Struggling into space

In the United States, the main obstacles were political - space exploration was not only off the agenda, it was still not even seen as a practical possibility. When presented with a preliminary plan to send a small satellite into orbit in time for the IGY of 1957-58, President Harry S. Truman dismissed it as "hooey".

But the space advocates were not deterred, and they set about appealing directly to the public. Coordination was key, and in 1951 Willy Ley organised a Symposium on Space Travel, bringing together enthusiasts and engineers ranging from



Within a week of the decision to abandon Project Orbiter, the US Defense Department threw a lifeline to Huntsville when it authorized the Army's development of the Jupiter Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM). Jupiter missiles would follow a trajectory that left and re-entered Earth's atmosphere, so permission was given for a programme of Redstone-based test vehicles that could take Jupiter components such as warhead nose cones into space and test how they survived the heat of re-entry. The resulting Jupiter A and C rockets were very similar to the original Project Orbiter. The first object to successfully return to Earth from space was a model Jupiter nose cone, launched on 8 August 1957.

the Huntsville missile team to the amateurs of the American Rocket Society. Soon memos were exchanged about the best way to sell the dream of space travel to America. Cynics wryly commented that the US would commit itself only if the Soviets threatened to get there first.

By mid-1954, things began to move, as von Braun was approached by the Office of Naval Research to take part in a summit of leading scientists that would examine the various satellite proposals already on the drawing board and look for a way forward. The result was a proposal for Project Orbiter, a cheap launch system based on the Redstone rocket, topped with a second stage powered by cheap solid rockets. Von Braun was sure it could put a satellite weighing a few kilograms into orbit during the IGY. Jn

But in the spring of 1955, with work on Project*^ Orbiter already advancing, a series of political setbacks saw von Braun excluded from US plans for space. One attack came from scientists involved in^ the IGY, who dismissed the Orbiter plan as inelegan and argued that the first US satellite should be 30*3 American affair. These objections might have been overcome, were it not for 3 turf war between the .J military branches. Alarmed at reported developments


Exhaust billows from the base of a Redstone rocket during a static test-firing of the engines. The test stand at Redstone Arsenal allowed the Huntsville engineers to measure the amount of thrust their rocket engines could generate. With the Army unwilling to fund large building projects at the site, the Germans were forced to build the stand on a tight budget, effectively raiding the petty cash.


The base of an assembled R-7 displays 20 large nozzles - four on each of the booster RD-107 engines, and four for the central RD-108. Smaller vernier nozzles were used to steer the rocket.

in the Soviet Union, President Eisenhower decided that the satellite launch demanded his attention. A committee was set up to investigate options from the Army, Navy, and Air Force, and the Navy's proposal for Project Vanguard, a three-stage rocket they claimed could launch a heavier payload than the Redstone project within the same time frame, was chosen for development.

Launching a satellite in time for the IGY was finally a US government priority, but the Huntsville team had been relegated to the sidelines.

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