Category Something New Under the Sun

Notes and Sources

The relative importance of written and oral records varies from section to section and even within sections, as does the balance between primary and secondary sources. In chapter one, for example, secondary sources were the only ones I had access to.

Even when there are records, they can be scanty or one-sided. The IGY, for example, is well recorded by the National Academy of Sciences, but the individual scientists, such as Verner Suomi, do not have extensive records. Often, the scientists and technologists were too busy as pioneers to record in detail what they were doing, and posterity was the last thing on their minds.

The NAS archives, which were of importance to the prologue; chapters two, three, and eleven; and to parts of the other sections have been well mined, and others have written extensively of the IGY and its relationship to the subsequent development of space science in the U. S. My “angle” was to explore the same material for the seeds of space technology and of application satellites.

Both oral and written primary sources are of equal importance to the navigation section. The pre-Transit chapters were possible only because of long and repeated interviews, while the chapters on Transit were possible only because of the material in APL’s archives.

The meteorology section is based on interviews, a few primary sources, and secondary sources. It provides the clearest example of the emergence of application satellites from the IGY. But access to declassified primary sources will eventually make the history of meteorology satellites much more complete.

The communication section is the most heavily based on primary source written records, supplemented with a few interviews.


The primary source of material for the prologue (also for chapters two, three, and eleven) is the archival material about the International Geo­physical Year stored at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC.

Of particular importance were minutes of the USNC Committee of the IGY; minutes of the Executive Committee of the IGY, and the minutes of the Technical Panel on Rocketry The account of James Van Allen’s din­ner party (page 1) comes from an oral history given by Dr. Van Allen to David DeVorkin in February, June, July, and August of 1981 for the National Air and Space Museum.

Observations about Lloyd Berkner’s character were pieced together from impressions gained by reading minutes of IGY committee meetings (page 1). His name crops up in records for communications and meteorology satellites and in the development of early U. S. space policy. The biograph­ical files at the NASA History Office describe a naval officer who, when he died, was buried with full military honors and someone who opposed scientific secrecy. Besides being the originator of the idea for the IGY, Berkner was president of the International Council of Scientific Unions.

Drawer 1 of the archives of the National Academy of Sciences contains program proposals for the IGY, including one from Paul Siple highlight­ing concerns then felt about global warming (page 3).

Drawer 2 of the NAS archives contains the minutes of the first meeting of the U. S. National Committee for the IGY held 26-27 March 1953. Also in drawer 2 are to be found tentative proposals for the IGY 1957-1958 prepared by the USNC for the IGY, 13 May 1953 (page 3).

The anecdote that administration officials said, “Joe, go home,” was related by Kaplan himself in a speech to mark the tenth anniversary of Explorer (page 4). A copy of the speech was among Verner Suomi’s papers.

The account of what happened in Rome in 1954 and the budget figures for the IGY are found in Vanguard—A History, by Constance Green and

Milton Lomask (page 4). The book is part of the NASA History Series, SP4202.

Information about President Eisenhower’s intelligence needs (p. 4-5) and his national security policy comes mainly from. . . the Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age, by Walter McDougall (Basic Books, 1985). This book addresses what has been the central mystery of the U. S. space program—why the Eisenhower administration chose the Vanguard rather than the Explorer program for the development of the first U. S. satellite.

The existence of the Killian panel is well known, and its existence is writ­ten about in numerous accounts of the time, but McDougall’s discussion is the most exhaustive I encountered (page 4).

The most detailed and up-to-date information about the Killian panel (page 4) and its influence on the Eisenhower administration’s policy and of the way that national security considerations impacted the develop­ment of the IGY are to be found in R. Cargill Hall’s article “The Eisen­hower Administration and the Cold War, Framing American Astronautics to Serve National Security,” in Prologue, Quarterly of the National Archives.

The exact sequence of events in which Donald Quarles, assistant secretary of defense for research and development, approached senior scientists of the IGY is not clear when one looks at Cargill Hall’s article and the sequence of events that surrounded planning of the IGY (page 5). How­ever, minutes of the IGY suggest that in the light of Cargill Hall’s article, some senior scientists other than Joseph Kaplan knew or guessed the national security agenda that necessitated developing a satellite with a largely civilian flavor.

The first meeting of the USNC of the IGY was chaired by Joseph Kaplan (page 3).

During the third meeting on November 5 — 6, 1954, James Van Allen commented on the usefulness of rocketry studies. At this time, though various international bodies had endorsed the idea of a satellite program forming part of the IGY, Van Allen’s presentation referred to sounding rockets, i. e., those that carry instruments aloft but fall back to Earth with­out entering orbit.

During the fourth meeting, on January 14 and 15, 1955, Harold Wexler spoke of gaps in the meteorological data, and Homer Newell, in the absence of James Van Allen, told the committee that the sounding rock­etry work would be undertaken entirely by the agencies of the Depart­ment of Defense, provided that the National Science Foundation secured the necessary funding from Congress.

By this time, much of the debate concerning the importance to the United States of adopting a satellite program as part of the IGY had moved to the USNC’s executive committee and to a working group of the technical panel on rocketry (see notes and sources for chapter three) as well as to the National Security Council.

Reports on Leonid Sedov’s announcement at the sixth meeting of the International Astronautical Federation in Copenhagen appeared in the Baltimore Sun as well as in other newspapers, dateline August 2, 1955 (page 6).

New Moon

“In Leningrad, Korolev could not then by any means know that, after many very hard times, sometimes cruelly unjust to him, a beautiful spring would come when… would be reflected a world of black sky and blue Earth, a world never before seen by Man/*

—Yaroslav Golovanov, Sergei Korolev:The Apprenticeship of a Space Pioneer

“And all of a sudden you wake up one morning, and here’s this doggone Russian thing flying overhead… Oh, no, there was a great deal of disturbance..

—William Pickering, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in 1957.

From a transcript of an oral history in the archives of the California Institute of Technology.


f they had known then what they know now, would they have done the job? They would surely have been daunted, even given the imperatives of the Cold War. But they did not know how difficult space exploration would be. The “cold warriors” had their incentives: intercontinental ballis­tic missiles and reconnaissance satellites. And the enthusiasts, who some­times were also cold warriors, had their long-held aim: to go beyond Earth’s atmosphere. By Thursday evening, October 3, 1957, their destina­tion was less than a day away.

That same evening was one of the last on which delegates gathered at a conference organized by the National Academy of Sciences in Washington D. C. as part of the International Geophysical Year. The focus of the con­ference was on the rockets and satellites to be launched before the end of 1958. The IGY united sixty-seven nations in a seemingly impressive pax academica, yet, despite good intentions, the satellites of the IGY were about to push the world into a new phase of the Cold War.

Satellites were not part of the original plan. Indeed, when the IGY first endorsed satellites and chose as its logo a satellite orbiting the earth, many considered satellites to be little more than science fiction. In three
years that had all changed. By October 1957, the U. S. and USSR were fol­lowing one another’s progress keenly Each group of scientists wanted to be the first, and the meeting at the National Academy of Sciences gave them all an opportunity to probe each other’s intentions.

The Soviets were not very specific. Their delegation, led by Lieu­tenant General Anatoly Blagonravov, knew that a launch was imminent and had announced this on the first day of the conference. But they had not said exactly when. It is doubtful that they knew.

The Soviets would be gratified if the launch took place during the meeting, but they also knew, as the defector George Tokady was to say years later, that “ … the launch of Sputnik was too big a piece of cake to play games with.” Already the centennial celebrations on the birth of Kon­stantin Tsiolkovsky, Russia’s “father of spaceflight,” had passed on Septem­ber 17th without a satellite attaining orbit. The cognoscenti had speculated that the seventeenth might be the occasion for a Soviet launch.

But the satellite would be launched when all was ready, and one man would make that determination. Late Thursday afternoon, as the confer­ence workshop on rocketry struggled with the usual committee minutiae, that man, Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, lay—perhaps—restlessly in bed. More likely, being who and what he was, he paced the sitting room of his small cottage. It would be nearly a decade before the Soviet leadership publicly acknowledged the existence of this man, whom they called the Chief Designer of Cosmic-Rocket Systems.

Korolev’s cottage was on the grounds of Baikonur Cosmodrome, near the village of Tyuratam in Kazakhstan, one hundred miles east of the Aral Sea. It lay on a parallel with northern Wisconsin and as far east of the Greenwich meridian as Halifax, Nova Scotia, is west.

In Washington D. C., as October 3 drew to a close, workshop coordinators pulled ideas together for the next day.

For Korolev, it was the early hours of October 4. That day Korolev’s team would open the space age.

In future years, on the nights before he sent cosmonauts into space, Korolev would sleep very little. Instead, he worried about the well-being of the young men whom he drove as hard as he drove himself, buoyed by an energy that made his days so much longer than those of other people. But his wakefulness had a second purpose. It helped him avoid dreams in which guards beat him and screamed at him, dreams from which he would wake to a visceral fear of annihilation. These were Stalins legacy, as were his memories of colleagues who one moment were working alongside him and the next were gone.

On October 4, as the sun rose on a clear, cool dawn, Korolev was— comparatively—free. On his wall hung a portrait of Tsiolkovsky. Tsiol – kovsky had died twenty-two years before, but he had been the first to write scientifically about this day. His books, calculations, and ideas had long ago seduced Korolev.

Less than a kilometer away, beyond the small knot of trees that sur­rounded his house, the rocket glinted in sunlight. Beyond that, where only two years before no launch site had been, the semiarid steppes of Kazakh­stan stretched to the horizon and beyond. The American government had known of this launch site, built with forced labor, since the spring of 1957, when a U2 spy plane had returned with photographs.

For Korolev there must have been tension, anticipation, excitement, and fear as he faced the day that would test all that he had become and all that he had dreamed.

As Korolev prepared to leave for the launch site, perhaps he thought briefly of the people waiting for him to fail, the naysayers and his rivals. Earlier in the year, as rocket after rocket had exploded and Nikita Khrushchevs impatience had mounted, Korolevs detractors had pushed for his dismissal. Then, in early August, his team had successfully launched the R7, the worlds first intercontinental ballistic missile. Not for eighteen months would the U. S. launch a missile capable of similar range. A se­cond successful launch followed, and on August 27 the Soviet Union announced that it possessed intercontinental ballistic missiles. It would have been more accurate to say that they had the beginnings of the capa­bility, but the success had satisfied Khrushchev, who now had a rocket that would eventually be capable of carrying a two-ton thermonuclear warhead to the heart of America. As a result, Korolev had won the final go-ahead for his dream, the opportunity to send an artificial moon into space.

The following two months were full of frantic activity. Korolevs team had immediately begun intense preparations for a launch, and toward the end of August the satellite was ready to ship to the Cosmodrome. Korolev moved to his cottage to supervise launch operations. In Septem­ber, the pace picked up and tempers frayed. The satellite developed an electrical fault. Everyone panicked. Korolev, always relentlessly demanding, became merciless. Time and again, the launch team watched with appre­hension as his little finger rose to stroke his eyebrow; it was the signal to move smartly to the next job. They knew his capacity for compassion and for explosions of wrath; that he found people who would argue a case interesting, but would take personal offense at anyone who did not do his job. Korolev drove his engineers and his engineers drove themselves until, crisis by crisis, they coaxed the novel technology to readiness.

At last, toward the end of September, the crane in the assembly building hoisted the small, shiny sphere into the nose cone of the rocket. The launch team was now ready to put on a show for VIPs from Moscow. Members of the State Commission, the secret group that was to control the country’s space program, flew in. Technicians ran a final check on the satellite’s radio transmitter, switching the signal to a loudspeaker so that the commissioners could hear it echo around the building. Then the engineers silenced the transmitter. Some recalled later that their skin tin­gled at the thought that the satellite would not speak again until it was in space.

On the night of October 2, the launch team moved the rocket. It was four stories high and weighed nearly three hundred tons. Slowly, so very slowly, they wheeled the rocket out of the assembly building on a flatcar, and it began its painstakingly careful journey down the railroad track to the launch pad. It swayed with each uneasy movement. The next morning, Thursday October 3, they began the final preparations for launch—the countdown.

As the day progressed, the launch team worried that the satellite would overheat despite the gaseous nitrogen circulating inside the sphere. They threw a white blanket over the nose to give the satellite further pro­tection from the sunlight. Later, dissatisfied with that solution, they pumped compressed air around the nose cone.

On Korolev’s recommendation, the satellite ensconced in the nose cone was of a very simple design—a two-foot diameter sphere weighing 184 pounds. A sphere, Korolev said, was a fitting shape for what might be the world’s first satellite because it mimicked the shape of the natural bod­ies of the universe. Consummate engineer that he was, it seems that he could never quite suppress the poet in himself.

Soviet scientists planned both optical and radio tracking for their satellite, with the intention of learning what they could about the earth’s gravitational field and the density of the upper atmosphere. That week in

Washington, Soviet delegates were reemphasizing the frequencies that their first satellites would transmit. And the conference workshop on tracking resolved to establish stations capable of tracking the Soviet satel­lites, a resolve that, even as they made it, was too late.

The Soviets called their satellite Prosteyshiy Sputnik (meaning “sim­plest satellite”). Inevitably, the design and launch team had shortened that to “PS”; and Korolev’s staff, who referred to him informally as “SP” (for Sergei Pavlovich), used the initials interchangeably for the man and the satellite.

PS’s surface was buffed, as were those of the American satellites, so that it would shine in orbit as a sixth-magnitude star and could be tracked visually. It had four whiplike antennas that were pressed between the inside of the nose cone and the satellite’s surface. When, or if, Prosteyshiy Sputnik attained orbit, these antennas would relay radio signals at a frequency that every amateur radio operator in the world would be able to detect.

Prosteyshiy Sputnik’s destination was not far away, for the boundary of space is less distant from Earth than New York is from Washington D. C. Yet every inch of that journey would be fought against Earth’s overwhelm­ing gravity, which would yield only reluctantly to human ingenuity. If the launch vehicle did not reach a high enough velocity, PS’s trajectory would be a ballistic path high through the atmosphere and back to the Earth’s sur­face, like that of the ICBM that Korolev had launched in August. Alterna­tively, PS might be released into too low an orbit and burn up in the atmosphere.

Prosteyshiy Sputnik’s launcher was designed to put a far heavier cargo in space, but Korolev was moving conservatively. The heart of the launcher was the R7 ICBM; four cone-shaped, strap-on boosters surrounded its base, resembling a stiff pleated skirt. The boosters would peel away when their fuel was spent, leaving the R7, minus the burden of the boosters’ weight, to make the final push to orbital velocity. At liftoff, the R7 and the boosters, each containing a cluster of engines, would push from the Earth with more than half a million kilograms of thrust: power enough, if the launch was successful, to boost Nikita Khrushchev’s domestic reputation and help him to ward off those remaining critics who had participated in a failed attempt to oust him from power just a few months earlier. Khrushchev’s improved status should, in turn, help Korolev win backing for a continuing space program. A failure would set back Korolev’s aspira­tions, for space was not Khrushchev’s dream.

As it turned out, the wave of excitement that was to sweep the globe when Sputnik was launched seemed to take Khrushchev—and President Eisenhower—unawares. Prosteyshiy Sputnik, the simplest satellite, changed completely the world public’s perception of the Soviet Union’s technical capabilities, and Khrushchev learned quickly that space could yield politi­cal advantages. As a result, Korolev’s aspirations were to be harnessed tightly to Khrushchev’s international political goals, often in ways that cost lives and held back scientific advances.

On the morning of October 4, Korolev knew none of this. He needed success. But Korolev was also a dreamer, on a grand and generous scale, and he had dreamed this dream for thirty years. He had first worked with rockets after graduation from the Moscow Higher Technical School. He had stood on a sidewalk in Moscow as Friedreich Tsander, a fellow dreamer and space pioneer, raised his fist and said,“Forward to Mars!” That was in 1930, after the two young men had spent the evening with friends planning a research group to develop rockets and rocket-assisted aircraft. They called themselves the Group for the Study of Reaction Propulsion (GIRD).

Korolev regarded Tsander, who talked of rockets as though they already existed, as an older brother. At first, the two men and their friends had worked with no official backing or financial support in the cellar of an abandoned warehouse. They soon attracted the attention of the Soviet armaments minister, Mikhail Tukhachevskiy, a stroke of good fortune that won the group financial success but within a few years would lead to tragedy. In the meantime, GIRD expanded and joined the Gas Dynamics Laboratory in Leningrad to form the Rocket Research Institute. Korolev was appointed the deputy director, responsible to Tukhachevskiy

Before GIRD moved to Leningrad, they designed, built, and tested the Soviet Union’s first liquid-fuelled rocket. Korolev lit the fuse. The rocket, which was based on many of Tsander’s ideas, flew successfully on August 17, 1933, and landed 164 yards from the launch site.[3] Sadly Tsander, who had died in March at the age of 46, did not witness the short flight.

Despite what must have been grief at the death of his friend, petty restrictions limiting access to foreign journals, and the scarcity of food, even with ration cards, those were good years for Korolev. The govern­ment funded the institute because rocket research conformed to the national political goal of establishing Soviet technical supremacy In Leningrad, Korolev met Valentin Glushko, another Soviet space pioneer who designed rocket engines. In future years, Chief Designer Korolev was to collaborate often with Glushko, though the two men were to develop a stormy relationship. At the same time, Korolev’s personal life expanded. He married his school sweetheart, Xenia Vincentini, a surgeon, and they had a daughter, whom they named Natalia. But when Natalia was three, every­thing changed.

In the early hours of June 27, 1938, Stalin’s secret police, the NKVD, arrested Korolev. Though he did not know it at that moment, this was the end of his marriage and the beginning of torture, hunger, and years of imprisonment. He was charged with anti-Soviet activity, and his guilt was determined apparently by his association with Mikhail Tukhachevsky. Tukhachevsky was already dead, condemned and shot a year earlier on the strength of false documents that some suspect had been planted by the Nazis.

The NKVD packed Korolev into a boxcar of the Trans-Siberian Railway destined for Magadan. From there he was transported in the hold of a prison ship to the gold mines of Kolyma, concentration camps where thousands died each month. For nearly a year he was hungry, far hungrier than in the ration-book days of the early thirties. He lost his teeth, devel­oped scurvy, and in winter often woke to find his clothes frozen to the floor; but he survived.

He survived because the authorities transferred him to Moscow, to another kind of prison, one that held the cream of the Soviet Union’s aeronautical designers. Andrei Tupolev, the country’s most eminent aircraft designer at that time, headed the technical work of these scientists and engineers, though he was himself a prisoner.

When new prisoners arrived from the Gulag, Tupolev would ask them for a list of the engineers whom they had left behind in the camps. Some were reluctant to make such a list in case their colleagues had been freed and would be rearrested. That was probably not Tupolev’s intention, and he may have seen Korolev’s name on such a list and asked for him to be transferred to Moscow Tupolev would have recognized the name because he had supervised Korolev’s diploma project—the design of a two-seater glider—during Korolev’s final year at the Moscow Higher Technical School.

Whatever the reason for the transfer, Korolev found himself working long hours in a Moscow prison with sparse comforts. The authorities had a twofold work incentive scheme. They held out the hope of eventual freedom, and they threatened the prisoner’s families. Compared to Kolyma, it was paradise. But now Korolev knew that life could change any moment at the whim of a faceless bureaucrat. He tried repeatedly to impress this knowledge on fellow prisoners—that they might disappear without trace and no one would know of it. That knowledge was the darkness that would follow Korolev through his life, the darkness he would share with his friends in future years when late-night conversation lasted into the early morning hours.

Korolev spent his days like the other prisoners, designing aircraft for the war effort; at night, in the communal dormitory, he worked on rock­etry. With the end of World War II, his rocketry research once more emerged into daylight. The USSR and the U. S. were vying for men and equipment from Peenemiinde, the base where Germany had developed the rockets that bombarded London, Paris, and Antwerp in a new kind of warfare. As the Red Army swept into eastern Germany, Stalin remembered the rocketeers he had imprisoned eight years earlier. Back then a magis­trate had told Korolev, “We don’t need your fireworks and firecrackers. They are for destroying our leader, are they not?” By 1945, Stalin had changed his mind, and he turned to those rocketeers who had survived his purges.

Stalin was far more strongly committed to missile development than was the U. S. leadership at that time. In 1945, Stalin insisted on seeing pris­oner Korolev. Korolev always remembered how without taking his pipe from his mouth Stalin had demanded information about the potential speed of missiles, their range, payload, and accuracy. In his memoirs Khrushchev says that the rationale for official interest was that the U. S. could, if it wanted, station long-range bombers at air bases in Europe close to the Russian border, whereas the Soviet Air Force could not reach the continental U. S.

Korolev was sent under guard to Germany to glean what he could. He was under orders to track down those V2s that were not on their way to America and to select German engineers from among those who had not surrendered to American troops. Korolev sent both rockets and engi­neers to Russia. In the years immediately after World War II, both the Soviet Union and the U. S. learned as much as they could from German advances in rocketry while simultaneously developing their own missiles. In Russia, the Germans worked separately and did not know what Soviet engineers were doing, which disappointed western intelligence workers when Stalin sent the Germans back to Germany in 1951. Yet this should not have surprised them. Von Braun, who worked on intermediate range ballistic missiles in the U. S., could likewise not have known details of the Americans’ work on ICBMs.

By 1951 Korolev was no longer a political prisoner, at least not obvi­ously so. He and Xenia had divorced in 1946, and he had since remarried. He worked fanatically hard, prompting colleagues to wonder whether he had a home life. Of prison he rarely spoke. Occasionally, he would sip cognac late at night and reminisce with other former prisoners, telling them how those days still haunted him in his dreams. And a few nights before he died,[4] he told two close friends, the cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Alexei Leonov, of some of the pain. His death on an operating table in 1966 was, some speculate, a result of poor health stemming from his days in Kolyma.

In many ways Korolev’s early life must have prepared him for priva­tion.[5] He was born in Zhitomir, in Ukraine, in 1906. Three years later his parents separated, and Sergei went to live with his maternal grandparents while his mother went back to college. She left instructions that the child was not to leave the garden to play because she was afraid his father, who had already threatened her with a pistol, might kidnap him.

Korolev remembered those years as lonely ones. For a few years he wrote poetry. But he remembered vividly that when he was six, his grand­mother who was fascinated by gadgets and technology took him to see his first aircraft. This experience touched Korolev as deeply as seeing ballet or theater might define the destiny of another human being.

On weekends his mother would visit. Then they would play, and she would read to him, but she also made him go alone to distant dark rooms because, inspired by her reading of James Fenimore Cooper, she thought that in this way he would conquer fear.

As they did to millions of others, World War I and the Russian Revo­lution turned Korolev’s life upside down. In 1917, Sergei was eleven. By then his mother was married again, this time to an engineer called Grigory Balanin. The family lived in Odessa, on the Black Sea, and Grigory and Sergei settled to the prickly business of getting to know one another. The world war and foreign occupying forces depleted food stocks. Civil war followed world war. The family was often hungry, and Korolev would hike with his mother to the countryside to barter for potatoes.

When the civil war ended, with Lenin in charge, Sergei’s mother and Balanin sent Korolev to the First Construction School in Odessa. Here he learned physics and mathematics (one of the school’s mottos was “mathe­matics is the key to everything”) and how to tile roofs. He soon decided that he did not want to be a roofer, because by now he was fascinated by the idea of flying and designing aircraft and gliders.

After an obligatory summer as a mediocre roofer, Korolev applied to and was accepted by the Kiev Technical School. Two years later, he moved to the Moscow Higher Technical School where he earned his diploma in aeronautical engineering. A year later Korolev graduated from flying school. In the meantime he earned money by working in an aircraft design bureau.

He was now twenty-four, interested in rockets, but passionate about designing and flying sophisticated, record-breaking gliders. And in this role, anyone who cared to watch would have seen the character of the future chief designer emerge. Oleg Antonov, another of Russia’s great air­craft designers and also a gliding fanatic, met Korolev at about this time. Korolev was attempting a record flight in a glider of his own design. Inad­vertently, Antonov sent Korolev aloft with the anchor still attached to his glider. Korolev flew for four hours nineteen minutes, oblivious of the anchor. When he landed and saw the hole in the tail of his glider, he offered to tear Antonov’s eyes out with a pair of pliers. Yet Antonov remembered Korolev as a man of iron will and boundless humor.

By the morning of October 4, 1957, that combination of will and humor had carried Korolev to the position of chief designer of rocket – cosmic systems. Stalin had been dead for four years. After Stalin’s death, Korolev had been invited to join the Communist Party and had been elected a corresponding member of the USSR’s Academy of Sciences.

Ostensibly, he was a secure member of the establishment, yet the injustice of wrongful imprisonment ate at Korolev. He had asked repeatedly, and without success, to be rehabilitated—for his conviction at Stalin’s hands to be rescinded. Only after the successful launch of the satellite now sitting in the nose of the rocket on the launch pad would this happen.

So, on the morning of October 4, 1957, it was both the chief designer and the prisoner who awakened in terror, who turned a collar to the cold, climbed into his car, and drove to the concrete apron of the launch site. To the colleagues waiting for him, he was SP, a man rapidly becoming a legend among the few who knew of him. He was short and heavyset. He reminded them of a boxer or a wrestler, as much because of his personality as because of his physique. His brown eyes were bright with intelligence and passion.

Korolev saw himself as the designer whose role was to define the job, to listen to the team members, and then to make the decision. This he had done, paying attention to strategy and detail, balancing the consequence of one technical choice against another, seeking the right compromise. Now the product of hundreds of people’s work, of thousands of calculations, of designs and redesigns, was sitting on the launch pad. Would it open a new frontier?

Perhaps for propaganda reasons, perhaps because there would be an emotional symmetry in such an event, and perhaps because it is true, there is a persistent and disputed story that while at the Moscow Higher Techni­cal School, Korolev had visited Tsiolokovsky. The old man, so the story goes, told Korolev that rockets were a very difficult business, and Korolev had replied that he was not afraid of difficulties. It is hard to imagine that en route to the launch complex, Korlev did not remember Tsiolkovsky, who, when he died in 1935, was an old and nationally revered man. Per­haps, too, Korolev remembered Friedreich Tsander, his old friend from the free days in Moscow.

On October 4, 1957, Tsiokovsky’s, Tsanders, and Korolevs dream stood against the gantry, gleaming in the sunlight.

In Washington D. C., delegates awoke to the penultimate day of the rocket and satellite conference. A workshop was to debate what to include in the IGY’s manual on rockets and satellites.

New Moon

Korolev drove to the launch pad. The countdown was proceeding, and they were about to fuel the rocket. He mounted the platform to brief the engineers and to listen to accounts of the night’s doings. Then, while the launch team pumped liquid oxygen and kerosene into the tanks, he called Moscow with an updated report of the countdown.

Throughout the day, Korolev monitored everyone’s work, outwardly calm but fooling no one. By evening, technical difficulties had halted the countdown several times. Those who could stayed out of Korolev’s way The day moved inexorably forward. A day that for Korolev must have lain before him as a path to forever then passed in a second.

Thirty minutes before liftoff, everyone retired to their posts. Most went into a concrete bunker one kilometer from the launch pad. Those without a part to play in the final countdown climbed onto the bunker’s roof.

Korolev sat at a desk in the bunker, watching through a periscope. Floodlights bathed the rocket. Hope was palpable. As they waited and watched, someone walked beneath the floodlights. The unknown figure raised a bugle and blew clear notes into the midnight sky before hurrying back to safety.

Korolev listened as the loudspeakers relayed the deliberately spoken script of a space launch, a script that is still running, but which played that night to its first audience.[6]

“Duty crew, leave the pad.”

“Fire brigades, on alert.”

“Zero minus one minute.”

“Switch to start vents.”

Korolev knew that nitrogen was sweeping through the pipes, purging the giant rocket before oxidant and fuel met in a mighty chemical reaction. “Auxiliary engines pressurized.”

“Main engines pressurized.”


New Moon

Stillness enveloped the watchers. They dared not blink. And then it hap­pened. Incandescent vapors engulfed the rocket, throwing stark shadows on the surrounding concrete. The earth rumbled and a thunderous roar washed past their ears. They watched the huge rocket strain, and then—as if in slow motion—the engines lifted the rocket from the earth.

Did Korolev remember what Tsiolkovsky had written? “Mankind will not remain on the earth forever, but in the pursuit of light and space, we will, timidly at first, overcome the limits of the atmosphere and then conquer all the area around the sun.” Well it had begun. And what would those earlier versions of Korolev have thought of his fifty-one-year-old self, sitting, eyes glued to a periscope, watching his dream and an ancient dream of humanity’s ascend? Would the frozen wretch in Kolyma, with hunger griping in his belly, have believed this moment? What of the man who would start awake in terror or the child who saw with joy his first aircraft? What of the teenager in a civil war, the student, or the test pilot? Each gave a gift to the chief designer; surely they watched with wonder what together they had wrought?

Korolev slowly came to himself. Only minutes had passed, and already the rocket was a distant point of light. Around him people hugged and kissed, unshaven chins scraping cheeks a little damp. They danced and shouted, “Our baby’s off” Soon they fell silent and listened. The loud­speaker reported all systems nominal, later that the rocket had reached orbital velocity, and then that the satellite had separated from its rocket.

Now they faced another wait. Was the satellite in orbit? It should be overhead again in about ninety minutes. As the time approached that the satellite should be coming into range, they looked gravely at the radio operator. Then they heard the distinctive beep of their satellite in orbit, the signal they had last heard in the assembly building on that day a lifetime ago. The earth had a new moon. Sputnik I was in orbit.

Korolev notified Khrushchev and received the first secretary’s muted congratulations. The party machinery swung into operation. Soon the world’s teleprinters would carry news of the triumph and Soviet propa­ganda. Editors around the world would be galvanized as they read reports that included the words, “Artificial Earth satellites will prove the way for space travel, and it seems that the present generation will witness how the freed and conscious labor of the people of the new socialist society turns even the most daring of Man’s dreams into reality.”

At the cosmodrome, Korolev returned to his engineers. The chief designer, who had already experienced tragedy, now knew triumph. He was to know both again. That night, he mounted a platform and thanked his staff, those present and those at home. He was radiant. He continued, “Today we have witnessed the realization of a dream nurtured by some of the finest men who ever lived, including our own Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky. Tsiolkovsky foretold that mankind would not forever remain on the earth. The sputnik is the first confirmation of his prophesy. The conquering of space has begun. We can be proud that it was begun by our country. A hearty Russian thanks to all.”

General comments on satellite navigation

1. At different places in this section, I have alluded to alternative ideas for navigation satellites. One, explained in “Navigation by Satellite” in Missiles and Rockets in October 1956, even talks of utilizing the Doppler shift for a navigation satellite. But this paper envisages almanacs and tables of posi­tion and calculations of the distance at closest approach. It implicitly assumes that the orbit would be known and, inevitably because it was written in 1956, does not account for the impact on orbits of Earth’s complex gravitational field, nor for the impact of the ionosphere on the received signal. The paper does envisage the use of computers, but not the sophisticated curve-fitting techniques of Guier and Weiffenbach.

2. “Possible Use of Syncom as a Navigation System—Microwave Loran.” Memo for files, From L. M. Field cc L. A. Hyland (НАС archives 1990-09 box 6 folder 22).

This memo argues that Syncom would make a better navigation satellite than Transit if the station keeping were adequate. It expands on a memo by Donald Williams (see communications section) written on September 1, 1959.

A Time of Turbulence

This dread and darkness of the mind cannot be dispelled by sunbeams, the shining shafts of day, but only by an understand­ing of the outward form and inner working of nature…

First, then, the reason why the blue expanses of heaven are shaken by thunder…

As for lightning, it is caused when many seeds of fire have been squeezed out…

The formation of clouds is due to the sudden coalescence…

—Lucretius, On the Nature of Things


ucretius sought rational, deterministic explanations for the weather.

These turned out to be wrong, but one suspects that the Roman philosopher may have guessed this for himself. He wrote that it was better to venture on an incorrect rational explanation than to submit to supersti­tion: no sacrifices for him to propitiate the gods. And no sacrifices, except of time and effort, for those who during the past hundred years or so have wrestled to turn meteorology into a science.

For most people—farmers, sailors, or those of us going about our ordinary business—meteorology means and has always meant the weather forecast: the difference between heading for the golf course or curling up at home with a good book, between planting crops or waiting, and ulti­mately for some the difference between life and death. Those forecasts, dispensed in a few minutes on nightly news broadcasts, rest on the integra­tion of a staggering amount of mathematics, physics, engineering, and computer science. In the first century B. C.E., while incorporating his own ideas with the philosophy of Epicurus and turning the whole into verse, Lucretius was at a considerable disadvantage.

Only in the nineteenth century did the modern era of weather fore­casting begin. The introduction of the telegraph allowed observers to communicate to those at distance points what weather was coming their way. Such timely reporting also allowed meteorologists to plot weather
maps and to develop the concept of storm fronts and cyclones. From the 1920s, radio balloons collected readings of temperature, wind speed, pres­sure, and moisture content, improving knowledge of conditions at altitudes in the lower atmosphere. Later, in the 1950s and 1960s, scientists took the important step of incorporating knowledge of the upper atmosphere into their understanding of meteorological conditions in the lower atmosphere, that is, they explored how the upper atmosphere affects weather at the sur­face.

But until the middle of the twentieth century, meteorology was only slowly breaking free of its ancient reliance on folklore and supersti­tion. It was still more of an art than a science. Then came computers, mathematical modeling of atmospheric behavior, and weather predictions based on computer models. Gradually, it became possible to combine and manipulate observations from many different sources—from ocean buoys to Doppler radar and satellites.

Weather satellites inserted themselves into this history as best they could—not always felicitously. They were a technology in which some in the 1950s intuitively saw promise because of the unique bird’s-eye view from space, but it was only in the early 1980s that the advocates of satellite meteorology succeeded in winning widespread acceptance from the mete­orological community.

In the very earliest days of satellite meteorology, a few names stand out in what was a tiny, intertwined community. The first are William Kel­logg and Stanley Greenfield, who in 1951 while at the RAND Corpora­tion (consultants to the Air Force) published the first feasibility study on weather satellites. Then came Bill Stroud and Verner Suomi, who com­peted to have their experiments launched on one of the satellites of the International Geophysical Year. Each, after vicissitudes, flew an experi­ment. Stroud’s failed, because the Vanguard satellite that carried it into space was precessmg wildly. Stroud went on to head NASA’s early meteo­rological work at the Goddard Space Flight Center and to argue the case for satellite meteorology at congressional hearings. Suomi’s satellite pro­duced data, and he remained in the trenches of science and engineering, making frequent forthright forays into the policy world both nationally and internationally.

There were also Harry Wexler and Sig Fritz from what was then called the Weather Bureau. Wexler, who died in the 1960s, is someone whose name in this context is often forgotten, but as chief scientist of the

Weather Bureau and an active participant in the committees planning the IGY, he was an important supporter of satellite meteorology. He was one of the scientists arguing persuasively in the face of Merle Tuve’s doubts that the IGY should include a satellite program. And Wexler was a staunch ally of a belated attempt by Verner Suomi to participate in the IGY, drum­ming up support for Suomi from eminent meteorologists like Kellogg at RAND.

Fritz worked for Wexler. When the Weather Bureau set up a satellite service, Fritz was its first employee. He was assigned office space in a cleaned out broom cupboard. There, undaunted by the Vanguard failures and the modesty of his office space, Fritz worked with NASA on the first American weather satellite—TIROS. Both Wexler and Fritz were consul­tants for Verner Suomi’s IGY experiment.

Fritz recruited Dave Johnson,[9] who, like Suomi, became an out­spoken proponent of satellite meteorology. Johnson eventually headed the satellite division of what, after several bureaucratic incarnations, was to become the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Except for Kellogg and Greenfield, these men worked in the civilian world but also made forays into the “black” world of defense projects, namely the Air Force s Defense Meteorological Satellite Program. The Air Force was an important player in the history of satellite meteorology, devel­oping both engineering and analytical methods for interpreting satellite imagery. And the participation of people like Johnson in both worlds pro­vided a conduit, albeit of limited capacity, for technology transfer from mil­itary to civilian satellites. The story of this important part of the history of satellite meteorology—the way that the defense and civilian worlds inter­mixed—will have to wait until all the relevant documents are declassified.

Despite the limitations imposed by not having a full understanding of the interplay between civilian and defense projects, some broad aspects of the history of satellite meteorology are clear. It is a more complicated story than that of satellite navigation, mainly because it is the story of a technology being developed for a field that was still transforming itself from art to science.

One of the most outspoken and energetic participants in the field’s history was Verner Suomi, of the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Some have called him the father of satellite meteorology.

In 1992, Dave Johnson, then working for the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, recalled a meeting of the world’s leading meteorologists in 1967 when they were planning an inter­national effort, known as the Global Atmosphere Research Program, to study the atmosphere. GARP eventually got underway in the late 1970s. Suomi’s task was to summarize the specifications that weather satellites would have to meet in order to fulfill GARP’s research goals. Johnson said: “We threatened to lock Vern in a room and not to let him have food or drink until he’d written everything down. We didn’t, of course, but he hated writing, and we had to keep an eye on him.”

Suomi’s colleagues were wise to put pressure on him. During late 1963 and early 1964, when Suomi spent a year in Washington DC. as chief scientist of the Weather Bureau, he claims to have written only four memos—which may be the all-time minimalist record for a bureaucrat.

One of GARP’s roles was to set research priorities given what were then the comparatively new technologies of high-speed computing, math­ematical modeling, and satellites. Those priorities give a sense of the immensity of the task facing meteorologists.

The priorities were:

• Atmospheric composition and structure;

• Solar and other external influences on the earth’s atmosphere;

• Interaction between the upper and lower atmosphere;

• Interaction between the earth’s surface and the atmosphere;

• General circulation and budgets of energy, momentum, and water vapor;

• Cloud and precipitation physics;

• Atmospheric pollution;

• Weather prediction;

• Modification of weather and climate (no longer popular);

• Research in sensors and measuring techniques.

A study of these topics would need the “observation heaped on observation” that Sir Oliver Lodge spoke of in his lecture about Johannes Kepler: some observations were to be made by radar, others by airline pilots, weather balloons, and ground-based instruments. And some, of course, would be recorded by satellites.

Despite the vibrancy of meteorological research typified by plans for GARP, it was clear by 1967 that persuading the wider meteorological community—both line forecasters and many research meteorologists—to accept data from satellites would be an arduous task.

Many of the important steps to acceptance were choreographed, in part at least, by Suomi or Johnson and the groups that they headed. Nei­ther man was shy in his advocacy of the technology. Johnson, in fact, threatened on one occasion to “blow his stack” with his boss, whom John­son felt was hostile to satellite data. None of the advocates of satellites could afford too many niceties. The money spent on weather satellites prompted resentment from many. And there were reservations and criti­cisms about satellite meteorology.

Part of the opposition lay, as always, in suspicion of a new technology. But part of it was due to the technology’s acknowledged limitations, which were (and are) imposed by the nature of satellite observations. Satel­lites do not directly measure the meteorological parameters—tempera­tures, pressures, wind speeds and moisture contents at as many latitudes, longitudes, and altitudes as possible—that are essential for computer mod­els and any quantitative predictive understanding of the atmosphere’s behavior. Instead, satellites “see” visible and infrared radiation welling up from the earth. Meteorologists thus have either images or radiometric measurements as their raw data, and from these they must infer quantita­tive meteorological parameters. The inferences are not easy to draw. They call for considerable knowledge of atmospheric physics and chemistry and rely on clever mathematical manipulations of the equations describing atmospheric behavior.

Images rather that radiometric measurements came first in the his­tory of meteorology satellites. Kellogg’s and Greenfield’s study of satellites for “weather reconnaissance,” which was carried out before numerical weather prediction had become central to the future of weather forecast­ing, envisaged that spacecraft would carry still cameras aloft. These would photograph cloud cover, and meteorologists would then study the cloud types and distribution in a qualitative attempt to gain insight into atmo­spheric behavior and thus improve weather forecasting. In the course of their study, Kellogg and Greenfield posed some of the important questions that would preoccupy early satellite meteorologists. These were:

• How could you tell which bit of the earth the camera was looking at and thus where the cloud cover was?

• How could you tell what type of clouds you were looking at and what their altitudes and thicknesses were, and thus what signifi­cance they had to a developing weather system?

• How could you get the information to line forecasters in a timely fashion? It would not be much use telling a ship that there had been an eighty percent chance of a storm yesterday The launch of the first weather satellite—TIROS I (for thermal infrared and observing system)—in April 1960 confirmed that these were all tough and legitimate concerns.

Nevertheless, TIROS showed for the first time what global weather patterns looked like. The promise inherent in the technology was there for all to see in grainy black and white. But it convinced only those who already believed. Succeeding satellites in the TIROS and improved TIROS series carried gradually more sophisticated instruments, each of which slowly took satellite meteorology closer to wide acceptance.

One such class of instruments—known as sounders—were first developed by Johnson’s group in the 1960s. Sounders measure temperature and, more recently, the moisture content of the atmosphere at different altitudes and in places where direct measurements with, say, a thermometer are not possible—over oceans, for example, where much of the weather develops. They are important for near-term predictions of severe weather such as thunderstorms.

The sounder relies on inferences made from radiometric readings at different frequency ranges in the infrared portion of the spectrum and on its operators’ detailed knowledge of atmospheric chemistry and physics. Inevitably, there is greater inaccuracy in the values of temperature and moisture content taken from satellite sounders than from direct measure­ments of the same parameters. And so modelers have, for the most part, not liked to rely on data from satellite sounders. A notable exception is the European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasting, which has taken the lead in finding ways to extract from satellites the information that is needed for computer models. By the early 1990s, the center was saying that satellite soundings had extended useful predictions from five and a half to seven days in the Northern Hemisphere and from three and a half to five days in the Southern Hemisphere.

While Johnson’s group developed the first sounder, Suomi came up with the idea for the spin-scan camera, which flew for the first time in 1966. Although this class of camera was to become a crucial meteorologi­cal instrument, Suomi was told by a colleague ten years after it first flew that if submitted as part of a Ph. D. thesis, it would not merit a doctorate.

Thus satellites were not entirely welcome participants in meteorol­ogy. Far more welcome were the new high-speed computers and John Von Neumann’s conviction that with sufficient computational power one could model the atmosphere’s behavior and predict the weather.

The idea for such numerical weather prediction was proposed first in 1922 by Lewis Richardson. He tested his idea by feeding meteorological data that had been collected at the beginning of International Balloon Day in May 1910 into mathematical models describing atmospheric behavior. He compared his numerical predictions with the data collected during the day and found no agreement. Discouraged, Richardson concluded that to predict the weather numerically one would need 64,000 mathematicians who would not be able to predict weather conditions for more than sec­onds ahead; they would, in effect, be “calculating the weather as it hap­pened.”

In the thirty years following Richardson’s depressing experience, much changed, including improved understanding of the physics of the atmosphere and mathematical analysis of its behavior. Thus, when the tech­nology of computing emerged, modelers set to work, weaving the basic physical laws into models mimicking the behavior of the atmosphere. And the computers took over the calculations. Initially, the models represented only surface events in small regions. Subsequently, modelers incorporated the influence of the upper atmosphere on weather at the surface.

There are now many models—global, hemispheric, regional. Some are mathematical behemoths constructed from thousands of equations. Some give short-term weather predictions, while others look up to two weeks ahead—so-called medium-term forecasts. Yet others make forecasts, extremely controversial ones, far into the future as climatologists explore climatic change.

All, however, devour numbers—values of temperature, pressure, etc. And because the early satellites did not supply the quantitative data that the models required, there was tension between computer modelers and satellite advocates. Both groups, after all, were seeking scarce public funds for expensive technologies.

In 1969, ten years alter the first meteorological payload was launched, the National Academy of Sciences wrote, .. numerical weather prediction techniques demand quantitative inputs, and until weather satellites are able to generate these, their use in modern meteorol­ogy will be at best supplementary.”

Nearly thirty years later, the technologies have become more com­patible and weather satellites have obtained a secure place in meteorology. The Air Force, NOAA, NASA, and academic groups like that of Suomi’s at Wisconsin have done what they can to extract meteorological values from unprepossessing streams of satellite data and, importantly, to make this information compatible with observations from weather balloons, radar and surface instruments. Yet, says Johnson, considerably more information could be extracted from the meteorological satellite data.

Weather satellites gather their data—images and soundings—from two different types of orbit: polar and geostationary. Like Transit, a weather satellite in polar orbit follows a path that takes it over the poles on each orbit, while the earth turns through a certain number of degrees of longi­tude m the time it takes the satellite to complete one orbit. Thus polar – orbiting satellites, if they have a wide enough field of view to either side of the subsatellite point, provide global coverage. Their altitude, and thus how long they take to complete an orbit, is chosen so that the satellite will “see” all parts of the earth once every twelve hours.

To be truly useful, however, weather satellites need to occupy a special kind of polar orbit, known as sun-synchronous. Sun-synchronous orbits are chosen so that the satellite maintains the same angular relationship to the sun, which means that the satellite will be above the same subsatellite point at a given time of day. Its readings are then consistent from day to day. The timing of the orbit is chosen so that the satellite readings are available for the computer prediction models, which are run twice a day.

If the orbit is to maintain the same angular relationship to the sun throughout the year, it cannot remain fixed in space. But orbits are not, of course, fixed. They respond to the earth’s gravitational anomalies. Mission planners achieve sun-synchronous orbits by exploiting the known effects of the earth’s gravitational field. They select inclinations and altitudes that result in the orbit moving in such a way that the satellite’s sun-synchronous position is maintained. The consequences of the natural world that the Transit team had to understand and to compensate for can thus be exploited usefully by those planning the orbits of weather satellites.

The laws of physics result, too, in the existence of the extremely use­ful geostationary orbit. A satellite at an altitude of about 36,000 kilometers takes twenty-four-hours to complete an orbit. If the orbit has an inclina­tion of zero degrees, that is, the plane of its orbit is coincidental (more or less) with the plane of the equator, then the satellite remains above the same spot on the earth. Thus, the satellite is with respect to the earth for all practical purposes stationary and can view the same third of the earth’s surface while the weather moves underneath it. Suomi’s spin-scan cameras were designed for this orbit. Geostationary orbits were also to prove of critical importance to communication satellites, and Suomi’s spin-scan camera was first launched aboard a satellite designed by one of the fathers of communication satellites—Harold Rosen.

While they are crucial to the beginnings of satellite meteorology, the issues mentioned so far scarcely scratch the surface of the history of weather satellites. There was also an important battle in the early 1960s between NASA and NOAA’s forerunner about the technology of the satellites to replace TIROS and about who would pay for operational satellites. Finally, an improved version of TIROS was selected, and NASA developed the alternative proposal, a more experimental satellite series dubbed Nimbus.

White recalls, “On the same day I was sworn in as chief of the Weather Bureau, Herbert Holloran, the assistant secretary for science and technology, took me to one side and said we have to make a decision about Nimbus. The issue was would we be willing to use Nimbus as our operational satellite. The cost would have been two to three times the cost of using TIROS. This was important to the weather satellite program. If we had followed Nimbus, the cost would have skyrocketed, and maybe we wouldn’t have got the money from Congress. We decided on the basis of cost to go with TIROS. I think that was the right step.”

Even from a technical standpoint, the history is not straightforward. There was no single event, such as Guier and Weiffenbach’s tuning into Sputnik’s signal, from which the story unfolds. Nor was there one clearly defined technical goal such as that of the Transit program—locate position with a CEP of one tenth of a mile. All of the physics and engineering that went into the Transit program were harnessed to meet that goal and were refined to enable the subsequent improvements in the system. In the field of meteorology, satellites were just one tool wielded to learn more about the atmosphere, and no one really knew what needed to be learned as is apparent from the breadth of The Global Atmosphere Research Program’s aims. It is, therefore, not surprising that meteorology satellites took longer than navigation spacecraft to find acceptance.

In further contrast to Transit, there was no single group, like the Navy’s Special Projects Office, that wanted weather satellite technology. Even the Weather Bureau, outside of Johnson’s group, was unenthusiastic. Further, no single group, like the Applied Physics Laboratory’s Transit team, was central to the development of weather satellites. True, the Air Force, backed by sundry laboratories and consultants such as the RAND Corporation, was interested from early days, but once the IGY’s satellite program was announced, more scientists became involved, including Verner Suomi and Bill Stroud. After the launch of Sputnik I, the Advanced Research Projects Agency sponsored the TIROS program, which NASA took over when that agency opened its doors in October 1958. Industry, including companies like RCA, took a hand, and, of course so did the Weather Bureau.

If the professionals were slow to accept meteorology satellites, the lay audience was intrigued by the potential of a spacecraft’s global view, and popular articles appeared in the newspapers of the 1950s speculating on the importance of satellites for weather forecasting. They pointed out that only satellites would be able to provide comprehensive and frequent read­ings over the approximately seventy-five percent of the earth’s surface that is covered by ocean.

Since the first TIROS went into orbit, the United States has launched more than one hundred meteorology satellites. Now the coun­tries of the former Soviet Union, Europe, Japan, the People’s Republic of China, and India maintain meteorology satellites. All contribute to the global economy by improving forecasts for agriculture and transport, and to safety by monitoring severe weather such as hurricanes and allowing more timely and accurate predictions of where they will make landfall. It is unlikely, in the U. S. at least, that a hurricane will ever kill more than 6000 people, as did the hurricane that struck Galveston, Texas, in 1906. It has taken more than three decades, but weather satellites are now living up to the popular expectations of the 1950s.

Chapter twenty: Syncom

Chapter 20 is a distillation of information from the following documents, presented in chronological order; though extracts from one document or an appendix may have been useful for explaining some other part of the unfolding events.

Interviews with Rosen and Roney provided detail that do not appear in the written record. I have included it where it seemed to make sense. For example, it was Rosen who told me that T. Keith Glennan first told Puckett that he was “talking through his hat” when Puckett presented the company’s idea for a 24-hour satellite (page 212). Though Glennan was interested in what Puckett said, Glennan knew that НАС then knew nothing about satellites and that the 24-hour satellite idea was far from conservative. Glennan might well have said what Rosen recalls he said.

April 26, 1960 Rosen completes evaluation of life and reliability of the proposed satellite, focusing on electronics and TWT design. A handwrit­ten note from Puckett says, “This looks very promising. Thanks.”

May 1960: A hefty, mathematical document from Williams entitled “Dynamic Analysis and Design of the Synchronous Communication Satellite.”

A memo from J. W. Ludwig to C. G. Murphy and A. E. Puckett of May 2, 1960, discusses a meeting with E. G. Witting, of the Army, and a represen­tative of the Office of Defense Research and Engineering (Mr. Evans). Hughes learned that the Army was already considering other 24-hour satellite proposals and that Herb York, DDR&E, was “intensely interested in the Hughes program.”

On May 19,J. W. Ludwig sent a memo to A. E. Puckett about a forth­coming request for proposals (July 1, 1960) from the Army for the Advent 24-hour communication satellite.

June 1960: Synchronous communication satellite, proposed NASA exper­imental program by the НАС Airborne Systems Group. Proposal included details of Jarvis Island where НАС was at that time proposing it should build a lunch site.

A memo from Lutz for file copied to Rosen on June 3, 1960, summarizes in detail presentations by Pierce, Jakes, and Tillotson from Bell Telephone Laboratories at a conference at the end of May.

Letter from Douglas Lord, technical assistant to the Space Science Panel, thanking Allen Puckett for the Hughes presentation to the President s Science Advisory Committee.

2 77

Harold Rosen told me the anecdote of how the meeting came to be set up (page 212).

July 26, 1960, Puckett confirms a meeting requested by Abe Silverstein for Hughes to present its satellite proposal to Keith Glennan.

Technical memos in the meantime show Williams’s preoccupation with dynamics studies and his involvement with NASA’s Langley field center.

Memo from John Richardson to C. G. Murphy of August 12, 1960, talks of GT&E’s evaluation of the Hughes satellite. Richardson believed that the GT&E reaction was quite good. GT&E asked Hughes for justification of the life expected for the TWT; how the telemetry system could be protected from disruptive tampering and how the Hughes assertion that ten launches would be needed for one successful satellite could be recon­ciled with the company’s plans for three launches.

An internal memo from Ralph B. Reade to Roy Wendahl raised concern about internal conflicts in the field of satellite communication and the company’s fragmented approach to military customers.

September 14, 1960: preliminary cost estimates of a commercial commu­nication satellite. Total: $15.75 million, including $4 million for the Jarvis Island launch site.

A letter from John Rubel to A. S. Jerrems dated September 22, 1960, refers to a visit he had made a few weeks earlier to Hughes.

On October 25, 1960, Rosen wrote back to Witting refuting all the spe­cific criticisms that Witting made of the НАС proposals. Rosen con­cluded, “In our opinion, the Hughes proposal, if implemented, would achieve all the objectives of the present program, but at an earlier date and lower cost.”

Memos in September, October, and November show that НАС held meetings with GT&E, The Rand Corporation, Bell Telephone Laborato­ries (November 2, 1960), ITT, and British Telecommunications.

A Letter from Allen Puckett to Lee DuBridges, president of Caltech, written on November 18, 1960, refers to their discussions about commu­nication satellites at the Cosmos Club.

Memo from Allen Puckett to J. W. Ludwig of December 14, 1960, con­cerning NASA’s forthcoming RFP for a medium-altitude active satellite.

Memo from Bob Roney to Allen Puckett on December 23, 1960, con­cerning the need for budget decisions for the 24-hour communication satellite program for 1961.

In a memo of January 6, 1961, Puckett informed Rosen, Williams, Hud­speth, and a few others that Lutz would once again be evaluating their communication satellite proposal.

An agenda of an Institute of Defense Analysis meeting shows Rosen scheduled to brief the group between 10:30 and 11:00 on January 10, 1961. Rosens write-up of the meeting on January 12 was directed at Allen Puckett. I noted that the panel was critical of Advent and that his description of the Hughes 24-hour satellite elicited “generally favorable comment.”

In a memo to C. G. Murphy and F. P. Adler, dated January 13, 1961, Sam Lutz demonstrated a less enthusiastic view of the 24-hour satellite, advo­cating extensive additional work and comparisons with passive and medium-altitude active satellites.

Memo from S. G. Lutz to Allen Puckett and A. V. Haeff of February 10, 1961. Subject: review of satellite communications. Lutz wrote a negative and critical report of the 24-hour satellite.

Telegram from Rosen to Rubel of February 28, 1961, apparently responding to remarks by Bill Baker, of Bell Telephone Laboratories.

March 1961: НАС report, “Stationary Satellite, Island Operation Phase.”

Memo from Allen Puckett to F. P. Adler of April 20, 1961. Subject: a con­versation Puckett had had with John Rubel and Rubel’s suggestions regarding the actions that Hughes should take (НАС archives: Commer­cial Communication Satellites 1990-05, Box 6 DoD Communication Satellite).

Memo from C. Gordon Murphy to J. W. Ludwig of April 27, 1961. Sub­ject: A conversation Murphy had had with Rubel.

Letter dated May 8, 1961, from Allen Puckett to John Rubel. Subject: A Program for Interim Satellite Communication.

Memo dated May 11, 1961, from Williams to Hyland, outlining the mis­takes he thought the company had made with respect to developing the 24-hour communication satellite.

Telegram dated May 18, 1961, from Jack Philips to R. E. Wendahl, telling him that Hughes had just been informed that they were unsuccessful in their bid for Project Relay.

Memorandum for the Associate Administrator from Robert Nunn and Leonard Jaffe to Robert Seamans, dated June 6, 1961. The memo states, “It is recommended that NASA immediately embark on a project leading to tests of a simple, light weight communication satellite at 24-hour orbital altitudes. …” This memo formalized a situation that Seamans and Rubel had worked to bring about.

Memo from A. S. Jerrems to Allen Puckett dated June 19, 1961.Jerrems wrote, “Here is another bulletin on the Rubel situation. In a telephone conversation this weekend, Rubel advised me that he spent all day Satur­day (June 17) in a meeting with NASA to discuss communication satel­lite plans. He was inscrutable about the detailed content of the meeting, but he made a statement to the effect that in his opinion, НАС prospects for getting a synchronous satellite funded were better now than they had ever been.”

A letter of June 23, 1961, from Roswell Gilpatric, deputy secretary of defense, to James Webb. He writes, “Mr. Rubel has told me about the plans that he and Dr. Seamans are formulating for an interim synchronous satellite communication experiment with potential for an interim opera­tional capability within the next 12 to 24 months. … I regard the pro­posed program as complementary to those [Rely and rebound (Echo-type satellite)] and the Advent project. … You have my assurance of support in the event that, in your judgement, their proposals should be adopted.” With this letter, Gilpatric set aside the informal agreement that NASA would not develop synchronous-altitude satellites.

Memo from A. S. Jerrems to J. H. Richardson, Allen Puckett, and R. E. Wendahl of July 20, 1961, on the possibility of an early synchronous-orbit experiment. НАС still did not know that both NASA and the DoD were proposing a sole-source contract. After dinner and talks with Rubel, Jer – rems wrote, “Although the proposed five week study program for Hughes, which Rubel and Seamans described to us at the end of June, has not yet been kicked off as we hoped it would be, the planning for the Special Program is not quiescent. There have been a continuing series of meetings between NASA and the DoD to iron out the definition of the ground roles for НАС ”

On August 9, 1961, Alton Jones, project manager at the Goddard Space Flight Center and James McNaul, acting project manager for the U. S. Army Advent Management Agency, signed a contract to be jointly pur­sued by NASA and the DoD for the preliminary project development plan for a lightweight, spin-stabilized communication satellite.

On August 12, 1961, Maj. Gen. G. W. Power, director of developments in the Office of the Chief of Research and Development, wrote to Rosen rejecting his ideas for a lightweight, spin-stabilized communication satel­lite.

Bell Systems was well aware of the promise of communication satellites at synchronous altitudes and also aware of the station-keeping difficulties. In a paper written in November 1962, K. G. McKay wrote an internal paper on the pros and cons of synchronous satellites. He wrote, “The synchro­nous satellite must be placed at a specific point in space with exactly the right velocity and kept there for the life of the satellite. It is a bold con­cept and I am confident that some day it will be achieved” (box 840902 – AT&T archives).

Rejections of the Hughes Proposal

From Maj. Gen. Marcus Cooper, Air Research and Development Com­mand, to Allen Puckett on 3 January 1961: “Since your 3 November visit here… analyzed in detail the Hughes Aircraft Company proposal for a synchronous altitude active communication satellite. In general their find­ings reveal that the proposal is technically marginal in several respects, and tends to be overly optimistic. . . .” Cooper goes on to say that in view of the results expected from Advent, he did not think that “we should pro­ceed further with the Hughes proposal at this time.”

From E. G. Witting, deputy director of research and development, to Mr. J. Bartz, assistant manager, for contracts, writing on October 11, 1960, in response to a letter from НАС of April 22, 1960. Witting writes, “Your proposal has been thoroughly evaluated by the Army and it has been determined that the project would not meet the present requirements of the Army for intercontinental communications.”

Documents that contributed to the general framework of the chapter:

“Syncom (Interim Communication Satellite) Chronology,” possibly pre­pared in the spring or summer of 1963, giving dates of John Rubels involvement with Syncom between 10 April 1961 and 6 February 1963.

Advent chronology from 14 April 1960 to December 1961 (John Rubels papers).

Policy statement for exploitation of НАС communication satellite, undated and unsigned.

Preliminary history of the Origins of Syncom, by Edward W. Morse (NASA Historical Note No. 44) September 1, 1964. Some aspects of this report, about agreements between NASA and the DoD for instance, con­firm details in earlier chapters in this section (John Rubel’s papers).

Although John Rubel was interested in Syncom, others in the Office of Defense Research and Engineering were less keen. Dr. Eugene Fubmi, for example, was not (Author’s interview with John Rubel). In a memo dated March 26, 1962, Fubini was still arguing strongly in favor of Advent (John Rubel’s papers).

R. H. Edwards to D. D. Williams, 19 January 62, “Separation of syncom payload from the third stage” (НАС archives 1987-44 box 1).

“Torques and Attitude Sensing in Spin-Stabilized Synchronous Satellites,” by D. D. Williams, American Astronautical Symposium, Goddard Memor­ial Symposium, March 16-17, 1962.

Post Syncom decision:

Interest in Syncom grew once it had become an official project. An inter­nal НАС memo date 9 May 1962 from C. Gordon Murphy to R. E. Wendahl discussed a visit by the commanding general of the U. S. Army Advent Management Agency, who was interested in HAC’s ability to pro­vide a replacement for the Advent Spacecraft.

By June 18, Robert Seamans was writing to John Rubel about NASA’s plans for a follow-on Syncom program—a five-hundred-pound spacecraft that would permit the “incorporation of 4 independent wide­band transponders, redundant control systems and sufficient on-board auxiliary power to operate the system continuously.” Such a satellite, as a memo from Robert S. McNamara, dated May 23, 1962, shows, would provide a suitable alternative to Advent (John Rubel’s papers).

Memo from John Rubel, deputy DDR&E, to the assistant secretary of the Army, January 25, 1962. Subject: DoD support of NASA—Syncom com­munication satellite test (John Rubel’s papers).

Documents for general background to the communication section

“Telephones, People and Machines,” by J. R. Pierce, Atlantic Monthly; December 1957.

“Transoceanic Communication by Means of Satellite,” by J. R. Pierce and R. Kompfner, Proceedings of the IRE, March 1959 (David Whalen, from George Washington University).

“Satellites for World Communication,” report of the Committee on Sci­ence and Astronautics, U. S. House of Representatives, May 7, 1959.

Project Summary: Project Courier Delayed Repeater Communications Satellite. November 17, 1960 (John Rubel’s papers).

Memorandum for the President, presented to Cabinet December 20,

1960 (David Whalen, from George Washington University).

A Chronology of Missile and Astronautic Events, Report of the Commit­tee on Science and Astronautics, U. S. House of representatives, March 8, 1961.

Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs, delivered to a joint session of Congress, May 25, 1961 (David Whalen from George Washington University).

“Hazards of Communication Satellites,” by J. R. Pierce, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist, May/June 1961.

“The systematic development of satellite communication systems,” by K. G. McKay for presentation to the American Rocket Society, October

1961 (box 840902, AT&T archives).

“The Commercial Uses of Communications Satellites,” by Leland S. Johnson (The RAND Corporation, June 1962).

“Aeronautical and Astronautical Events of 1961,” report of NASA to the Committee of Science and Aeronautics, U. S. House of Representatives, June 7, 1962.

“Communication by Satellite,” by Leonard Jaffe, International Science and Technology, August 1962.

“The dawn of satellite communication: a cooperative achievement of technology and public policy,” by John A. Johnson (НАС archives).

“Communication satellites,’"Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets 14 (7),July 1977 pp. 385-394.

“Benefits in Space for Developing Countries,” by Theo Pirard, Aerospace International May/June 1980.

“Satellite links get down to business,” High Technology Magazine, June 1980.

“Rocky Road to Communication Satellites,” draft of material prepared by Barry Miller for a lecture in the early 1980s (НАС archives).

“The History and Future of Commercial Satellite Communication,” by Wilbur L. Pritchard, IEEE Communications Magazine 22 (5), May 1984.

“The Bell System,” Encyclopedia of Telecommunications (Marcel Dekker, 1991).

“The American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T),” Encyclope­dia of Telecommunications (Marcel Dekker, 1991).

“History of Engineering and Science in the Bell System,” in Transmission Technology; edited by E. F. O’Neill (AT&T archives 85-70382).

“The Development and Commercialization of Communication Satellite Technology by the United States,” by George Hazelrigg Jr. Draft in the NASA History Office.

How the World was One, by Arthur C. Clarke (Bantam Books, 1992).

[1] The Eisenhower administration wanted to establish the freedom of space by launching a civilian scientific satellite. Such a satellite would pave the way for America to launch reconnaissance satellites that could fly over foreign territory without eliciting inter­national protest or retaliation. Only a few of the scientists participating in the IGY knew of the administration’s secret purpose, and it is not yet clear who these were. In fact, it is only now that historians are beginning to fully uncover the political relationship between the IGY and the reconnaissance satellite program. See. . . the Heavens and the Earth: a political his­tory of the space age, by Walter A. McDougall (Basic Books, 1985), which contains an exten­sive review of Eisenhower’s intelligence needs and posits, on the basis of documents then

[2] The information about the Killian panel’s recommendations and the approach that Quarles made to members of the U. S. National Committee of the IGY comes from R. Cargill Hall’s article in the Quarterly of the National Archives.

[3] Robert Goddard launched the world’s first liquid-fuelled rocket on March 16, 1926. It reached an altitude of 41 feet and landed 184 feet from the launch site.

[4] Leonov told this story to Jim Harford, who is writing a biography of Sergei Korolev to be published by John Wiley and Sons in October 1997.

[5] Much of the information about Korolev’s early life is drawn from Yaroslav Golvanov’s book—Sergei Korolev: The Apprenticeship of a Space Pioneer.

[6] The words in quotation marks are extracted from Golovanov’s lengthier account, which appears in Sergei Korolev: The Apprenticeship of a Space Pioneer.

[7] In October 1953, President Eisenhower’s National Security Council endorsed a policy dubbed the “New Look.” This policy’s aim was that the United States should seek obvious strategic superiority and use rhetoric indicating a willingness to use it. The think­ing was that such a policy would deter Soviet aggression and return the diplomatic initiative (post Korea) to the U. S. and permit lower budgets. Eisenhower and his advisors had deter­mined that lower military spending was necessary because the levels at the time endangered national security as much as did inadequate arms. From. . . the Heavens and the Earth: a Polit­ical History of the Space Age, by Walter McDougall. Basic Books (1985).

[8] R. Cargill Hill points out that the president knew from intelligence gathered by the U2 spy planes that the Soviet Union did not have masses of ICBMs aimed at the U. S. The intelligence came from the illegal flights over Soviet territory, and Eisenhower told Secretary of State John Foster Dulles on the day before the telecast that he would not tell the nation that the United States had the ability to photograph the Soviet Union from high altitudes.

[9] At least two other people should be mentioned in connection with the early days of civilian weather satellites. They are Robert White and Fred Singer. White, who retired in 1995 as president of the National Academy of Engineering, was the head of the Weather Bureau and administrator of NOAA in the 1960s and 1970s. He was an influential sup­porter of satellite meteorology. Fred Singer, who was a member of the Upper Atmosphere Research Panel and worked for a while at the Applied Physics Laboratory, oversaw impor­tant engineering advances to TIROS. He was, says White, and is, a fascinating person and a maverick. His most recent provocation to the scientific community is a disbelief in the human contributions to global warming. In the early 1960s, several other people joined the new field of satellite meteorology, and anyone interested in learning about the technology in detail should see Margaret Eileen Courain’s Ph. D. thesis, Technology Reconciliation in the Remote Sensing Era of US Civilian Weather Forecasting, Rutgers University (1991).

[10] See RAND’s Role in the evolution of balloon and satellite observation systems and related US space technology, by Merton E. Davies and William R. Harris, published by the RAND Corporation.

[11] Technology Reconciliation in the Remote Sensing ERA of US Civilian Weather Forecasts, Courain, Rutgers University.

[12] Satellites in an orbit со-planar with the equator at an altitude of nearly 22,300 statute miles are called geostationary satellites because they can be regarded as stationary with respect to a particular point on the Earth, because the satellite takes about the same time to complete its orbit as the Earth takes to turn once on its axis. The satellite, however, is not exactly stationary with respect to the Earth because of the gravitational abnormalities caused by the Earth’s inhomogenous structure, but by the time of Suomi’s and Parent’s pro­posal, observations of satellites like Transit were beginning to improve the accuracy of grav­itational models, making it possible to predict shifts in the satellite’s position.

[13] The idea of taking advantage of a spinning satellite for an automatic east-west scan was not uniquely Suomi’s. A similar idea existed in the world of photo reconnaissance. Merton Davies, of the RAND Corporation, and Amron Katz had encouraged adaptation of a panoramic camera for high-altitude photography. Then Merton Davies had realized that the camera could be fixed to a spinning spacecraft to achieve an automatic east-west scan as a satellite, not in a geostationary orbit, traversed its orbit. From RAND’s Role in the Evolution of Balloon and Satellite Observation Systems and Related US Space Technology. Edwin Land showed the first satellite reconnaissance photographs from such a system to President Eisen­hower on August 25, 1960.

[14] In 1946, Louis Ridenour, an engineering professor at the University ol Pennsyl­vania, independently put forward the idea that a satellite in synchronous orbit would be a good place for a radio relay.

[15] The U. S. Air Force had an alternative approach to passive communication. This involved distributing five hundred million copper threads with a thickness one-third that of a human hair into orbits two thousand miles above the Earth. These would be spaced at five hundred-foot intervals and create an artificial ionosphere. It was not a popular idea with optical and radio astronomers. The scheme was initially called Project Needles, but because the name seemed too descriptive, it was changed to Project Westford. An attempt to distrib­ute the copper threads failed on October 21, 1961. In a research proposal prepared for inter­nal consumption, John Pierce and his colleague Rudi Kompfner said that Project Westford had very little to recommend it.

[16] Aerospace companies had their own ideas. Lockheed, for example, proposed that it, together with RCA and General Telephone and Electronics, should launch a system of spin-stabilized satellites into twenty-four-hour orbits. GTE had also had earlier discussions with the Hughes Aircraft Company.

[17] The story today has come almost full circle, and commercial plans for fleets ot medium altitude communication satellites pose a challenge to geostationary telecommuni­cation satellites.

[18] John Pierce knew them all: Arno A. Penzias and Robert W. Wilson, who discov­ered the cosmic background radiation using the horn antenna developed for the Echo spacecraft; and John Bardeen, William Shockley and Walter H. Brattain, who invented the transistor. Transistor, incidentally, is Pierce’s neologism. Walter Brattain asked him what to call the new device. Pierce writes in Signals: “I told him “transistors,” it seemed logical enough. There were already Bell system devices called thermistors, whose resistance changed with temperature, and varistors, whose resistance changed with current. I was used to the ring of those names. Also, at the time we thought of the early point-contact transistor (then nameless) as the dual of the vacuum tube; in the operation of the two devices the roles of current and voltage were interchanged. The reasoning was simple. Vacuum tubes have transconductance, resistance is the dual of conductance, and transresistance would be the dual of transconductance, hence the name transistor.”

[19] Bandwidth measures the frequency spread. John Rubels figures in a memo from DDR&E were that 20 words per minute in Morse code takes 9 cycles, 100 words per minute by teletype channel needs 75 cycles, voice telephone takes 3,500 cycles (3.5 kc), scrambled voice takes 50,000 cycles (50 kc), commercial TV takes 6,000 cycles (6 me). Today we would say Hertz rather than cycles.

[20] How clearly a signal is heard depends then on the power of the transmitter and the distance over which the signal is sent as well as on the signal-to-noise ratio and the bandwidth of the transmission. The noise, heard as static, comes from many sources. It might, for example, be interference from terrestrial transmissions, such as the Baltimore TV station that drowned out Transit M’s signal or the electromagnetic field generated by vibrat­ing electrons in the receiving circuitry.

Chapter one: New Moon

Chapter one, inasmuch as it refers to Sergei Korolev, is based on secondary sources. Anyone interested in an account based on primary sources should look for a bio­graphy by Jim Harford that was published this fall (1997) by John Wiley and Sons.

Even the secondary sources about Sergei Korolev are sparse, and in each case it was essential to consider carefully who wrote it, where the author was at the time, and when and where the account of Korolev was published. I also attempted to establish whether any given anecdote had similar sources or whether it came from genuinely independent accounts. I have allowed my imagination to have more play in this chapter than in the rest of the book.

Despite being the chief designer of cosmic rocket systems, Korolev was unknown in the West at the time of the launch of Sputnik (page 8). In a 1959 bibliography on Soviet missiles and state personnel (Library of Con-

gress reference TL 789.8.R9H21) intended to give the U. S. technical world information about Soviet activities, Korolev is listed in a publica­tion from HRB-Singer only as someone interested in liquid-fueled rocket engines.

Grigory Tokady, a defector, first disclosed that Korolev was the chief designer for the Soviet space program during a meeting of the British Interplanetary Society in 1961. His revelation was not widely reported.

One of the best accounts of Sergei Korolev’s early life is by Yaroslav Golo­vanov, Sergei Korolev: The Apprenticeship of a Space Pioneer (Novosti, 1976). The book gives a brief account of the launch of Sputnik, but otherwise is devoted entirely to Korolev’s youth; his early poetic efforts; and his rela­tionships with his mother, grandmother, and stepfather (pages 15 and 16).

It is the only book I found that explores the events and relationships that shaped the man. Clearly, the author has interviewed many people who knew Korolev and has tried to evaluate some of the folklore that has grown up around him, in particular, Korolev’s purported meeting with Tsiolkovsky. Irritatingly, Golovanov’s account stops before Korolev was arrested by Stalin’s secret police. The author is reported to have completed a full biography, written in Russian, and to be in search of a publisher.

Details of Korolev’s state of mind in prison in Moscow, his activities there, and the impact that his incarceration in Kolyma had on him appear in Georgii Oserov’s book, published in Paris, En Prison avec Tupolev (A. Michel, 1973). Oserov was in prison with Korolev and the elite of national aeronautics.

Walter McDougall’s book. . . the Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age chronicles the USSR’s fascination from Lenin’s time with technology and the country’s national goal of achieving technical supremacy. This goal led to internal tensions and confrontations between the government and the intelligentsia.

McDougall describes how Marshal Tukhachevsky became a victim of Stalin’s purges and how in 1938 the rocketeers, including Korolev, joined Stalin’s earlier victims, the aircraft designers, in the Gulag’s prison camps.

McDougall reports that Korolev’s failures in early 1957 encouraged his rival Chalomei to attempt to have him dismissed.

Other less detailed accounts of Korolev’s early years exist. The Kremlin and the Cosmos, by Nicholas Damloff (Knopf, 1972), for example, provides a good summary of Korolev’s schooling without the attempts that Golo­vanov makes to explore his psyche. The account is hopelessly inadequate once one enters the difficult years of arrest, concentration camps, and divorce. Daniloff does, however, mention briefly that there were “trying and despairing situations” in Korolev’s life.

Daniloff also gives an account of the launch of Sputnik and of the engineers retiring to an observation bunker a kilometer from the launch pad (pages 10, 18, and 19).

Aleksei Ivanov, an engineer who worked on Sputnik, also recounts the launch (pages 10, 18, and 19) in an article in Isvestia marking the tenth anniversary of Sputnik. He wrote, “I watch not moving my eyes away, fearing to blink so as not to miss the moment of liftoff.”

Another book, more a hagiography than a biography, about Korolev is Spacecraft Designer: The Story of Sergei Korolev (Novosti, 1976). The author, Alexander Romanov, says that he first met Korolev in 1961. If one is care­ful, some details seem worth extracting from this book. The author describes Korolev as a heavyset man, a description that photographs sup­port. His account of Korolev’s small, wood-paneled office with black­board, chalk, lunar globe, bronze bust of Lenin, and model of Sputnik seems plausible, as does his account of a formidable intellect and an ener­getic man with willpower, energy, and vision.

Romanov repeats uncritically the story that Korolev met Konstantin Tsiolkovsky in Kaluga in 1929. Romanov reports that after that meeting, Korolev said, “The meaning of my life came down to one thing—to reach the stars.”

Romanov demonstrates Korolev’s dedication to rocketry with an extract from a letter that Korolev wrote to his second wife in which he wrote, “The boundless book of knowledge and life… is being leafed through for the first time by us here.”

Romanov also reports that it was Korolev who wanted Sputnik to be spherical, which, given Korolev’s authority in the program, seems likely. Romanov says that Korolev said, “It seemed to me that the first Sputnik must have a simple and expressive form close to the shape of celestial bodies.”

More details of Korolev’s character—his strictness, compassion, and demanding nature—appear in a collection of essays entitled Pioneers of Space, which were compiled by Victor Mitroshenkov (Progress Publishers, 1989). Korolevs engineering intuitiveness apparently amazed his colleagues.

In one of the essays, Nikolai Kuznetsov, who headed the cosmonaut training center from 1963, wrote that Korolev liked the cosmonauts to meet the ground staff so that “cosmodrome specialist and cosmonaut could look one another in the eye.” It was Korolev’s way of ensuring that work on Earth was carried out conscientiously. This, together with his recorded friendship with cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Alexei Leonov, is the basis for my saying on page 8 that Korolev cared deeply about the fate of his cosmonauts.

Another essay by Pavel Popovich and Alexander Nemov says that peo­ple found Korolev either sincere, unpretentious, and accessible, or mercilessly strict and demanding with slackers. He was, they say, intolerant of vanity.

The essays include brief accounts of the months before the launch and contain nice details, such as Korolev’s habit of lifting his little finger to his eyebrow when vexed.

Other books in which snippets of information about Sputnik, Korolev, and the space race appear that back up information from the main sources include Soviet Rocketry; Past, Present and Future, by Michael Stoiko (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970); Russians in Space, by Evgeny Riabchikov (prepared by Novosti Press Agency, published New York, Doubleday, 1971); Soviet Writings on Earth Satellites and Space Travel, editor Ari Stern – field (Freeport, NY, Books for Libraries Press, 1970); Red Star in Orbit, by James Oberg (Random House, 1981). Oberg quotes Solzhenitsyn as say­ing that Korolev worked on his rocket at night; The Sputnik Crisis and Early United States Space Policy, by Rip Bulkeley (Indiana University Press, 1991), and Race into Space:The Soviet Space Program, by Brian Harvey (Ellis Horwood, a division of John Wiley, 1988).

A description of the location of the Baikonur cosmodrome and the rela­tive position of Korolev’s cottage can be found in this 1986 edition of Janefs Spaceflight Directory.

Information about the events of the IGY meeting on rockets and satellites in Washington, DC, appears in the archives of the National Academy of Sciences.

The IGY meeting in Washington was reported in the New York Times, October 4, 1957.

The anecdote about Korolev’s conversation with Alexei Leonov a few nights before he died comes from Jim Harford. Harford also talked to me about Korolev’s visit to Peenemiinde after World War II.

Khrushchev’s views on the significance to the Soviet Union of ICBMs are to be found in his autobiography, Khrushchev Remembers:The Last Testa­ment, translated by Strobe Talbot (Little Brown).

Khrushchev describes his casual attitude toward Korolev’s news of the launch of Sputnik to James Reston in an interview published in the New York Times on October 8, 1957. Khrushchev says he congratulated Korolev, then went to bed.

An understanding of what life in prison was like for Korolev can be found in The First Circle, by Aleksandor Solzhenitsyn.

Though chapter one is about Korolev because it was his satellite that opened the space age, Robert Goddard was the man who built and launched the first liquid-fueled rocket—a fact of which Korolev was well aware. A companion book for anyone interested in the pioneering days of rocketry therefore is Robert H. Goddard: Pioneer of Space Research, by Milton Lehman (Da Capo Press, 1988). The footnote about the launch of the world’s first liquid-fueled rocket comes from this book. Lehman’s book was published first as This High Man (Da Capo Press, 1963).

I found information about general historical events, such as the coup that Khrushchev faced down in June 1957 (page 11), in A History of the Soviet Union, by Geoffrey Hosking (Fontana, 1985).

Cocktails and the Blues

“I think there is very little doubt that the Russians intend to start firing [satellites] sometime on or before the first of the year [1958].”

—Richard Porter, chairman of the U. S.Technical Panel on Earth Satellites,

October 3, 1957

“As it happened, the public outcry after Sputnik was earsplit­ting. No event since Pearl Harbor set off such repercussions in public life.”

—William McDougall,.. .The Heavens and the Earth, a Political History

of the Space Age


ieutenant General Anatoly Blagonravov sipped vodka. In Tyuratam it was the early hours of Saturday, October 5, 1957. But in Washington, D. C., it was still the evening of Friday, October 4, and Blagonravov was hosting a reception at the Soviet embassy for delegates to the IGY’s con­ference on rockets and satellites. Sputnik I was in orbit, had, in fact, already passed undetected over America. It would not again go unnoticed.

The people at the Soviet embassy did not yet know that the space age had begun. As the guests circled the buffet of Russian delicacies spread beneath sparkling chandeliers, the Americans probed Blagonravov for hints of when his country planned to launch a satellite.

Although Blagonravov headed the Soviet delegation, the Americans could not have known quite how ideally placed he was to answer them. He was an academician and chair of the Soviet Academy’s Interdepart­mental Commission of Interplanetary Communication; as such he knew what the Soviet scientists wanted to do with satellites. He was a former head of the rocketry and radar division of the Soviet Academy of Artillery Sciences, to which Sergei Korolev had been elected in 1954. Finally, Blagonravov was a member of the State Commission and one of the VIPs who had listened to Prosteyshiy Satellite’s test signal in the assembly build­ing at Tyuratam little more than a week earlier.

What no one who saw Blagonravov that night can say is whether he knew at the beginning of the reception that Sputnik was already aloft. The white-haired, scholarly figure mingled genially with his guests, his demeanor much the same as it had been all week. His blue eyes masked an inner intensity. His Russian cigarette was tilted between his lips.

What is indisputable is that Blagonravov knew that a launch was imminent. So did the American scientists—at least intellectually—includ­ing William Pickering, a native New Zealander of great charm and under­lying sharpness. In 1957, Pickering was a veteran rocket scientist and had been the director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, for three years. He worked closely with the German rocket pioneer Wern – her von Braun. These two knew that with comparative ease they could convert one of the intermediate range ballistic missiles (range 2,000 miles) they were developing into a satellite launcher.

Pickering had first become involved with rocketry in 1942, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The lab had analyzed intelligence reports about a V2 rocket that had landed in Sweden. In 1943, Army Ordnance asked JPL to investigate the possibility of developing an American long – range rocket, which in those days meant rockets that could fly at least one hundred miles.

When the war ended, von Braun surrendered to American troops and was moved eventually to the Army Ballistic Missile Agency in Huntsville, Alabama. The U. S. Army also shipped home about one hun­dred V2s, which von Braun had designed. These rockets were distributed to groups around the U. S. that were interested in upper-atmosphere research and rocketry. A group of scientists known as the Upper Atmo­sphere Research Panel selected and analyzed the experiments that the rockets would carry Members of this group, including James Van Allen, went on to head the IGY s satellite efforts.

Pickering, in cooperation with the Army Ballistic Missile Agency and von Braun, was soon testing the V2s while JPL—known as the “army smarts”—simultaneously continued its own rocket development. At times, as rocket after rocket exploded, it seemed to Pickering that rocketry was an unpredictable art, not a science. But JPL and the Army persevered.

By the early 1950s, the V2s were proving the truth of what Sergei Korolev had said in 1934 in his book Rocket Flight in the Stratosphere: “ … a rocket is defense and science.”

Von Braun, too, had always known this. Like Korolev, he dreamed of space and worked on missiles. In his new country, von Braun was a highly visible advocate of space exploration. In the early 1950s, he drew headlines by promoting grandiose ideas of space stations and Martian colonies at a time when the general public and most scientists thought that even a sim­ple satellite was science fiction.

While the idea of a space station was indeed science fiction at that time, the technical pieces that would make the launch of a satellite a prac­tical project were in place in 1954. That September, von Braun and a small group of scientists drew up a plan for a satellite that would become famous in the annals of space history. His idea was that a Redstone rocket would lift a five-pound satellite from Earth and that an upper stage, comprising a cluster of Loki rockets atop the Redstone, would give the satellite its final kick into orbit. If the small satellite was successful, a second, larger, “bird” carrying scientific instruments would follow. This proposal was called Project Orbiter.

The result of the first shot would be five pounds of metal circling hundreds of miles above the earth at a speed of roughly 17,000 miles per hour, more than four miles per second. Impressive, but how could they prove that such a small, swift, and distant object was really in orbit?

Nowadays, of course, radio links satellites to observers on the ground. Then radio was not an obvious choice. Von Braun turned to astronomy. The satellite would, after all, be a new heavenly body.

No one was better qualified for the job of finding a body speeding through space than the man he turned to, Fred Whipple. Whipple was the director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A tall, slender man with a widow’s peak and steel-rimmed glasses that gave him an air of erudition, he was expert at tracking meteors and comets. Whipple concluded that optical tracking could follow a bur­nished satellite at an altitude of two hundred miles, even though the satel­lite would be visible only for the twenty minutes at dawn and dusk that the sun would illuminate it against a dark sky. So the proposal for Project Orbiter included no plans for radio tracking, a decision that—seemingly— was to tell against von Braun less than a year later.

Von Braun sent the proposal to the Department of Defense, JPL, and branches of the armed services. Whipple approached the National Science Foundation and the National Academy of Sciences.

The proposal came at a time when others with influence were strongly advocating that the U. S. should begin a satellite program. Among these were the scientists who had gained the support of the international scientific community for the inclusion of a satellite in the IGY, and, secretly, those in the Air Force who wanted satellites for reconnaissance. In addition, the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), in Washington D. C., made its own pitch for a satellite program and launcher.

The NRL had been one of the groups to receive V2s, and under the technical leadership of Milton Rosen, it had developed its own rocket—the Viking—for upper-atmosphere research. Rosen persuaded a few forward­looking thinkers to write about the job that satellites could do when rock­ets were developed that could reach orbit. Among these was John Pierce, from AT&T’s Bell Laboratories, who, along with Harold Rosen from the Hughes Aircraft Company, would later be christened “the father of com­munication satellites” by the science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke.

It was the IGY’s scientists who won Eisenhower’s public support, and on July 29, 1955, the president announced that the U. S. would launch a satel­lite as part of the IGY. He deferred a decision as to which of the armed services would provide the launch vehicle.

The day before the formal announcement, the White House press office summoned journalists, telling them that the briefing was embargoed for the next day. The day’s grace was to allow American scientists time to notify their colleagues overseas. One scientist flew to New York to give a letter for Sydney Chapman, president of the IGY, to a friend who was fly­ing to London.

In a two-hour background briefing at the White House, James Hagerty, Eisenhower’s press secretary, announced that America planned to launch ten basketball-sized satellites sometime during the International Geophysical Year. The journalists rushed to the phones, only to be brought up short by the locked doors. Hagerty was determined that the journalists should understand that the story was not to be broken until after the official announcement the next day. One journalist asked what he, a crime reporter, was supposed to do with the story.

Jet Propulsion, the sedate journal of the American Rocket Society, stopped the presses. The editor wrote, “We cannot imagine anything more exciting than to look up and see through our binoculars the brilliant point of light in the sky that will represent a new astronomical body created by man. We expect to be deeply moved.”

Until the announcement, only about a hundred people knew of the satellite plans. Now the secret was out. But the launch vehicle decision was still pending.

The unenviable task of recommending a launch vehicle fell to a panel of scientists headed by Homer Joe Stewart. Stewart, widely referred to as Homer Joe, was well respected for his technical expertise. He was an aerodynamicist from the California Institute of Technology and a prime mover on the Upper Atmosphere Research Panel. Homer Joe s panel was guided in its deliberations by two precepts: satellites must not interfere with missile development, and the project should have a strong civilian flavor and scientific component. Both charges to the Stewart committee must surely have stemmed from the more secret deliberations within the White House that the Killian report stimulated.

The first requirement was largely taken care of when the Air Force, which had earlier been assigned responsibility for military space projects, dropped out of the competition, saying that it could not develop a rocket in time to launch a satellite during the International Geophysical Year without compromising its missile development. Not a surprising decision, given that the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles had top priority with the Department of Defense and that parts of the Air Force were lobbying for funding to develop reconnaissance satellites.

The second requirement was more difficult to fulfill. Only the mili­tary were then sponsoring launcher development.

But the Army and the Navy squared off: the ring, the committee rooms ofWashington D. C. and private offices in the Pentagon.

In one corner was Wernher von Braun with an updated version of Project Orbiter. At his back, the formidable figure of General John Medaris and the technical expertise of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The laboratory had suggested important changes to the upper stages of the launcher, but the size of the proposed satellite—five pounds—stayed the same.

Nevertheless, the Army’s proposal had an immediate strike against it, because the Army was developing intermediate-range ballistic missiles. While not as high a priority as those that the Air Force was developing, they were undoubtedly missiles and compromised perception of Orbiter as a civilian project.

In the opposing corner was the Naval Research Laboratory with its proposal, called Project Vanguard. That proposal contained a much stronger scientific component than the Army’s, a component that the Naval Research Laboratory, with its strong background in upper atmo­sphere research, was well qualified to implement.

The laboratory had additional advantages. It had successfully devel­oped the Viking sounding rocket as a replacement for the V2. The Viking was not part of a weapons system but was intended for scientific explo­ration of the upper atmosphere—albeit in support of military purposes.

Further, the Viking project had provided the lab with a record of developing a large project on time and to cost. The Glenn L. Martin Company had been the contractor for Viking, and the laboratory pro­posed to work with them again on Vanguard.

Finally, the NRL had what was for that time a sophisticated radio tracking plan, whereas the initial Project Orbiter included only optical tracking.

Much of Project Vanguard was technically innovative, relying on miniaturization to beef up the satellite’s capabilities. While miniaturization is today a technological cliche, in 1955 the concept was new. Vanguard would have tiny batteries and radio equipment and in principle would be able to carry ten pounds of scientific instruments, far more than Project Orbiter offered. The batteries were chemical because the designers decided that solar-battery technology, generating electricity from sunlight, was unlikely to be practical in the time available.

The Navy won the first round, but the Army bounced back with a plan that took account of technical criticisms, including an improved tracking proposal. Milton Rosen, who had headed the Viking develop­ment and would be the technical director of Project Vanguard, listened to them argue their case for most of an afternoon. He watched tensely, afraid that von Braun’s eloquence was swaying the panel.

In the event, Homer Joe’s committee confirmed its original decision, and on September 9, the secretaries for the Navy, Army, and Air Force were notified that the Navy would head the three services in the develop­ment of a satellite launcher. When the news reached the NRL’s site by the Potomac in Washington D. C., there was jubilation, some surprise, and a conviction that they could do the job.

The decision of Homer Joe’s panel was not unanimous. Homer Joe himself was one of two who thought that the Army should get the job. The nation could save time and money, he thought, by piggybacking the satellite program on the Army’s missile work. Many, then and now, believe that he was right, and that if the U. S. had picked Project Orbiter, America would have been the first into space.

Thus Project Orbiter became famous as the proposal that could have begun the space age but did not. In retrospect, and in the light of the emerging evidence concerning the Eisenhower administration’s desire to establish the freedom of space by launching a civilian scientific satellite, one suspects that the Army could not have won. Certainly, the guidance given to the Stewart committee seems to have been fashioned to favor the somewhat less militaristic Navy proposal.

The administration’s decision to back Project Vanguard has pulled down much vilification on President Eisenhower’s head. Though it seems now that Eisenhower’s decision was more subtle than it appeared at the time, he did underestimate the blow to America’s self-esteem and the con­comitant gain in the Soviet Union’s international prestige that would fol­low the Sputnik launch.

During 1955, as wheels of policy turned within wheels, the scientists who in the fall of 1954 had won backing from the international scientific com­munity for the inclusion of satellites in the IGY had also been busy. Early in 1955, the executive of the national committee had established a rocketry panel to evaluate the feasibility of producing a rocket that could launch a satellite. The task was delegated to William Pickering, Milton Rosen, and a young hawk, also from the Naval Research Laboratory, John Townsend.

They met in Pasadena in February of 1955. This trio concluded— unsurprisingly—that a satellite launch was feasible. Milton Rosen reported their findings to the rocketry panel in March 1955. He outlined three pos­sible rocket configurations, which, unbeknownst to many scientists of the IGY, had much in common with proposals which were then vying for attention at the Pentagon.

On March 9, Joseph Kaplan, chair of the U. S. IGY, sought approval from the U. S. executive committee for the IGY for the inclusion of satel­lites in their research plans.

He met opposition. The debate, recorded in scribbled, handwritten notes, is hard to decipher, but the language suggests that some of the scien­tists knew or had an inkling that national security issues were at stake. Merle Tuve, director of the Department for Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution (and founder of the Applied Physics Laboratory, which would develop the Transit navigation satellites), was very uncom­fortable with the idea of tying the satellite project to the IGY. Others, like Fred Whipple and Harry Wexler, who as chief sci’entist of the weather bureau would be a strong supporter of meteorology satellites, argued persuasively that satellites would expand the science that could be undertaken by the IGY.

His colleagues asked Tuve—wouldn’t it be better for satellites to be part of the IGY so that the data collected by the spacecraft would be unclassified and freely available? If the Department of Defense were to lead the way, there would be less opportunity for international collaboration. They could do an enormous amount of science with satellites, they argued. And if they were to exclude everything from the IGY that had a possible military application, there would be nothing left. Who were they, asked one scientist, to hold up progress?

Hugh Odishaw, the indefatigable secretary of the national commit­tee, finally summarized their options: say no, irrespective of whether the satellite project had scientific merit or not; embrace the satellite project as part of the American contribution to the IGY; decide whether it had merit and, if it was geophysically useless, say that the satellite program was more appropriate to the Department of Defense.

Clearly, satellites do have considerable potential for geophysics, and what seems to have persuaded Tuve to endorse the satellite project was that if the Pentagon took the initiative, cooperation with other countries would be difficult. Eventually, the executive committee approved the inclusion of satellites in the IGY.

The National Science Foundation then requested funds from Con­gress on behalf of the National Academy of Sciences, which was organizing the IGY (the National Academy of Sciences does not request funds directly from Congress). The National Science Foundation and the National Acad­emy of Sciences gave Donald Quarles, assistant secretary of defense for research and development, what he needed, two bodies with indisputable credentials in the world of civilian science. He now had a formal request for a civilian satellite as had been recommended by the Killian committee.

Kaplan sent a letter to the National Science Foundation explaining that the satellite project would need $10 million in addition to the nearly $20 million that congress had by now authorized for the IGY. At the same time, the IGY s satellite proposal was sent to the White House and the Pentagon. At the Pentagon, Quarles looked at Kaplan’s figures and doubled them. Even that turned out to be a serious underestimation of the ultimate cost (elevenfold what Kaplan requested, excluding the Pentagons expendi­ture), inevitably, perhaps, because no one had any idea of the technical dif­ficulties and costs of space exploration.

It was now May 1955, and the IGY’s organizers needed the money as soon as possible if they were going to launch a satellite before the comple­tion of the IGY at the end of 1958. But the project stalled. At least, that is how it appeared to the staff of the U. S. national committees secretariat, who were frustrated as phone calls went unanswered and unsatisfying memos arrived in response to requests for information about the satellite budget.

In fact the IGY was now a pawn in a bigger game. The chain of events was in progress that led ultimately to the National Security Coun­cil’s endorsement of the plan at the end of May, to the formation of Homer Joe Stewart’s committee, to President Eisenhower’s announcement of July 29, and to the September decision that Project Vanguard would launch America’s first satellite.

From the IGY’s perspective, things started to move again after Eisen­hower made his announcement. Despite not knowing which launch vehi­cle the administration would select, the national committee asked Richard Porter, a technical consultant to General Electric, to form a panel to over­see the IGY’s satellite work. Porter’s committee spawned two more. One, led by William Pickering, was responsible for radio and optical tracking and orbital computations. Fred Whipple was one of his committee mem­bers, and he took on the responsibility of organizing optical tracking for the IGY. James Van Allen chaired the second group, which was responsible for choosing the experiments that would fly.

As 1956 advanced, the cost of the satellite program escalated. Eventu­ally, one of the IGY scientists complained that the satellite program was costing as much as if each satellite had been built from solid gold. Berkner assured him that the value of the satellites to the international community and to the United States was worth far more than digging that much gold out of the earth.

Despite such enthusiasm, development of the Vanguard rocket was experiencing technical and financial difficulties. Milton Rosen, Van­guard’s technical director, was convinced that the Glenn L. Martin Com­pany was not giving the NRL its best efforts. He attributed this to the company’s also having the contract for the Air Force’s Titan ICBM. Whatever the reasons, the pitfalls and colossal nature of undertaking to develop and build a three-stage rocket from scratch in so short a time were now apparent.

These technical difficulties were compounded by the cutbacks in the program. By October 1957, Van Allen’s committee could count on only six launch vehicles, possibly far fewer.

Sputnik was about to change all that.

On Friday, October 4, 1957, Walter Sullivan, a science correspondent for the New York Times, filed a story for Saturday’s paper. After a week at the rockets and satellite conference he felt fairly certain that he had taken the right line. He’d written that the Soviets were close to a launch attempt.

Sullivan says that before going to the reception he called his office. He was told that the paper’s Moscow office had heard Radio Moscow announce that a satellite was in orbit. He was told to find out what he could.

Sullivan hurried to the embassy. He found the American scientists: Pickering, Richard Porter, Lloyd Berkner, and John Townsend. When Sul­livan told them the news, they looked at one another in consternation. To this day, Pickering believes that the Soviets at the reception did not know of their own successful launch.

The Americans went into a huddle and decided that they must con­gratulate their hosts. As the senior American scientist present, the task fell to Lloyd Berkner. Leaving his colleagues to assimilate the news as best they could, he took his glass and a spoon and climbed on a chair. He rapped the glass for attention. Slowly the conversation died down, and the guests turned to Berkner. His announcement was simple, and it caused a sensa­tion. He said, “I am informed by the New York Times that a satellite has been launched and is in orbit at an altitude of nine hundred kilometers. I wish to congratulate our Soviet colleagues on their achievement.” With that, he raised his glass. Blagonravov was beaming as he drank the toast.

Chapter 11: Move Over, Sputnik

Khrushchev’s belligerent attitude toward the United States, which pre­sumably set the tone for the excerpt from Soviet Fleet (page 119), is clear in an interview with James Reston for the New York Times that appeared on October 9, 1957. In the interview, Khrushchev said that the U. S. was causing all the trouble [between the two countries] because it negotiated with the USSR as if it were weak. Khrushchev told Reston that the USSR had all kinds of rockets for modern war and spelled out the fact that since the USSR could launch a satellite, it had the technology for intercontinental ballistic missiles. In his interview, Khrushchev uses the terms “imperialist warmongers” and “reactionary bourgeoisie” when speaking of the U. S.

Eisenhower’s attitude to this rhetoric is apparent in his State of the Union message on January 9, 1958. He said, “The threat to our safety, and to the hope of a peaceful world can be simply stated. It is communist imperialism. This threat is not something imagined by critics of the Soviets. Soviet spokesmen, from the beginning, have publicly and frequently declared their aim to expand their power, one way or another, throughout the world.”

The failure of the launch of Vanguard on December 6, 1957, (page 120) is retold in Green’s and Lomask’s book in the NASA History Series, Van­guard, A History.

General Medaris’s call to JPL et al. (page 121) is discussed by William Pickering in his oral history in the archives of the California Institute of Technology.

Pickering’s attempts to contact James Van Allen are discussed both in Pickering’s oral history at Caltech and in James Van Allen’s oral history in the National Air and Space Museum (page 121 — 122).

In the oral history and in his interview with me, Pickering described the journalist who tracked him down in New York immediately prior to the launch.

The account of the launch of Explorer 1 (pages 122-123) comes from the oral histories of Pickering and Van Allen, from Pickering’s interviews with me, from the Green and Lomask book (Vanguard—A History) and from accounts in the New York Times.

James Van Allen describes his isolation and concerns on the launch of Sputnik in his oral history at the National Air and Space Museum.

In his oral history and when talking to me, Pickering describes the wait for the acquisition of Explorer 1 and his trip to the NAS to face the world’s press once the satellite was in orbit.

Details on pages 123 — 125 are a synthesis of extracts from minutes of the USNC for the IGY, the executive committee of the USNC, the TPESP, the Technical Panel on Rocketry and the Working Group on Internal Instrumentation.

An ad hoc meeting of the TPESP, November 10, 1955, discussed the bud­get for the whole satellite program. Homer Newell emphasized the importance of allocating money quickly for optical and radio tracking and for scientific instrumentation.

The need to understand the organizational relationship between the different official bodies was mentioned. This was an early warning of a struggle for control of the program. The NRL was emphatic that it retain control of the launch vehicle and to a large extent over the scientific instrumentation. A formal statement said, “The NRL desires the advice and guidance of the USNC with respect to scientific instruments…. advice will be followed in so far as is possible without compromising the achievement of a first successful launch.”

The question of organizational relationships and responsibility resurfaced nearly a year later. In an attachment to the minutes of the sev­enth meeting of the TPESP on September 5, 1956, a note records an informal meeting at the Cosmos Club between Richard Porter and Admiral Bennet during which there was discussion about whether the satellite program was a DOD program with IGY participation or vice versa.

The third meeting of the TPESP took place in the Founders’ Room at the University of Michigan. The panel discussed the possibility that the

Soviets might launch a satellite in 1956 and agreed to make formal en­quiries through the CSAGI, the international organizing body for the IGY.

During the third meeting of the TPESP, the chair, Richard Porter, appointed James Van Allen to head a working group on internal instru­mentation. The panel’s job was to review the proposals for experiments submitted to the panel.

At the fifth meeting of the TPESP on April 20, 1956, Homer Newell said that a master schedule for the development of Vanguard was being drawn up and would be circulated to the TPESP as soon as it was ready. He described several satellite configurations and reported on development of the rocket’s first stage. During the same meeting there was discussion of budget overruns.

During the meeting, Richard Porter also discussed the concerns that there might be only one satellite launched. He said,“. .. if the plan really is to stop after you get one good one, then we had best discontinue most of the work of this panel. In fact, my own feeling is that the program would not be worth doing if this were the intent.” The DOD observer replied, “It is the feeling of the executive branch of government that our present job is to get one up there, and it is most unlikely… that we will answer in any other way than to say it is a future not present decision [how many satellites are launched] (page 124).

The meeting went on to question whether they had a right to spend taxpayers’ money on a tracking system when there might only be one satellite.

In an attempt to justify six launch attempts, Dr. Porter said, “Actu­ally, the six rides was determined by another group headed by Dr. Stewart as being the minimum that ought to be fired to get one good one. This is the best guess of some guided missile experts.”

Porter argued that there should be more ideas put forward for satel­lite experiments because he believed there would be an extended pro­gram of satellite launches and that once in place, the tracking system would be cheaper to operate than it was to set up.

The Bird’s-Eye View

It is obvious that in observing the weather through the “eye” of a high-altitude robot almost all the quantitative measurements usually associated with meteorology must fall by the wayside.

—From a Project RAND report: Inquiry into the feasibility of weather reconnaissance from a satellite (1951), by William Kellogg and Stanley Greenfield.


uring World War II, Japanese paper balloons floating on currents in the upper reaches of the lower atmosphere carried incendiary bombs across the Pacific to the United States. They caused some forest fires, which were quickly extinguished. Censorship kept news of the few fires from the public, and thus the balloons did not precipitate the widespread consternation that Japanese strategists had hoped for.

William Kellogg and Stanley Greenfield were intrigued by the story of these balloons and were impressed by the knowledge of the atmosphere that such a campaign had needed. The two men worked for a newly formed group of technical consultants known as the RAND Corpora­tion.[10] The interest the two men had in high-altitude balloons, which they believed might make good platforms for photo reconnaissance and intelli­gence gathering, evolved eventually into a conviction that satellites would provide a good platform from which to observe the weather. Their early conceptual work on “weather reconnaissance” became part of TIROS, and in 1960, the American Meteorological Society presented Kellogg and Greenfield with a special award.

The RAND Corporation was an ideal place for Kellogg’s and Greenfield’s work. The organization was formed in 1948 when the U. S. Air Force, previously the Army Air Forces, became a separate branch of the armed services. It grew from Project RAND, which the Douglas Cor­poration set up immediately after the Second World War to evaluate advanced technology for the Army Air Forces’ missions. RAND made its
first analysis of the technical feasibility of satellites for the Army Air Forces in 1946.

In 1948, the government assigned responsibility for satellites to the Air Force, which appointed RAND to manage the work. RAND subcon­tracted studies on guidance, stabilization, electronic reliability, communica­tions, space reconnaissance systems, and space power systems to companies such as Westinghouse, Bendix, and Allis Chalmers. In 1951, RAND pub­lished classified studies incorporating industry’s and its own work. These studies analyzed potential missions as well as engineering design, the polit­ical implications of the technology, and the potential of satellites for sci­ence. Later, when the U. S. space program got seriously underway follow­ing the launch of the first two Sputniks, the content of these reports would be incorporated into the early classified satellite programs, such as the Dis­coverer series (on which APL had a transmitter).

RAND’s main conclusion in 1951, however, was that satellites had potential as observation platforms for reconnaissance. In the same year, Kellogg and Greenfield completed a study on the feasibility of satellites— referred to as satellite missiles or satellite vehicles—for “weather reconnais­sance.”

Weather and reconnaissance satellites proved to be a hard sell, but of the two it was reconnaissance satellites that first won the administration’s backing. In winning that backing, reconnaissance satellites precipitated, by the tortuous paths that characterized the Cold War, the U. S. space pro­gram, including—eventually—meteorology satellites.

Initial opposition to reconnaissance satellites focused on their techni­cal limitations. In those days photography from high altitudes offered spa­tial resolutions of the order of hundreds of feet, knowledge obtained from high-altitude rocket photographs (thirty, forty-five, and sixty-five miles), which the Navy had been the first to take. This resolution was much poorer than what could be obtained from cameras on aircraft, and those who had developed expertise in photo interpretation during World War II were scornful of the technology’s capabilities.

But prompted by the need for better intelligence, both to prevent surprise attacks and to monitor arms-control agreements, the Eisenhower administration proposed low-level funding for a reconnaissance satellite program in fiscal year 1956 (that is, for funds available from October 1955). The money authorized was as follows: fiscal year 1956—$4.7 mil­lion; 1957—$13.9 million; 1958—$65.8 million.

Air Force historian R. Cargill Hall says that the critical factors in winning backing for the development of a reconnaissance satellite were that satellites offered a photographic platform that could not be seen by the naked eye or detected by radar sensors, and if satellites were detected, they would be too far away to be shot down.

These were not advantages that the Soviets were likely to appreciate. When President Eisenhower suggested in 1955 that there be an “open skies” policy, allowing overflight of Soviet and U. S. territory in order to ver­ify disarmament agreements, Khrushchev had dismissed the idea, calling it “licensed espionage.” Khrushchev viewed the policy as an attempt to gather information on potential military targets, and that, indeed, was one of its purposes. So the prospect of American spy satellites could be guaranteed to provoke Soviet animosity. For these and other reasons, argued the historian Walter McDougall, the Eisenhower administration wanted a civilian satel­lite launched first to establish the precedent of the freedom of space. In an article in Prologue, Quarterly of the National Archives (spring 1996), Cargill Hall confirms this view, arguing that the IGY enterprise effectively was made into a stalking horse for military reconnaissance satellites.

It was not a cheap stalking horse—nearly $20 million initially for the satellites alone—but it was effective. The program played host to enough political tensions, technical difficulties, protests from the Army, and criti­cisms of the Eisenhower administration’s Vanguard decision to keep the eyes of the world focussed on the IGY. Thus it was that IGY became the forum in which the first satellites were launched.

To the disappointment of Kellogg and Greenfield, weather satellites languished during the discussions about reconnaissance. Even though the resolution was poor, satellite images, they believed, offered something of potentially great importance to meteorologists—a “synoptic” picture, assembled from several individual photographs, showing cloud patterns over a large expanse of the earth at one time.

The proposal Kellogg and Greenfield made in 1951 had to wait seven years until the Advanced Research Projects Agency was prompted by Sputnik into finding applications for satellites. William Kellogg was then appointed to head an ARPA panel drawing up specifications for a meteorology satellite.

Kellogg turned to his and Greenfield’s early ideas, which, as in the case of reconnaissance satellites, owed much to rockets and high-altitude balloons. Images from rockets enabled meteorologists to begin developing analytical techniques that made sense of the bird’s-eye view of the Earth, while balloons served as test beds for meteorological instruments and cameras. The balloons could carry more weight aloft than could early satellites.

In the late 1940s, high-altitude balloons were already a versatile technology for a variety of applications. William Kellogg had worked on a project for the U. S. Atomic Energy Commission investigating their potential for monitoring the dispersion of radioactive particles from atomic tests; the Japanese, as we saw, had used them to carry incendiary bombs; and the Photo Reconnaissance Laboratory at the Wright Field in Ohio established that balloons made a stable platform for aerial photogra­phy.

At about the same time, in January 1949, the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society published an article by Major D. L. Crowson, “Cloud Observations from Rockets.” Crowson suggested that even low-resolution imagery from high altitudes would improve weather forecasting.

Given this background, it is not surprising that Kellogg and Green­field decided to pursue the idea of using high-altitude balloons first for photo reconnaissance and then for meteorological research. This work gave them the information they needed about optical systems for their 1951 report on weather reconnaissance from a satellite. What they wrote was by no means a detailed engineering proposal, but it tackled concep­tually for the first time the elements of a meteorological satellite carrying a camera operating in the visible portion of the electromagnetic spec­trum.

They asked, Can enough be seen from an altitude of 350 miles to enable intelligent, usable weather observations to be made, and what can be determined from these observations?

From analyses of photographs taken by rockets, they decided that a resolution of five hundred feet was necessary if all the useful cloud struc­tures were to be identified.

They assumed that the camera would mechanically scan to build a photograph of a wide enough area—a 350-mile swath around the sub­satellite point—to be of use. Once they had specified the minimum reso­lution, they discussed the aperture, illumination, exposure time, and focal- length-to-aperture ratio needed to achieve a given contrast. The satellite, of course, would not be taking carefully posed and cunningly lit pho­tographs but would have to operate in whatever conditions nature de­creed. So the camera and optical system had to be chosen to provide usable photographs in a variety of conditions.

Photographs, they recognized, would not yield the quantitative information that meteorologists needed. It would be impossible to do more than make intelligent guesses at temperatures and pressures. But in those days, before numerical weather prediction, these limitations did not seem as great an obstacle as they would shortly become. Thus, unknow­ingly, Kellogg and Greenfield put their finger on what was to be the mam problem in winning acceptance for satellite meteorology. Analysts, they wrote, would have to make the most of the visible aspects of the weather in building their weather charts; clouds, being the most visible aspect of the weather, would be important.

Rocket photographs had already given an inkling of the inherent problems. In pictures taken by cameras on Thor and Atlas, it was difficult to tell whether areas of uniform greyness were cirrus clouds (wispy, high- altitude clouds formed of ice particles), tropospheric haze, or an artifact of the optical system resulting from the wavelengths accepted. All was not bad news, however, because more cloud patterns had been apparent in rocket photographs than had been expected.

In an attempt to get a feel for how accurately one might forecast weather from satellite photographs, Kellogg and Greenfield had estimated the synoptic situation from photographs taken during three rocket flights and had then made a forecast and compared it with records of actual weather on the day in question. Encouraged by the results, the two con­cluded that “combined with both theoretical knowledge and that gained through experience, an accurate cloud analysis can produce surprisingly good results.”

By the end of 1959, anticipating the launch of TIROS in 1960, lead­ing researchers met in Washington to discuss cloud research, a field known as nephology. Harry Wexler, then chief scientist of the Weather Bureau, pointed out that until the late nineteenth century, clouds had been almost the only source of information about conditions in the upper atmosphere, but that with the advent of balloon soundings, interest in nephology had declined. (Now clouds are recognized to be of crucial importance in meteorology, particularly in climate studies, and meteorologists are asking such basic questions as “What is a cloud?”)

Sig Fritz, who worked for Wexler, spoke of the strong sense researchers had that they would not know how to interpret cloud pho­tographs. This was a problem that Kellogg and Greenfield had foreseen in their 1951 report, and they had recommended that in preparation for satellite images, meteorologists build a comprehensive atlas of clouds as seen from above.

TIROS would soon begin that process.

The conception and birth of the TIROS satellites were difficult. First, in late 1957, the secretary of defense, Neil McElroy, agreed that a new agency—the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA)—would have responsibility for key defense research and development projects. ARPA officially opened its doors on February 7, 1958, and weather satellites became one of its projects.

Immediately, Kellogg was asked to define the specifications for a weather satellite, which he did with the help of people like Dave Johnson. In the meantime, RCA had submitted a proposal to the Army Ballistic Missile Agency for a reconnaissance satellite as part of the Redstone mis­sile program.[11] The Department of Defense decided that the images from this satellite would not be good enough for intelligence gathering, and it therefore became TIROS, modified to incorporate the conclusions from Kellogg’s group at ARPA. ARPA managed the TIROS project until the National Aeronautics and Space Administration took it over in October 1958.

The newly formed NASA was a powerful organization, and it could expropriate groups and organizations. One of the groups that the agency wanted was that headed by Bill Stroud, of the Army’s Signal Corps of Engineers, which was working on a camera for the IGY’s cloud-cover experiment. After some altercations with military bureaucrats, Stroud was able to transfer to NASA in 1959, and he headed the agency’s meteorology branch at the Goddard Space Flight Center.

So TIROS had its roots in a spy satellite proposed to the Army by RCA but became a weather satellite managed first by ARPA and then by Stroud’s group at NASA.

The satellite’s optics had a field of view four hundred miles on a side. It carried a small Vidicon TV tube, selected because of its light weight.

The images recorded were poor because the camera’s electron-beam scan was not well controlled. Also, recalled Verner Suomi, who soon became involved with the TIROS program, “We didn’t know what the devil the damned thing was looking at. There were some problems as to what time the pictures were taken, and the spacecraft was spinning like a top. Where the devil was north? That caused major problems.”

Sean Twomi, of the Weather Bureau, soon identified the cause of one of the problems. The spacecraft needed to spin to remain stable in orbit, but the spin axis was tilting because of interactions between the spacecraft’s electrical systems and the earth’s magnetic field. Thus it was difficult to know where the cameras were pointing. Once Twomi had identified the problem, the Air Force developed magnetic stabilization to control the orientation of the spin axis, though it was some time before the engineer­ing problems of orientation and stabilization of weather satellites were fully solved.

Despite such difficulties, those involved, like the engineers and scien­tists at the Applied Physics Laboratory, had an overwhelming sense of being pioneers. Bob Ohckers, an engineer who worked on the TIROS program at RCA and later moved to Suomi’s lab at the University ofWis – consin, recalled, “In those days, there were no cutesy requirements, no quality control or oversight. Everything was experimental. If we had a fail­ure, we would try to keep it from the contractor, particularly from Thomas Haig, who headed the Air Force’s weather satellite program (Haig also joined the University ofWisconsin, where he and Suomi spent some time feuding). Haig would try to ferret out what was going on. We were told to tell him nothing. The whole group was working with rolled up sleeves and screwdrivers.”

Despite the limitations of the TIROS satellites, both in terms of the data they collected and of the analytical techniques available for data processing and interpretation, the first images returned to Earth were tantalizing.

In 1964 Suomi gave a lecture to children at a local school. A copy of the speech, recorded by some attentive listener, was in an old filing cabinet in the basement of the building where Suomi worked at the University ol Wisconsin. He told them how unsophisticated and crude the satellites were. But he also told them that during one orbit of TIROS they had identified two hurricanes in the southern hemisphere before they had been spotted by ships or weather stations. He showed them bright areas of cloud, telling them that this meant that the clouds were thick and high and represented an enormous thunderstorm, but that they only learned these things after the event. “We have much to learn about how to apply these pictures. The future depends not on the hardware, not on the gadgets, not on the software, but on individuals applying their knowledge to this very challenging problem [of interpretation].”

With the formation of NASA, the defense and civilian meteorology satellite programs went their separate ways. Until 1965, the Defense Mete­orology Satellite Program (DMSP) was one of a suite of satellites con­trolled ultimately by the CIA—an indication of how intertwined the mis­sions of reconnaissance and meteorology satellites were. Then, in 1965, control of funding for DMSP was transferred to the Air Force. DMSP remained secret until John McLucas, the under secretary for the Air Force, made the program public in 1973.

Since 1958, when the two programs diverged, the civilian and defense meteorological worlds have resisted all political efforts to reunite

them. Meetings about a merger between the two were, says one partici­pant, like arms control negotiations of old, where people developed their arguments as to why arms control was not possible.

Suomi, who like many of his colleagues worked on both sides of the fence, recalled that he would see the same work being done twice. “Part of my activities here [at the University of Wisconsin], which were classified

then, was to put the heat budget experiment on a military satellite. The thing that was interesting was that many of the things that the civilian pro­gram utilized were actually developed for the military. What interested me as a party to both was that I saw one part of the RCA building which was classified and I saw another part of the building not classified. Both parts were classed as development, but really they were only one development. Someone made a lot of money on that.”

Johnson, too, saw duplication, but said that interactions between the two worlds could work well when individuals in the military program were cooperative. On one occasion Johnson wanted to fly a new tube, and the DMSP allowed one of its own tubes to be replaced by Johnson’s. Many of the DMSP people would also, says Johnson, do what they could to move expertise from the “black” world. But technology was not always transferred. Suomi recalled that DMSP effectively equipped spacecraft

with “exposure meters” so that they could photograph clouds by moon­light in the visible part of the spectrum. Asked if such technology would have helped civilian weather satellites and why it was not transferred, he answered, “Yes” and “I don’t know.”

Though declassification may clarify some of these questions, it is unlikely to revise substantially the pioneering role that Verner Suomi played.

Chapter two: Cocktails and the Blues

A flavor of the times described in this chapter comes from my interviews with William Pickering, Milton Rosen (technical director of Project Van­guard), John Townsend, and Herbert Friedman (of the Naval Research Laboratory and a member of the USNC).

When the Soviet embassy’s party began (page 21) on the evening of October 4, 1957, did Anatoli Blagonravov know that Sputnik had been launched? William Pickering thinks not. John Townsend doesn’t know, but he says that Homer Newell (scientific program coordinator for Pro­ject Vanguard), who was with them, was convinced that Blagonravov did know.

My physical description of Blagonravov comes from reports in the New York Times during the week of the conference (page 22). I’m guessing that he drank vodka.