With Sputnik 2 capturing headlines around the world the US government finally allowed Army planning for a spaceshot to resume In the wake of Vanguard Explorer 1 would become the first American satellite

The same evening that news of Sputnik 1 had broken, Secretary of Defense Neil McElroy, who happened to be visiting Redstone Arsenal, had called Wernher von Braun's bluff - if the Army team were allowed to restart work toward a satellite launch, how soon could they have something in orbit? Sixty days, said the optimistic von Braun, while his more cautious commander, John B. Medaris, thought that 90 days was more feasible.

Nevertheless, it took the launch of Sputnik 2, and the realization that the Soviet space programme was not just a one-off publicity stunt, to force a decision in Washington. On 8 November, the Huntsville team was given approval to launch a satellite, with several provisos. The most important of these was the nature of the satellite - Eisenhower, in particular, still had reservations about using a military launcher in the space programme, and so it was decreed that the satellite must carry an instrument package to do some real science (and just perhaps to help them leapfrog the Russians).

While the launcher would be a modified Jupiter C (the refined Redstone that the team had completed and tested earlier in the year), the satellite would have to be designed from scratch. William H. Pickering of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California (at the time a development facility for short-range missiles) successfully lobbied Medaris to allow his team to build the satellite, while the Huntsville group concentrated on readying the launch vehicle. It was to be the first of many satellites that would be developed at the laboratory. In order to simplify the design, the satellite, soon christened Explorer 1, was modified from one of JPL's Baby m m is um

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GOOD NEWS AT LAST

The surprise news that the US finally had a satellite in orbit briefly helped to calm the insecurity of the American public.

IN THE BLOCKHOUSE

Tense engineers monitor Explorer 1 's progress under the supervision of Kurt Debus (left), director of the Launch Operations Center and another member of the V-2 team.

SATELLITE AND LAUNCH VEHICLE

The drum (with a vertical black stripe) linking Explorer 1 to the Redstone first stage contained two rings of Baby Sergeant rockets. The outer ring of 11 fired first, then the other three blasted free, carrying Explorer 1 into orbit.

BIOGRAPHY

JAMES VAN ALLEN

SATELLITE AND LAUNCH VEHICLE

The drum (with a vertical black stripe) linking Explorer 1 to the Redstone first stage contained two rings of Baby Sergeant rockets. The outer ring of 11 fired first, then the other three blasted free, carrying Explorer 1 into orbit.

Sergeant solid-rocket missiles, allowing it to propel itself into orbit. Only the front half contained scientific instruments (see below). The satellite was linked to the lower-stage Jupiter C by a ring of modified Baby Sergeant rockets in a drum. These fired in two groups and separated in mid-flight, effectively acting as two intermediate stages. As in Vanguard, the upper stages were set spinning during launch and ascent in order to keep the vehicle stable.

JUNO BLASTS OFF

A pillar of fire shoots from the Redstone first stage as Explorer 1 begins its historic ascent into space. The Juno launcher seems short and stubby compared with the flawed elegance of Vanguard.

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