Happy Monday and welcome to another edition of Beyond The Forecast!
Since the days when humans first saw the stars and wondered what they are, driving into space has been burning in the hearts of explorers.
In the great leap in technology that followed the Industrial Revolution, things that had not seemed possible in all of history were within our reach. Ships can sail around the world at record speed. Trains connected the disparate coasts of the United States and Russia. Everyday life has become simpler with new levels of automation.
While the empty spots on the map were filling up, people still dreamed about what we could find in our world.
Imagine some mythical lost continent or what lies beneath the ocean like Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Other writers have looked up at the night sky, imagining both wonders and horrors. More advanced invaders rocked the planet in H.G. Wells’s “War of the Worlds,” but in a more positive look toward exploration, Georges Miller’s “Journey to the Moon” in 1902 took audiences to an imagined version of our natural satellite unit.
Less than 70 years later, humans have taken their first steps on the same rock.
Wright Brother’s 1903 trip to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, ushered in a new era of industry. Airplanes have changed the way people and goods travel across the planet, but planes need air to generate lift, which outer space sorely lacks.
The Wright brothers’ space travel counterpart is Dr. Robert H. Goddard. As early as 1907, Goddard was shooting primitive rockets back in his student days. By 1914, he had obtained patents for rockets that could operate on liquid propellants and in stages. Goddard laid the foundation for rocket science in the 20th century, with the launch of the first liquid-fueled rocket in 1926. Using gyroscopes and rotors on the rockets themselves, Goddard helped pioneer the ability to control where rockets land.
Goddard’s research into missile control took a long time before anyone could aim for the stars.
German scientists chose the pioneering research in the late 1920s. One of the leaders of this new field, Dr. Wernher von Braun, brought his talents to the German Army in 1932.
Von Braun was a member of the Nazi Party before and during World War II and led the team that developed the devastating V-2 missile. Built by forced labor in concentration camps, the V-2 can strike England, Belgium and France from up to 200 miles away. Even with a primitive guidance technique that left it less than a minute away, the V-2 killed thousands of people.
The Allied advance into the heart of Germany provided the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union with an opportunity to capture the materials and documents those nations used to make their own postwar missiles.
The United States brought von Braun and other German scientists back from Europe on the paperclip project and tasked them with further development of ballistic missiles.
The United States and the Soviet Union emerged as the world’s most powerful powers after the war, and to ensure that neither country could defeat the other two had ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons across the planet. America had advanced in these nascent days of the space race thanks to the knowledge of German scientists, but the Soviets made their first leap into the stars on October 4, 1957.
Sputnik, a 23-inch-long spherical object, was the first man-made object to orbit the Earth. The Soviets were able to launch not only the Sputnik 1 but also the Sputnik 2 in less than a month. The second satellite was much heavier and loomed like an eagle in the minds of mid-century leaders. If the Soviets could indeed send science payloads into orbit, how long before they could send nuclear devices?
Such a terrible prospect has pushed the US space program into a state of high alert.
The Soviet missiles were bigger, they could go further, and they didn’t have the bad habit of exploding American missiles on the launch pad.
Von Braun’s team working with the Army at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama was ready for an initial launch in late 1957, and by January of the following year, Explorer 1 had reached beyond the atmosphere as America entered the space race.
1958 brought together several government groups with projects from the Army and Navy under one roof: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. NASA has orchestrated the United States’ efforts to reach space, but there is still a long way to go before any human beings reach the moon, whether Soviet or American.
Look out for Beyond the Forecast next week to learn how scientists have adapted technology from launching nuclear weapons to launching people into space on their way to the moon.
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