50th anniversary first successful American space launch

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On January 31, 1958, the U. S. launched Explorer 1 into orbit, America's first successful satellite launch. The Soviets had already launched two Sputniks, including one with the dog Laika. Vanguard, our first attempt at matching the USSR, crashed and burned in December 1957. We could have beaten Sputnik into space, but President Eisenhower didn't want to use a military ballistic missile derived from the German V-2 for the civilian space program. When Vanguard failed, Wernher von Braun and his team at Redstone Arsenal got the go-ahead to use their Juno I rocket for Explorer I.

Cuffy Meigs has a blog entry about the Explorer I semicentennial, with newsreel clips (narrated by Ed Herlihy!) of the Vanguard disaster and the Explorer launch and links to more articles about the event.

(The Explorer launch newsreel also includes an item about the founding of the United Arab Republic, a union of Egypt and Syria, which began on February 1, 1958, and ended three years later.)

If you're interested in space history, you owe it to yourself to visit the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Kansas, one of the top space museums in the entire world, and just a four-hour drive from Tulsa. They have an excellent presentation of the Space Race between the United States and the USSR, starting with the German rocket program during World War II. The story is told with documents, text, movies, and artifacts, including a V-2, the Mercury Liberty Bell VII, Gemini X, and Apollo XIII capsules, and Soviet space vehicles and full-scale engineering models. The museum has the biggest collection of Soviet space artifacts outside the old Soviet Union.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on January 31, 2008 10:42 PM.

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