps more should be said about the others. If anyone writes the story at greater length, perhaps more will be said.

The early days of communications satellites are described mainly from the point of view of the Bell Telephone Laboratories and the Hughes Aircraft Company. Much of the text is based on material I collected from the archives and company records of AT&T and Hughes, supplemented by interviews and by other documents that participants passed on to me.

Echo and Telstar are names that still bring a flash of recognition to some faces. They are part of this book because John Pierce, whose ideas were important in many ways, was involved either directly or obliquely with them and because they highlighted AT&T’s plans for global satellite communication, which raised antitrust concerns that shaped American policy in this strategically important new field. For these reasons, I have concentrated on Echo and Telstar rather than the NASA-sponsored Project Relay.

The most famous satellites that were based on Rosen’s initial ideas were the Syncom satellites and Early Bird. These opened the era of com­mercial communications satellites.

Navigation, meteorology, and communication—ancients arts that have become sophisticated science and technology. The application satel­lites that ring the earth did much to help in that transition. Our social institutions and expectations are changing rapidly. Via satellite, we can remotely diagnose illness, watch from our living rooms while “smart” weapons shatter their targets, or track the development of major hurri­canes for weeks before they threaten our coasts. The impact of satellites on our lives has scarcely begun.

Chapter nine: Kersher’s Roulette

Comments about Richard Kershner (page 91), his approach to the job of team leader and to engineering, are based on the views of different Tran­sit team members.

The First Transit Proposal, 4 April 1958, (APL Archives) gives details of the satellite and incorrectly suggests that the ionosphere might be the biggest problem facing satellite navigation (pages 92-94).

Limits on orbital configuration and its relationship to ground stations (page 94) are from interviews with Guier and Weiffenbach.

The section in this chapter on the search for longitude had a number of secondary sources:

John HarrisomThe Man who Found Longitude, by Humphry Quill (Baker, 1966).

History of the Invention by John Harrison of the Marine Chronometer, by Samuel Smiles (Press Print).

Memoirs of a trait in the character of George III of these United Kingdoms, by John Harrison (W Edwards, 1835).

John Harrison and The problem of Longitude, by Heather and Mervyn Hobden (Cosmic Elk, 1989).

“The Longitude,’’ an essay by Lloyd A. Brown in volume two of The World of Mathematics, edited by James R. Newman (Tempus, 1956).

Kershner’s trips to the Pentagon (page 97) were remembered by both Guier and Weiffenbach. Though there is no written record of these trips at APL, he presumably had to go back and forth several times.

Transit on Discovery is mentioned several times in memos, letters, and progress reports of Transit in the APL archives (page 98), and various members of the team explained that it was part of DoD efforts to deter­mine Earth’s gravitational field and thus, of course, the forces that would act on a ballistic missile in flight.

The details in pages 98 to 104 were extracted from numerous reports and memos in the APL archives, from interviews with the Transit team mem­bers, and from memos and papers that Henry Elliott had kept.

The Realities of Space Exploration

We were pioneers, and we knew it.

—Bill Guier


arsons auditorium was crowded. Everyone was eager to hear the news as it was relayed from the Cape. They knew about the delays that had accumulated during the final countdown, heard the announcement to switch off radio frequency generators at the lab. The moments before a launch are always tense. In the final seconds the tension was alleviated, as the voice from the Cape intoned, “twelve, eleven, ten, eight, whoops, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.” The Thor-Able rocket lifted off, car­rying Transit 1A aloft. They knew that Air Force radars were tracking its ascent; that engineers were calculating position, cross checking their slide – rule calculations and sending course corrections to the launch vehicle as needed. They heard the satellite’s transmitters and knew that everything was going well.

Then the transmitters stopped. For a while, no one knew what was happening. Then came the news that the third stage had failed. In all prob­ability, it and the satellite burned up on reentry into the atmosphere some­where over the North Atlantic, west of Ireland. Lee DuBois, one of the mechanical engineers, looked around the room. He saw the tears of disap­pointment on his colleagues’ faces.

The progress reports that APL sent to ARPA were as emotionless as those that described the shattering of their best satellite the previous month. The launch failure, it seemed, could be ascribed to the retro rock­ets on the second stage. These rockets were supposed to slow the second stage after separation of the third, so that the second stage would not inter­fere with the third as it coasted away prior to firing its own engine. When the retrorockets failed, the second stage bumped into the third stage, dis­rupting the third stage’s ignition sequence.

Transit 1A’s flight had lasted twenty-five minutes. Its electronics had survived the launch. As soon as the nose fairing that protected the satellite on liftoff had peeled away, all four frequencies were transmitted. The lab
immediately started an analysis of the telemetry, which comprised mea­surements of variables such as the satellite’s temperatures and solar cell voltages.

APL also had some Doppler data from the short period before the signal was lost. They were incomplete; Henry Elliott’s record shows that one signal was lost intermittently. For a while, an operator had locked unwittingly onto some other unknown signal. Signals from a TV station in Baltimore interfered with reception a few minutes later, and halfway through the pass, one of the tracking filters lost its lock. Nevertheless, APL learned enough to confirm “at least partially” that the ground stations’ design and operation worked, according to the progress report.

With the data received the computing team also made a rough cor­rection for ionospheric refraction. Then they set themselves a theoretical problem, imagining that the Doppler data from Transit’s brief sojourn in space had, in fact, come from a satellite in orbit. They attempted their least squares fit. Though they clearly could not check the accuracy of their “orbital determination” against prediction of the satellite’s position during its next orbit, they could check their results against the Air Force’s radar data. They found the least squares fit was closer than it had been for the Sputniks and Explorer 1 and were encouraged. Thus, though the failed launch did not yield what they had hoped for and pointed to problems that needed to be addressed, the team did learn some things.

For a definitive analysis of ionospheric corrections and to begin investigating the earth’s gravitational field they needed a successful launch. The next attempt was set for April 13, 1960. By January of that year, Kershner was coordinating preparations for Transit IB’s launch and that ol Transit 2 A. Transit IB would be similar to the lost satellite, but Transit 2A, scheduled for a June launch, would test different aspects of the proposed navigation system.

Details piled on details. All over the United States, presumably in the USSR as well, teams of engineers and scientists were slowly coming to terms with the complexities of space exploration. Memos in English and Russian were written, which, if they were like Kershner’s, covered an array of newly recognized problems that now are familiar to those in the space business: nose fairing insulation, loads on structures, details about an epoxy bond, maximum satellite skin temperature at launch, radio frequency links, concerns about deflection and vibration characteristics of the launch vehi­cle’s second stage, and on and on.

Simultaneously, preparations were going forward for the satellites that would follow IB and 2 A in the Transit experimental series with the physics, the engineering, and computing all being developed in parallel— at a time when computing and space exploration were new.

At the ground stations, repeated preparations were made during the first three months of 1960 to track one of the Advanced Research Project Agency’s Discoverer satellites, which was carrying a Transit oscillator (ToD Soc Transit on Discoverer).Transit on Discoverer was part of a program to develop precision tracking for reconnaissance satellites, and the launch was postponed repeatedly. The postponements complicated preparations for IB, as did expansion of the Transit control center and its communication links to encompass the other agencies that were now interested in the project and its data, including NASA and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

During the same period, Kershner lined up the Naval Ordnance Laboratory to do magnetic measurements and experiments. The Transit team was interested in fitting its satellites with magnets to stop them from spinning (de-spin, in the industry’s jargon), control their attitude, and pro­vide stabilization.

By March, B and 2A were in the final stages of fabrication or test­ing. John Hamblen (who was Harry Zinc’s and Henry Elliott’s boss) decided that some discipline was needed. He had found out that flight hardware had been released before necessary electrical and environmental tests had been run. In a casually typed note he asked that in future those fabricating the satellite proceed to incorporate a component only if an engineer had first signed the test data sheet. Verbal assurances about a par­ticular component, he wrote, would not do. Thus, casually, at APL and doubtless in many other labs, was the need for documentation recognized, documentation that now, assert many engineers and managers, has grown out of proportion to its usefulness.

The year advanced to Wednesday, April 13, 1960. That was a long day at APL. The launch was scheduled for 7:02 A. M. Eastern Standard Time. Once again Parson’s auditorium grew crowded. Probably the room looked as it does in photographs of the launch of Transit 4B. The ashtray filled to overflowing on a table crowded with papers. Gibson, Kershner, and Newton formal in dark suits, others in shirt sleeves. Gib­son standing, pipe in hand. Kershner in headphones, or telephone to one ear, hand covering the other. Newton seated, twisted slightly to view over his shoulder the clock held at eight minutes to launch, frowning, as was Kershner.

For Transit IB, the countdown proceeded. The voice over the inter­com from the Cape would have been saying things like, programmer starts … gyros uncaged… electrical umbilical ejects… lift off (at 7:03 A. M.). But it was not yet time for the champagne. The satellite still had to reach orbit, which it did, though barely Instead of the nominal 500 nautical mile circular orbit, IB went into an orbit with a perigee of 373 nautical miles and an apogee of 748 nautical miles. Such a result was very inaccurate by today’s standards, but more precise orbits had to wait until those designing launch vehicles were able to perfect inertial guidance controls.

Transit IB’s orbit was, however, sufficient to allow APL to begin work checking whether two frequencies would be adequate to correct for ionospheric refraction or whether a greater number would significantly improve the correction. The answer was that two seemed to be sufficient, though more remained to be done before this question was finally settled.

The immediate task on the first day was to determine an orbit, then to predict its position for the next twelve hours. Until midafternoon, there were computer problems. Then at 15:30 they determined their first orbit. The curves did not fit well, but they thought that this might be because the satellite was still spinning. Spinning ceased on April 19. On April 20, they determined another orbit from observations of fifteen passes at five locations. Again there was a poor fit. They decided this time that the prob­lem was noise. Like Transit 1A, Transit IB carried four frequencies for the investigation of ionospheric effects. Now they turned their attention to the second frequency pair, and the fit was better.

With the data from the second frequency pair, they determined satel­lite position to within 150 to 200 feet from observations of a single pass over a limited region of the earth. With data for half a day from the differ­ent tracking stations they could, assuming a simplistic model for the gravi­tational field and uniform air drag, determine satellite position to within one nautical mile. The longer the arc, the poorer the accuracy appeared to be. Something seemed wrong. Over and over again they looked for errors in the data and software. They could find none. It was a troubling situa­tion.

Extrapolating from a day’s observations, they then predicted the fol­lowing day’s orbit. This was what it was all about, developing a way of pre­dicting an orbit so that its coordinates could be uploaded to the Transit satellites twice a day, enabling the submarines to fix position with respect to a satellite in a known position.

The Transit team looked for the satellite at the time and location they had predicted.

And then they knew they were in trouble.

There was a discrepancy of two to three miles between prediction and observation. While this much error had been acceptable when they were first establishing Sputnik’s orbit in the fall of 1957, it was unaccept­able as the basis for a navigation system. “The satellite,” recalls Guier,“was all over the sky.” Again, they thought that it was a problem with the pro­gramming. But it wasn’t. What they had suspected but had not fully rec­ognized, and what O’Keefe had repeatedly warned Guier and Weiffen – bach about, now came to dominate the theoretical analysis of satellite motion. Earth’s gravitational field was far more complicated than anyone then knew. O’Keefe, because he knew about the perturbations in the moon’s orbit, was expecting that satellites in near-Earth orbits would show more pronounced perturbations, but even he could not have antici­pated the huge variation and the complexity of the gravitational field that was to emerge.

For the position fixing accuracies they wanted to achieve, their knowledge of the gravitational forces perturbing near-Earth orbits needed to improve considerably.

There were precedents. Others had wrestled with apparently unruly satellites. Not least of these were the men within whose paradigms early satellite geodesists were working—-Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton. Both had struggled to understand the nature of orbits as, mystics both, they sought glimpses of fundamental truths about the universe. Kepler’s focus was on the sun’s satellite Mars; Newton’s was on the earth’s moon. In his book The Great Mathematicians, Henry Westren Turnbull writes, “The Moon, for instance, that refuses to go round the Earth in an exact ellipse, but has all sorts of fanciful little excursions of her own—the Moon was very trying to Isaac Newton.”

And very trying would be the motion of satellites in near-Earth orbits to the early satellite geodesists who, with the technology to observe satellite motion in greater detail than could Kepler or Newton, noticed a veritable plethora of fanciful excursions. The forces causing these devi­ations from elliptical motion needed to be accounted for so that their effect on satellite motion could be quantified and thus orbital prediction improved. It turned out also that because the irregularities in the gravita­tional field are due to variations in the Earth’s shape and composition, sci­entists reaped an unexpected and abundant scientific harvest from observa­tions of orbits. Satellite geodesy supplied, for example, some of the evidence for the theory of continental drift and thus for theories like plate tectonics.

APL was one of the early groups observing satellite motion. They were impelled by the unlikelihood that other geodesy programs would meet Transit’s needs by the time the system was scheduled to be opera­tional, at the end of 1962.

Like other satellite geodesists around the world, the Transit team wanted to determine the “figure” of the Earth. The Earth’s figure is not the topography that we see; rather it is a surface of equal gravitational potential (a geoid) that coincides with mean sea level as it would be if the sea could stretch under the continents. This geoid looks like a contour map. It has highs and lows that represent how the gravitation potential differs at a particular geographical location from what the potential would be at that point if the earth were a water-covered, radially symmetrical rotating spheroid (an ellipsoid of revolution), not subject to the gravita­tional pulls that cause tides. This hypothetical surface is known as the ref­erence ellipsoid.

It is the differences in gravitational potential between the figure of the Earth and the reference ellipsoid that geodesists study as they seek clues to the earth’s shape and structure. At first, only the deviations in motion caused by large irregularities, such as the pear-shaped Earth, were included in geoid models. Today’s models include the gravitational conse­quences of localized irregularities in shape or density. In the mid 1990s, the most accurate geoid maps available to civilians were of what is termed “degree and order 70.” Generally speaking, the higher a model is in degree and order, the more detailed is its description of gravitational potentials, in much the same way as a finer scaled topographical map gives greater detail about a piece of terrain. A geoid map, however, cannot be understood by analogy to an ordinary map. The gravitational potential at a given location is attributable not only to the local features, but also to the varying lengths of gravitational pull exerted by everything else. And the higher the degree and order of a geoid map, the more geologists can infer about the Earth’s structure. Geodesists aspire in the next century to satellite-based models that will be accurate to degree and order greater than 300, the goal being

to provide data that will help geophysicists to understand the earth’s geo­logical origins and history

The road to such comprehensive understanding of our Earth opened with the launch of Sputnik 1. Prior to the advent of satellites, geoid maps showed modest highs and lows that were a result of local measurements of gravity. The force of gravity exerted on a satellite’s motion, though, includes the sum of all the gravitational anomalies resulting from every irregularity of shape and density in the Earth. Disentangling these effects and relating them back to a specific aspect of the earth’s physical nature is a little like unscrambling an egg. Nevertheless, with extensive computer modeling the job can be done.

APL produced the first American satellite geodesy map in 1960, a crude affair by comparison with those of today. Guier and Newton led this effort and found that as with orbital determination and satellite navigation, they had again provoked hostility. Their early geoid maps showed far greater highs and low than appeared in maps from presatellite days, and traditional geodesists dismissed them as amateurs.

APL continued to produce geoid maps of increasing sophistication, but much of this work was classified. Civilian scientists at places like the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Goddard Space Flight Center soon came to dominate the field, though APL’s work filtered dis­creetly and obliquely along some grapevines.

The lab’s first gravitational model contained a value for the Earth’s oblateness that was more accurate than that existing pre satellites as well as a term describing the pear-shaped Earth. Shortly afterwards Robert New­ton at APL and independently the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory made the next big discovery, which was that the Earth is not rotationally symmetric about its axis. Just as the northern and southern hemispheres are asymmetrical, so too were the eastern and western hemispheres. A number of scientists, most particularly the Soviets, had suspected that this might be true. Later on, APL optimized their geoid maps for Transit’s orbit; that is, they only unscrambled those aspects of the egg that affected polar orbits at Transit’s altitude.

The principle involved in extracting information about the Earth from satellite data is simple to explain in general terms, but very difficult to apply in practice: observe the satellite, note its departure from elliptical motion—its “fanciful excursions”—and try to find (in the computer model) what aspect of the Earth’s shape and structure, for example a par­

ticular dense structure or a liquid area, would give rise to the gravitational anomalies that would cause the satellite’s observed departure from an ellipse.

More detailed gravitational models and ionospheric corrections enabled the orbital determination group to improve their knowledge of satellite position from between two and three kilometers in 1959 to a little under one hundred meters by the end of 1964. With problems like iono­spheric refraction corrected for, other problems emerged. Would it be nec­essary, they wondered, to correct for refraction in the lower atmosphere? Such refraction was a source of bias in their data that could make the satel­lite appear to be about half a nautical mile away from its actual position. Helen Hopfield, whose dignified presence could reduce unruly Transit meetings to silence, tackled this problem, and APL made corrections for tropospheric refraction.

When the Transit group compensated for motion of the geographic poles from their mean position in the early 1970s, the satellite’s position was known to within twenty-seven feet. Polar motion, caused by preces­sion of the earth’s spin axis due to the earth’s nonuniform shape and struc­ture, changes the position of a ground station by about a hundred feet per year, thus introducing a small error into the orbital determination and prediction. The error was negligible for navigators but important to sur­veyors.

By the time of the first launch, APL had stopped characterizing orbits solely in terms of Kepler’s elements (as had other groups). First, because motion within a single orbit does not exactly obey Kepler’s sec­ond law—there are small deviations, and the elements are actually average values. Second, even these average values change gradually as the orbit shifts in inertial space because of the gravitational consequences of physical irregularities in the Earth. For navigation and geodesy, averages were not good enough. It was necessary to know as exact a position as possible at given times in the orbit.

So satellite position was expressed in terms of Cartesian coordinates centered on the earth’s center of mass, with one axis aligned with the earth’s spin axis and the other two lying in the Earth’s equatorial plane. The orbital prediction was made by finding the acceleration from New­ton’s second law of motion—the famous F = та that is so crucial to sci­ence and engineering, where F is force, m is mass, and a is acceleration. The value of the force acting at different parts of the orbit comes from the model of gravitation; then numerical integration of the components of acceleration, a = F/m, yields position and velocity at any desired instant of time.

If it had not been for the new generation of computers, typified by the IBM 7090, this work would not have been possible. The 7090 was one of the newest and best when it was installed in August 1960. It could per­form 42,000 additions and subtractions per second and 5000 multiplica­tions and divisions per second, and it could store 32,768 words (approxi­mately 0.03 megabytes). The 7090 was almost fully transistorized, unlike the vacuum-tube Univac.

The Univac had been badly stressed by the orbital determination program, taking eight hours for eight hours worth of prediction. The IBM 7090 could do the same job in an hour. To run the early gravitation mod­els on the Univac, which embodied only a few of the terms representing the earth’s gravitational field, Guier would set aside three or four week­ends. Had the Univac, which contained vacuum tubes with a mean time to failure of between 15 and 20 hours, been called upon to run the gravita­tional models that were to appear in the coming few years, it would undoubtedly have broken down. Even the 7090 would soon have to be updated as the gravitational model grew more intricate. Today Cray super­computers run some of the largest models; desktop machines with Pen­tium or 486 chips can run models of degree and order 50.

During 1960, Newton, Guier, Black, Hook, and others prepared for the transition to the 7090. The programs had to be rewritten in an assem­bly language compatible with the 7090’s architecture. The orbital determi­nation program occupied four or five trays of punch cards. Woe betide the person who dropped one. And drop them they did, recalls Black, with a laugh that has an edge even after thirty years.

Black and his colleagues were also learning—painfully—about soft­ware engineering, a nascent, scarcely recognized field. Black’s job was to get the orbital determination program running. He was starting with the physics developed by scientists like Newton and Guier. They generated the equations representing the physical realities, and as they understood more about what was going on they generated more equations. Black learned early to freeze the program design and fold new equations repre­senting the physicists’ deepening understanding of the situation into the orbital determination program in an orderly fashion rather than piece­meal. That, at least, was his aim; but Black’s position between the scientists

and the programmers who wrote and tested the code was at times unenvi­able. He had to force agreement out of the scientists, and he fought Guier (his immediate boss), Newton, and Kershner, telling them, “You ain’t gonna change this damn thing.”

In 1962, Lee Pryor, who retired in 1995 as the last project manager of Transit, arrived at the lab. Pryor had specialized in computing while tak­ing his degree in mathematics at Pennsylvania State University. His first three months at college were spent writing programs in anticipation of the arrival of Penn State’s first computer. Black says that Pryor was a godsend. When he arrived at APL, the lab was putting the finishing touches to the first “operational candidate” of the orbital determination program. “We just needed to get it out the door,” recalls Pryor.

In 1962, much physics and mathematics remained to occupy the Transit scientists, but the computing was moving from their purview to that of the professional programmers like Pryor who were writing code for an operational situation rather than for research. The move was neces­sary because, while the scientists could write programs for their own research needs, their programs, it seems, could be cumbersome and prone to breakdown in operation.

Once work on the gravitational model was well in hand, it became apparent that the effects of air drag and the pressure of radiation from the sun would have to be considered. These were dealt with in the 1970s pri­marily by an elegant piece of engineering invented by Daniel De Bra from Stanford University. The navigation satellites were placed inside a second satellite. The separation between their faces was tiny. Sensors on the Tran­sit satellite detected when the inner satellite moved toward the outer sur­face, and tiny rockets moved the inner satellite to compensate for these forces, before they could offset the Doppler shift. An engineering solution was necessary because the time, size, and place of the forces could not be predicted.

In the mid 1960s, the failure of solar cells threatened the reliability of the operational Transit satellites. Until this problem was solved with input from Robert Fischell, the Transit satellites tended to fail within a year of launch. Once solved, some veteran satellites exceeded twenty years in operation. The Transit team also launched the first satellite with gravity – gradient stabilization, in which an extended boom encourages the satellite to align itself with the earth’s gravitational field. APL’s first—unsuccess­ful—attempt with this technology was on a satellite known as TRAAC,

The Realities of Space Exploration

Doppler shift due to satellite pass.

which also carried instruments to explore and characterize the Van Allen radiation belts. Ironically, the satellite failed because of ionized particles created artificially by a high-altitude nuclear explosion—as did many other satellites.

TRAAC carried a poem engraved on one of the satellite’s instru­ments. It was written by Thomas Bergen, of Yale University and is reprinted at the end of this chapter. Its mixture of hubris and wistfulness captures something of the atmosphere that surrounded the early work on satellites.

In the case of APL, that work led, of course, to the Navy’s Transit Navigation Satellite System. The lab built the experimental series, the pro­totypes, and many of the early operational satellites. For a time, Navy Avionics built some operational satellites, but the job reverted to APL when these proved unreliable. Eventually, RCA won the commercial con­tract for construction. More satellites were ordered than were needed,

because a problem with the solar cells that was reducing their operational life was solved after the contract was placed.

During the 1980s, under Bob Danchik’s tenure as project manager, when GPS was nipping at Transit’s heels, these satellites were finally launched. The last Transit satellite went into orbit in 1988.

Although there was always at least one operational Transit aloft and available for the submarines from 1964 onwards, the system was not declared fully operational until 1968. At that time four satellites provided global coverage. Not the instantaneous, precise three-dimensional position fix offered by the twenty-four-satellite constellation of GPS, but still, for the first time, an all-weather, global navigation system, a system developed initially for the military, but which evolved until ninety percent of its users were civilian.

In ten years, a newly perceived consequence of the Doppler effect in the three-dimensional world grew through all the stages necessary to design and engineer a space-based navigation system. The program began at a time when vacuum technology was giving way to transistors, when programs were written laboriously in assembly language, and when no one knew how to develop large software applications. The conditions in space were unknown. The physics of the newly entered environment had to be analyzed theoretically and understood experimentally. The complex nature of the earth’s gravitational field had to be researched and a provoca­tive new understanding of the geoid developed. Launch vehicles were imprecise in their placement of satellites, if the satellites reached orbit at all. Satellite design was a new field, with stabilization, attitude control, and communication between space and Earth all unknowns.

During the early development of Transit, the launch vehicle changed, the computers changed, and programs had to be rewritten. Ground stations and satellite test facilities were built. Programs and equip­ment had to be developed for the submarines. It is hardly surprising that one or two people say that they ended up in the hospital, nor that the effort is remembered vividly and affectionately. But as Pryor noted shortly before he retired in 1995, it was time for the Transit program to end.

When the Navy switched off the last Transit satellite in early 1997, it ended the longest-running singly-focused space program to date. It sev­ered the last direct link with the opening of the space age, closing the doors on that shed on the plains of Kazakhstan and on the cold morning when Sergei Korolev thanked his exhausted and elated engineers who had launched Sputnik I, which Guier and Weiffenbach would track, providing the basis for Transit, which helped Polaris, America’s riposte against the Soviet threat of nuclear attack, firing the rockets with whose develop­ment Korolev had been so involved, because he believed that rockets were defense and science, which they became, for both sides, as did Tran­sit, which also became important to civilians. Here is one thread in the Cold War.

And one wonders.

What would have happened if McClure, say, or Pickering, Milton Rosen, or von Braun had met Sergei Korolev? If they had been in a room with chalk, blackboard, and a problem? Faintly, one hears the voices, dis­cerns in imagination the energy and the imminent verbal explosions as Korolev’s little finger lifts toward his eyebrow….

For a Space Prober

by Thomas G. Bergen

From time’s obscure beginning, the Olympians Have, moved by pity; anger; sometimes mirth, Poured an abundant store of missiles down On the resigned defenseless sons of Earth.

Hailstones and chiding thunderclaps of Jove, Remote directives from the constellations:

Aye, the celestials have swooped down themselves, Grim bent on miracles or incarnations.

Earth and her offspring patiently endured, (Having no choice) and as the years rolled by In trial and toil prepared their counterstroke— And now tis man who dares assault the sky.

Fear not immortals, we forgive your faults,

And as we come to claim our promised place Aim only to repay the good you gave And warm with human love the chill of space.


Chapter eighteen: Telstar

Documents drawn on for the launch of Telstar:

Satellite ground tracking station, Andover, Maine, Engineering notes: Tel­star July 9, 10, and 11, 1962. The document gives details of the count­down (page 188), for example, loss of calibration by the ground tracker at 1220 UT, power supply trouble at 2317 in the upper room of the com­munication antenna, etc. … (box 85080302 – AT&T archives).

Memorandum for the Record from John Pierce, Rudy Kompfner, and Chaplin Cutler on Research Toward Satellite Communication, and Research toward Satellite Communication (page 189). Both are dated Jan­uary 6, 1959, and deal with a research program directed in general at acquiring the basic knowledge for satellite communication by any means and specifically at aspects of passive Echo-type satellites. A fuller version of the research memo was written on January 9, 1959 (AT&T archives).

In this chapter references to what NASA officials said or did (pages 191 to 198) comes from documents in the NASA History Office or George Washington University. These were shared with me by David Whalen.

They include:

Memorandum for the Record, October 31, 1960, by Robert G. Nunn, special assistant to the administrator. This summarizes a meeting between NASA officials and James Fisk, president of Bell Telephone laboratories, and George Best, vice president of AT&T The purpose was to discuss Bell’s plans for “Transoceanic Communication via satellite.” It opened with T. Keith Glennan, NASA’s administrator, saying that Bell had not considered the “facts of life” with respect to vehicle availability. The meeting discussed policy issues in some depth, including finance and whether or why public money should be spent on communication satellites.

Memorandum for program directors, February 24, 1961. Subject: Guide­lines for preparation of preliminary Fiscal Year 1963 budget. On the sub­ject of communication satellites, it said to assume no funding of opera­tional systems; adequate provision should be made for back-up vehicles; and no development of passive communication systems.

Minutes of the administrator’s staff meeting: November 30, 1960; Decem­ber 1, 1960; December 8, 1960; January 18, 1961; January 26, 1961; Feb­ruary 2, 1961; March 2, 1961; May 25, 1961; June 1, 1961; June 12, 1961; June 15, 1961;June 22, 1961;June 29, 1961.

Technical details about Telstar and the attitudes and opinions of the Bell engineers were gleaned from the following:

“Project Telstar, Preliminary report Telstar 1 July—September 1962.” (AT&T archives).

Telstar—The Management Story, by A. C. Dickieson (unpublished manu­script, July 1970). Dickieson was the project manager for Telstar (AT&T archives).

Extracts from a manuscript by D. F. Floth. Chapter on Telstar Planning: January-May 1960 (AT&T Archives 84-0902).

Each quotes extensively from memos that the writers had access to.

The discussions of technology in the chapter come from a mixture of sources, including documents in the Hughes Aircraft Company’s archives.

Helpful textbooks include:

Satellite Communication Systems Engineering, by Wilbur L. Pritchard, Henri G. Suyerhoud, and Robert A. Nelson (Prentice Hall, 1993).

The Communication Satellite, by Mark Williamson (Adam Hilger, 1990).


We are riding through the outskirts of a jungle in French Guiana. At the front of the bus a woman is instructing us in the use of a gas mask. The mask looks remarkably like a leftover from the First World War, and it seems to me unlikely that any of us will succeed in donning the apparatus should the rocket we are to watch spew noxious fumes in our direction. We are, after all, journalists and will have imbibed several glasses of something interesting by then.

The launch is to be at night, and we are to watch from Le Toucan, an open-air bar in the jungle some miles from the rocket. It promises to be spectacular—a very pleasant junket.

At this time I have never heard of Sergei Korolev, survivor of Kolyma and chief designer of cosmic rocket systems. I do not know of his triumphs and despair nor of his struggle to launch Sputnik. I have never heard of the team of engineers who stood with tears in their eyes in a smoke-filled room in Maryland while a satellite transmission faded. I know nothing of Verner Suomi and Robert Parent trapped in a bunker at Cape Canaveral while a rocket smoldered outside. The names John Pierce and Harold Rosen mean nothing to me.

These men and the things they did belong to a time nearly forty years before the launch I am waiting to watch, long before this launch site even existed. It was a time in rocketry when failure was more common than success. Vaguely we journalists know that space is still risky, but we expect in a few hours time to drink a toast to a successful launch. When we do, it will be because of those men and hundreds of others.

The satellite in the nose cone might be American, or perhaps French; maybe it’s Saudi Arabian or Indian. It might be a weather satellite or a science satellite or a communications satellite—one of the Hughes Aircraft Company’s Galaxy class, which barely clears the doors of a jumbo jet when it is loaded for its flight to South America.

Inside the Jupiter control room, there will be the usual concentrated prelaunch tension. But there will be no slide rules and no teletype machines.

After this launch, no one will inform the Kremlin. No one will call an American president.

The countdown proceeds.

With an inner frisson belying our outward nonchalance, we journal­ists hear a voice: “dix, neuf…”

No lone bugler has heralded this voice, which does not falter as did the voice during the launch of the first Transit. Goldstone is not waiting. William Pickering does not have a line open to the Cape. No car waits to whisk anyone through rain-soaked midnight streets to a room packed with the world’s press.

But there is silence. And our eyes are fixed on the rocket. We hold our breath. We dare not blink. And then, it happens. Incandescent flames billow around the distant rocket. Impossibly, it struggles upwards, gathers speed, and, as a thunderous roar washes past our ears, the rocket passes to become a distant moon.




he scientific mind is a curious thing. It probes what others take for granted, including, on one night in 1950, a multilayered chocolate cake. Some of America’s brightest scientific minds were focused on that cake at the home of James Van Allen, who was to become famous as the discoverer of the earth’s radiation belts and who was hosting a dinner for the eminent British geophysicist Sydney Chapman. With admirable atten­tion to detail, the collective scientific intellect verified that the cake had twenty-one layers. That cake did much to put the scientists in the kind of mood from which expansive conversation flows and big ideas are born.

Led by Lloyd Berkner, the talk turned to science. Berkner was a charismatic individual, head of the Brookhaven National Laboratory and a veteran of one of Admiral Byrd’s Antarctic expeditions. Like his fellow diners, Berkner was fascinated by the new insights into the earth’s environ­ment that instruments aboard V2 rockets captured from Germany had been providing since 1946. These high-altitude sounding rockets were invigorating the earth sciences. Was the time right, asked Berkner, to pro­mote an international effort in geophysics, one that would exploit new and established technologies in a world-wide scientific exploration to illu­minate global physical phenomena?

This conversation was to lead to the establishment of the Interna­tional Geophysical Year of 1957/58. The IGY was the enterprise that by inadvertently dovetailing with a key element of President Eisenhower’s national security policy—establishing the freedom of space for reconnais­sance satellites—was to become the cradle of the space age.[1]

At Van Allen’s dinner party in 1950, Berkner and his fellow diners were not considering spacecraft, though they all knew of the imminent technical feasibility of launching satellites and were to play important roles in the opening years of the space age.

Berkner’s suggestion for a geophysical year captured Chapman’s attention. These two agreed to “talk the idea up” among their many con­tacts in the international scientific community. Chapman sent an account of the dinner party to the journal Nature. Within a few years, Berkner and Chapman had secured enough interest to win the backing of the Interna­tional Council of Scientific Unions for the IGY. Chapman became presi­dent of the IGY and Berkner the vice president.

Scientists had already established the idea of international collabora­tion in 1882 and 1932 when they had undertaken to study geophysics from the earth’s poles. Expanding the concept of the International Polar Years to encompass the whole earth was, agreed the diners, a good idea, and the best time for such an effort would be between July 1, 1957, and the end of 1958. They chose the dates to coincide with a period of maxi­mum solar activity, when there would be much to study.

During solar maxima, which occur once every eleven years, the sun throws out huge flares of matter and energy more frequently than at other times, adding peaks of intensity to the solar wind that is always racing through the solar system. Numerous terrestrial effects result. The northern lights, for example, move to lower latitudes than usual as more charged particles precipitate along magnetic field lines into the ionosphere, an area of charged particles at altitudes of between 60 and 1000 kilometers above the earth’s surface. Studying the ionosphere was to account for a significant portion of the IGY, including science that was important for long-range communication, missile development, and, as it turned out, the space age.

Others in 1950 wanted to set up observation posts in places where meteorological data were sparse. Some wanted to organize expeditions to places where they could observe total eclipses. And some, like Lloyd

available to McDougall, that the Eisenhower administration wished to finesse a satellite into orbit in order to establish the freedom of space. See also The Eisenhower Administration and the Cold War; Framing American Astronautics to Serve National Security; by R. Cargill Hall (in Prologue, Quarterly of the National Archives, spring 1996). Cargill Hall’s article, which is based on additional, recently declassified documents, makes the argument more explicitly that the IGY and national security policy were linked.

Berkner, were intrigued by the physics and chemistry of the upper atmo­sphere.

So, with endorsements from the international scientific community, the participating countries got down to business. Each needed a detailed research plan. And they needed money.

In the U. S., scientists turned for leadership to Joseph Kaplan, a pro­fessor of physics at the University of California, Los Angeles. He had proven his organizational abilities by cofounding the university’s Institute of Geophysics in 1944 and by campaigning successfully for degree pro­grams in sports. As chair of the U. S. National Committee for the IGY, he concealed the habitual tension that turned him into a five-cigar man dur­ing sporting events.

The first meeting of the U. S. National Committee for the IGY took place at the National Academy of Sciences on the afternoon of March 26, 1953. For a day and a half, the group struggled to define a program and budget. Frustration mounted. One scientist suggested that they should for­get the whole thing. Berkner, a consummate committee man, smoothed over such moments, and by the end of the twenty-seventh they had out­lined their aims. In the meantime, they had solicited thoughts from their colleagues around the country.

Ideas poured into the academy during April. Many of them would sound familiar today. Issues were raised that today’s scientists continue to address. Paul Siple wrote, “There is evidence that the earth is undergoing a significant climate change, advancing from cooler to warmer conditions… our knowledge is still imperfect as to the exact cause of climate changes.”

By May the list of subjects to be studied included geomagnetism, solid-earth investigations, atmospheric electricity, climatic change, geodet- ics, cosmic rays, ionospheric physics, high-altitude physics, and auroral physics.

It is hard to imagine any study of these subjects today that would not rely partially or wholly on satellite observations. Then satellites did not exist, and the National Committee of the IGY did not initially consider that satellites should be developed. It was, however, clear to them that they needed a strong program of sounding rockets to probe the upper atmo­sphere. Some scientists were concerned that the rockets would cost too much, and perhaps price dissuaded them from adding satellites to their agenda.

The estimated price tag for this unprecedented research proposal, between 1954 and its closure at the end of 1958, was $13 million—$2.5 million more than the National Science Foundation (NSF) was requesting as its total budget for fiscal year 1954. The NSF and the academy under­took the task of requesting the money from Congress.

Behind the scenes, Kaplan lobbied hard. There were times when the project seemed doomed. A scientist in the administration told him, “Joe, go home. Such a beautiful program does not stand a snowball’s chance in hell of getting support.” Yet, it did.

Through the end of 1953 and 1954, planning for the IGY went ahead in the U. S. Concurrently, support for launching a satellite, despite deep skepticism from many, was gaining momentum among a vocal and persuasive minority in the military, industry, and academia. Some saw the IGY as the natural home for a satellite program, and they set in motion events that led to the General Assembly of the IGY endorsing the inclu­sion of satellites in its program.

This was in Rome in the fall of 1954. The night before, Berkner and others who were to become leading space scientists had debated until the early hours whether their enthusiasm was getting ahead of their ability, and whether they should seek the approval of their international colleagues. Slowly the enthusiasts converted the cautious. As they argued and won their case the next day, the Soviets simply observed—in silence. It was October 4, three years to the day before the launch of Sputnik I.

The International Geophysical Year was now close to its decisive encounter with the Eisenhower administration’s national security policy. While Berkner and his colleagues prepared for the Rome meeting, a top – level scientific panel, authorized by President Eisenhower in July 1954, was in the process of assessing the technological options available to prevent a surprise attack on the U. S., particularly by the Soviet Myacheslav-4 inter­continental BISON bombers. This panel, headed by James Killian, a confi­dant of President Eisenhower and the president of the Massachusetts Insti­tute of Technology, separated its task into three areas: continental defense, striking power, and intelligence capabilities.

Their final report contained a recommendation that the administra­tion fund development of a scientific Earth satellite to establish the free­dom of space in international law and the right of overflight.

The report was finally completed in February 1955, and later that month, Donald Quarles, the assistant secretary of defense for research and development, discreetly asked some members of the U. S. National Com­mittee for the IGY to formally request a scientific satellite.[2]

In response to the Rome resolution, the national committee had already asked a rocketry panel, which met for the first time on January 22, 1955, to “ … study and report on the technical feasibility of the construc­tion of an extended rocket, from here on called the long-playing rocket, to be launched in connection with scientific activities during the Interna­tional Geophysical Year.” “Long-playing rocket” was a euphemism for satellite launcher, and the new panel was told that its discussions should remain private.

By early March the panel had concluded that a satellite launch was feasible within the time frame of the IGY, but that guidance would be dif­ficult. On March 9, the executive committee of the U. S. national commit­tee debated whether to accept the panels findings. After some heated discussion, the report was accepted and the national committee requested that a satellite program be included in the IGY.

Quarles took the request to the National Security Council, which accepted the IGY’s satellite project on May 26, 1955. The next day, Eisenhower, too, endorsed the project. On July 29, President Eisenhower told the world that the U. S. would launch a satellite as part of the IGY. Thanks to Eisenhowers national security aims, the scientists who had campaigned for science satellites had what they wanted. Many of them, of course, did not know of the underlying agenda that had furthered their aims.

Within days of Eisenhowers announcement, the Soviet Union, by then a participant in the IGY, talked openly about its satellite plans at a meeting of the International Astronautical Federation in Copenhagen.

Leonid Sedov, an academician and chair of the impressively named Commission for the Coordination of Interplanetary Flight, made the announcement. He dropped into one of the sessions and, through his interpreter, called a press conference at the Soviet embassy During the conference, Sedov said that the Soviet Union planned to launch a satellite in about eighteen months, six months earlier than the earliest American estimate. The plans he outlined were for a much larger satellite than those the U. S. was planning. For those whose job it was to analyze Soviet inten­tions, here was public confirmation of the heavy-lift launch capabilities that the Soviets aspired to and a clear announcement that missiles capable of intercontinental distances were in the offing.

Sedov’s prediction of the Soviet launch date was wrong by ten months. But the Soviets did launch first, and their satellite was bigger than anything American scientists really believed in their hearts that the Soviets were capable of.

Chapter ten: The Realities of Space Exploration

The account of the launch of Transit 1A is pieced together from com­ments from different team members. Lee DuBois, for example, remem­bered the tears in his eyes when the satellite failed (page 105).

Details of the twenty-five-minute flight and the results gleaned come from the records that Henry Elliott had kept and from reports in APL’s archives (page 106).

Numerous memos and reports in the APL archives testify to Kershner’s industry in preparing for Transit IB and Transit 2A (pages 106 and 107).

John Hamblen’s undated, typed note requesting the team members to document component testing (page 107) is among the papers in the APL archives.

My description of how the launch might have been is pieced together from people’s memories and photographs of later launches found at APL.

A progress report details what happened scientifically following the suc­cessful launch of Transit IB (page 108- 109). Bill Guier explained what the report meant and supplemented it with his own memories.

A textbook consulted on the geoid (page 110) is Theory of the Earth, by Don L. Anderson (Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1989).

Information about how APL’s understanding of the geoid developed comes from papers and from interviews with Bill Guier and Harold Black (page 112).

Dave Smith, director of the division of terrestrial physics at the Goddard Space Flight Center gave me some very basic understanding of satellite geodesy.

Information about developing subsequent orbital determination programs and about the computers comes from reports in APL’s archives and from interviews with Harold Black and Lee Pryor (pages 113 and 114).

Information about the problems with the solar cells (page 114) came from Bob Danchik.

Move Over, Sputnik

It was pretty tense because we knew that everybody was watching us, not only this country, but really the whole world, because here the Russians were making a big propaganda hit of how they were launching satellites and we were dropping rock­ets in a ball of fire on our launching pad. We did launch success­fully, at the end of January. That was a very interesting period to live through.

—William Pickering from a transcript of an oral history in the archives of

the California Institute ofTechnology.


n the late 1950s, there was no meeting of minds across the ideological divide.

“The country that gets a manned satellite into space first will be the undisputed master of the entire world. At the present time there is no defense against such a weapon. A satellite in a two-hour pole-to-pole orbit will pass over every part of the world every 24 hours [actually every 12 hours], and the launching of a guided missile against our cities would be a simple matter. Who is to control outer space? Russia? Or the United States?”

So wrote the editor of the Phoenix Republic sometime between Presi­dent Eisenhower’s announcement that the United States would launch satellites and Sputnik Vs arrival in orbit. Though more alarmist than many, the editor expressed a not uncommon fear.

Probably that fear was fueled by extracts from Soviet publications that appeared in the American press, such as the following from Soviet Fleet, a naval paper.

“American imperialists and their henchmen dream of using the pos­sibility of creating an artificial satellite… to set up outer world bases from which it would be possible to deliver attacks against countries of the democratic camp, and to hit the selected objectives.”

Amidst such rhetoric as well as the more measured and weighty crit­icisms of the New York Times, Sputnik II was launched on November 3, 1957. It was the second of three blows that year to America’s perception of its technological supremacy. The third, a month after the second Soviet satellite, would be self-inflicted. Sputnik II prompted yet more questions in

Congress, more headlines, more soul-searching editorials. Congressional critics urged Eisenhower to appoint a missile czar and pour money into education. On the Monday after the launch, Senator Lyndon Johnson spent the day closeted at the Pentagon. On Thursday, Eisenhower went on national television, attempting to reassure Americans that the country was secure. He emphasized the strategic importance of the Air Force, telling his audience that the United States Air Force was as effective as missiles.[8]

But the event that presaged America’s entry to the space age came on Friday, November 8, when Neil McElroy, the secretary of defense, directed the Army to prepare for a satellite launch as part of the Interna­tional Geophysical Year. The Vanguard team, however, was to get the first shot.

That shot took place on December 6. The countdown went smoothly; the launch was a disaster, one that was felt all the more keenly because, unlike the Soviet launches, it took place in full view of the world. Before the entire world, the rocket lifted about two feet off the ground and then burst into flames fourteen stories high. The explosion threw the third stage and satellite clear. The satellite landed on the beach. Its bent antenna beeped to a stunned audience.

J. Paul Walsh, the deputy director for the Vanguard project, had relayed the news over the telephone to listeners at the Naval Research Laboratory. His account was succinct: “Zero, fire, first ignition—explo­sion.”

The moment the news reached New York, there was a dash to unload Martin stock and that of other aerospace companies (though Lock­heed gained). At 11:50, the governors of the stock exchange suspended trading. The next day’s headlines in London included the ignominious words Flopnik and Kaputnik. Humor bolstered America, and people ordered Sputnik cocktails: one part vodka, two parts sour grapes.

There were to be worse failures. Astronauts and cosmonauts would die. In such a complex, unknown, and risky undertaking such disaster was (and is) inevitable. But this one had to hurt. The space community gritted its teeth and prepared for another launch. On January 27, 1958, Vanguard came within fourteen seconds of launch. The attempt was aborted. There was a problem with the second stage. Now, though, America had only four days to wait.

Immediately after McElroy’s direction of November 8, General Medaris, who headed the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) in Huntsville, Alabama, had called Pickering, Homer Joe Stewart, and others to a meeting with himself and von Braun. The question was how to carve up the work to achieve a launch sometime toward the end of January, 1958.

Medaris assigned responsibility for the first stage of the launch vehi­cle to von Braun. This was the Redstone rocket, a redesigned and more powerful version of the V2. JPL was given responsibility for the satellite, the tracking stations, and the three upper stages, which would be solid – propellant rockets that the lab had developed. The entire launch vehicle was called Jupiter C.

JPL already had the tracking stations and the rockets because of its ongoing work with the Army exploring designs that would allow a missile to reenter the atmosphere without burning up. But they needed a satellite.

Pickering turned to Van Allen. They had previously talked infor­mally about whether Van Allen’s payload could be modified for an Army launch. Independently, Van Allen had talked in 1956 with staff at ABMA about an alternative, should Vanguard not be ready in time for the I GY. Van Allen would have known that delay was a possibility because Van­guard’s technical director, Milton Rosen, had briefed the IGY’s satellite panel about the technical difficulties with the rocket.

Therefore, once McElroy gave the army the go-ahead, Pickering sought permission from the IGY and Van Allen to prepare Van Allen’s payload for an Army launch. The IGY was the easy part. It was more diffi­cult to reach Van Allen, who was on a research vessel in the Antarctic. There Van Allen wrote in his notebook that Sputnik was a “brilliant achievement.’’ His reaction (and Guier’s) was in contrast to Rear Admiral Rawson Bennett’s comment to NBC that Sputnik I was “a hunk of iron that anyone could launch.”

On the deck of his cold, distant ship, Van Allen felt out of touch with the review of the U. S. program that was taking place. He was concerned that his group might miss a launch opportunity.

Van Allen was particularly worried when JPL acquired responsibility for the satellites (which became known as Explorer), fearing that the lab, which he perceived as very aggressive, would try to take over his experi­ment. His consolation was the confidence he had in Bill Pickering.

Pickering, in fact, went to considerable trouble to contact Van Allen, first with messages via the Navy. When that didn’t work, Pickering recalls that someone suggested Western Union. That succeeded. Van Allen cabled his agreement that his payload should be modified for an Army launch. His assistant, George Ludwig, picked up the bits and pieces around the lab­oratory and, in Pickering’s words, hightailed it out to Pasadena and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The launch was scheduled for the end of January. This time, there was no formal prior announcement, though there were plenty of leaks. Journalists were on the alert. Shortly before the launch, Pickering’s staff were telling callers that Pickering was in New York. A wire reporter, keen to be sure that Pickering was where he was said to be and not in Washing­ton D. C. or at Cape Canaveral, turned up at Pickering’s New York hotel. “Just checking,” the reporter told him.

Days later, Pickering was in Washington—at the Pentagon with von Braun, Van Allen, senior Army personnel, and the secretary of the Army. They were waiting for the launch attempt of what would become 1958 alpha /, better known today as Explorer I. High winds had delayed the shot for twenty-four-hours. But on the evening of January 31, it seemed likely that it would go ahead.

Periodically someone would call the Cape to see how the count­down was faring. At T minus 45 minutes, launch controllers halted the countdown because engineers thought there was a fuel leak. After eigh­teen minutes, they decided there had been a spill during fueling and wiped up the mess. The countdown resumed. The servicing structure rolled back, and its lights went out. Now a search light picked out the silver-gray missile as a Klaxon sounded in warning.

At 10:48, Jupiter C lifted off. When the Redstone finished its burn, von Braun said to Pickering, “Well, now it’s your bird.” The bird had apparently been injected safely into orbit. But to be sure, they had to wait. Not before the tracking station in California picked up the satellite’s signal would they be confident that the spacecraft was orbiting. The only other people on the planet who could really know what that wait was like were in Kazakhstan.

Frank Goddard, at the Goddard Space Flight Center, was waiting to hear from California. Pickering kept a phone line open to him. They had predicted when they should hear the satellite. They waited as the minutes ticked past the time when they should have heard its signal. Pickering felt the glares on his back. Eight minutes after their predicted time, California confirmed that the satellite was in orbit, and the satellite completed its first orbit in the early hours of February 1.

Now von Braun, Van Allen, and Pickering were whisked through the rainy streets of Washington to a press conference at the National Academy of Sciences. They walked into a barrage of lights and microphones. “We didn’t know what we were getting into,” Pickering later recalled. “The place was jammed to the rafters. It was very exciting.”

The news was relayed to President Eisenhower in Augusta, Georgia, where he was enjoying a golfing vacation. He said, “How wonderful.”

Within minutes of the news reaching Huntsville, thousands of people took to the streets, honking car horns and carrying placards that read, “Move over Sputnik, our missiles never miss.”

America had entered the space age.

Before Sputnik I, the United States had planned that its first attempt to launch a full-scale satellite would be in the spring of 1958 and that four test vehicles carrying grapefruit-sized test satellites would be launched in the autumn of 1957. There were hopes that one would attain orbit. In the event, Vanguard put its first grapefruit in orbit on March 17, the day that Frank McClure called Guier and Weiffenbach into his office to discuss how their computational and statistical approach to tracking could serve navigation satellites.

By then, the space community was growing more comfortable with the techniques of satellite tracking. Yet during 1957 they had asked them­selves how they would track all the spacecraft if as many as six were to be launched each year. The question arose in 1957 as the satellite advocates tried to persuade their colleagues to endorse a continuing space program beyond 1958. Now, when TRW’s Space Log reports that by the end of 1987 there had been 2,979 known successful satellite launches (not includ­ing those deployed from the shuttles), that concern exemplifies the adage that the past is another country.

To today’s politically minded citizens, however, yesterday has familiar traces of home, namely budget battles, sniping between participants, and press relations.

By the beginning of 1956 the IGY’s total budget for the satellites and tracking was $19,262,000 an amount that approximately equaled its bud­get for everything else. This did not include the cost of developing and building the launch vehicles. Twelve satellites had been proposed by the scientists. The administration had announced ten in July 1955. By mid 1956, the scientists could count on six but, conservatively, were selecting only four for full development within the IGY’s timetable. All this took place within the context of Defense Department’s budget skirmishes and the rising costs of Vanguard.

The satellite panel was warned to keep the reduction confidential lest it damage America’s international prestige. Some clearly thought that this warning should not be heeded, because stories about the reduced pro­gram trickled out to the press, as did Fritz Zwicky’s comments to the American Rocket Society in November 1956 that “all kinds of jealousies, bureaucracies, and buck passing” were hindering the American satellite program. Many newspapers complained that the Navy should not have got the job of launching a satellite, and others reported on delays in placing of contracts for basic components.

Relations with the press were, in general, a contentious issue be­tween the IGY and the Department of Defense. The scientists grew increasingly irritated because, in their opinion, the Defense Department’s publicity machine made the project look like a military exercise. Not a dif­ficult job given that the Naval Research Laboratory was developing the launch vehicle and that some payloads were being prepared by scientists in defense laboratories. Nevertheless, and despite the fact that many of the university-based scientists had professional relationships at some time with the military, the scientists were determined to ensure that results of exper­iments were published in the open literature so that their international sci­entific relationships would not suffer. One can’t help but wonder what Soviet scientists were going through.

Amidst these concerns perhaps the most intriguing is the one that emerges in a flurry of correspondence in early 1957 that docu­ments that the IGY scientists feared that the Department of Defense would cancel the program once one satellite had been launched suc­cessfully

Nevertheless, planning for four satellites continued. And the space advocates succeeded in their campaign to convince their less enthusiastic colleagues to recommend that the satellite program continue after the IGY. As late as the day before the launch of Sputnik, this was not certain. But Sputnik, of course, changed everything for the space program. Like navigation, meteorology benefited.

Chapter nineteen: The Whippersnapper

What Pat Hyland thought about Syncom’s early development is found in an extensive video interview recorded on December 14, 1989 (page 199-201). Copy available from НАС.

HAC’s early views on the commercial opportunities of space come from Bob Roney (page 201).

Frank Carver’s request that Harold Rosen look for new business ventures (page 201) was remembered by Harold Rosen and Bob Roney in their interviews with me.

The account of Rosen’s actions and discussion with Williams come from my interview with Rosen (page 202).

The account of Roney’s recruitment of Williams comes from my inter­view with Roney (page 202).

The account of Rosen’s efforts to tempt Williams back to Hughes comes from my interview with Rosen (page 202).

The technology in pages 203 and 204 is my distillation of the technical information in a number of memos, proposals, textbooks, and interviews.

Rosen s attraction to Southern Californian beach parties is his own recol­lection in an interview with me (page 204).

Sydney Metzgers comment (page 204) was made during an interview dated December 5, 1985, when he said, “When we (RCA) heard ofSyn – com we could have kicked ourselves for not thinking of a spinner at syn­chronous altitudes since RCA had the very early spinner experience.” Metzger, who worked for RCA, joined Comsat in June 1963 as the man­ager of engineering (НАС archives 1993-50 Box 1).

Comments on the TWT for HAC’s 24-hour satellite made in interviews with Tom Hudspeth, Rosen and Roney (pages 204 — 205).

The date that Leroy Tillotson sent his proposal for a medium-altitude satellite to Bell’s research department (page 205) is given in A. C. Dick – leson’s book (see notes for chapter 18).

Carver’s and Puckett’s immediate views ol Rosen’s proposal were given in Rosen’s interview with me (page 205).

A memo from A. S. Jerrems to F. R. Carver on September 17, 1959, reminds Carver of a meeting planned for September 23 to work up a pre­sentation on communication satellites for Allen Puckett (page 205) (НАС archives).

Rosen and Williams first describe their satellite in “Commercial Commu­nication Satellite,” October 1959, by H. A. Rosen and D. D. Williams (page 205), and in Preliminary design analysis of communication satellite, October 1959. This paper reviews the torque box design that Harold Rosen and Don Williams put forward for a 24-hour satellite in September (From НАС archives).

Sam Lutz examined the Rosen Williams idea. His evaluation appears in a memo from S. G. Lutz to A. V. Haeff, October 1, 1959, Evaluation of H.

A. Rosen’s commercial satellite communication proposal (From Bob Roney) (page 207).

A memo from A. S. Jerrems of October 9, 1959, confirms the establishment of a two-week-long intensive study of the Rosen proposal (page 207).

A memo from S. G. Lutz to A. V. Haeff on October 13, 1959. Subject: Eco­nomic aspects of satellite communication gives Lutz’s opinions (page 207).

Memo from J. H. Striebel to A. V. HaefF of October 22, 1959. Subject: market study for a worldwide communication system for commercial use shows more of the thinking at НАС (page 207).

Lutz’s second evaluation of the Rosen Williams proposal appears in a memo from S. G. Lutz to A. V. HaefF of October 22, 1959 (page 207). Subject: commercial satellite communication project; preliminary report on study task force.

A memo from L. A. Hyland to A. E. HaefF and C. G. Murphy of October 26, 1959. Subject: communication satellite orders an immediate and com­prehensive study should be made of patentable potentialities and NASA’s position should be ascertained (page 207). A number of subsequent memos show that Hyland’s instructions were carried out. Invention dis­closure was November 2, 1959.

A memo from D. D. Williams to D. E Doody on November 23, 1959 described Williams’s talks on November 5 with Homer Stewart, then at NASA, during which Williams emphasized that Hughes wished to main­tain its proprietary and patent rights and the company’s desire that the project should be undertaken as a commercial venture. The two also dis­cussed technical issues (page 208).

An interesting aside given the later legal action over patents between НАС and NASA is found in a memo from David Doody to Noel Hammond say­ing that should a 30-day analysis then being undertaken by the company show the 24-hour satellite to be feasible, Hughes would attempt to win a contract from NASA and would proceed with filing a patent application prior to contracting with NASA. He said further that the company would not yet enter the communication field or approach communication compa­nies with the proposal. He further wrote, “We will take our chances on retaining title to the inventions that have been made to date, but should NASA insist on taking title as a result of supporting the development, the company wifi go along with NASA since it does not intend to use resulting patents primarily for the purpose of enhancing its patent holdings.” This view is at odds with the decades-long battle that Hughes fought with NASA.

In September 1959, a barrage of technical memos begins covering topics such as dynamic aspects of communication project, feasibility investigation

of payload electronics. The technical memos mushroom during the fol­lowing years.

Despite Hyland’s decision not to commit funds to the 24-hour satellite (page 208) Rosen and Williams write “Commercial Communication Satel­lite”, January i960y by H. A. Rosen and D. D. Williams. By now the 24- hour satellite has the familiar cylindrical shape.

A memo from Robert Roney to A. E. Puckett of 27 January 1960. Sub­ject: communication satellite review analysis (From Bob Roney) describes yet another review of the Rosen/Williams idea (page 208).

On March 23, 1960, Williams wrote to Hyland, saying that he was pleased by Hyland’s decision to fund the commercial communication satellite. He wrote, “It is my understanding that the program will ultimately be financed by sources of capital external to the company. As one of the inventors of the system, I would like to invest in it myself if possible. I enclose a cashier’s cheque for $10,000. While I realize that this amount will not go very far, I think it can be multiplied by 100 if the company is willing to permit investment by its employees.” This was after Rosen, Hudspeth, and he decided to find some of their own money for the pro­ject (page 209).

A memo from Allen Puckett to D. E Doody dated March 7, 1960 details the requests by Williams, Rosen, and Hudspeth to be released from their usual patent agreements should Hughes not go ahead with the develop­ment of a communication satellite. Puckett states that their request is rea­sonable (page 210).

Details of Rosen’s attempts to raise money from various sources are from my interviews with Rosen.