Thursday, January 31, 2008

50 years ago today

Today marks an important anniversary: my vaguest memory of America's journey into space, the launch of Explorer I. All I remember for sure is the sense of relief that we were in the game, that the threat posed by the Soviet launch could be dealt with, picked up between the lines when my Dad read the evening paper to me the next day.

Yeah, my Dad read the paper to me every night. That is probably why I must read the morning paper before my day can start, and certainly a big part of getting a head start on school and all of that critical thinking and reading stuff that we make such a big deal about today.

Back to the main topic:

Those memories are vague, and might not be the earliest ones. I think it is possible that I saw the explosive failure of Vanguard in December of the previous year, since we would all troop down to the gymnasium in my elementary school to watch US rocket launches live on TV, and that very important one was during a school day. If not at school, then certainly on the evening news because we had a TV by then. However, my clear memories of watching launches at school start a few years later (including, of course, every one of the manned space missions), so I figure that was seen on the news rather than "live".

The first vivid memory I have of the space program is that of watching Echo I orbit overhead in 1960. This was a huge mylar balloon that functioned as a passive telecommunications satellite. (The signals were just bounced off of it, like off of a mirror.) It was brilliantly bright in the sky, easily seen with the naked eye while standing in the front yard. It was awesome.

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