Today’s Tidbits: January 31, 2018

Today’s Tidbits: January 31, 2018

Here are our tidbits for January 31, 2018:  60th anniversary of Explorer 1; Michael Moloney’s new job; Falcon 9 surprises even Elon Musk.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the First U.S. Satellite — Explorer 1

It was 60 years ago tonight at 10:38 pm Eastern Standard Time that the United States launched its first satellite, Explorer 1, into orbit. Explorer 1 was built by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which then was a U.S. Army facility operated under contract by the California Institute of Technology (which currently operates it for NASA) and run by William Pickering.  Aboard was a cosmic ray detector designed by James Van Allen at the University of Iowa, a renowned physicist and member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

(Left to Right): JPL Director William Pickering, University of Iowa physicist James Van Allen, and ABMA’s Wernher von Braun holding a model of Explorer 1 in the Great Hall of the National Academy of Sciences building in Washington, DC shortly after Explorer 1’s successful launch. Credit: National Academy of Sciences website.

Explorer 1 was launched on a Jupiter C  rocket developed by Wernher von Braun’s team at the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama.

Pickering, Van Allen and Von Braun posed for a photo in the great hall of the National Academy of Sciences holding a model of Explorer 1 shortly after the launch.  The National Academies’ Space Studies Board (SSB) held a seminar in the adjacent auditorium today in celebration of the anniversary.  This is also the 60th anniversary of the SSB (originally the Space Science Board), which played a crucial role in Explorer and formulating NASA’s earliest space science activities and continues to provide strategic advice to NASA, NOAA and other agencies with space-related programs.

Data from Explorer 1 led to discovery of the Van Allen belts of radiation that encircle the Earth.  It also had a critical geopolitical purpose.  The Soviet Union had launched the world’s first satellite, Sputnik, on October 4, 1957, and a month later a larger satellite that carried the first animal into space, the dog Laika.  A month after that, on December 6, 1957, the United States suffered an embarrassing failure when its first attempt to launch a satellite on the Naval Research Laboratory’s Vanguard rocket got only three feet off the launch pad before crashing and exploding in flames.  Explorer 1  began to repair the image of the United States as technologically behind the Soviets.

NASA did not exist when Explorer 1 was launched.  It was established by law in July 1958 and opened its doors in October 1958, so it will be celebrating its own 60th anniversary this year.   JPL was transferred to NASA a year later along with Army space-related activities at ABMA. The latter became NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, of which von Braun was the first Director

NASA issued many tweets today about the significance of Explorer 1, including this one with a short video with some nifty footage of the launch and of Pickering, Van Allen and von Braun posing for the above photo.

Michael Moloney’s New Job

Michael Moloney. Incoming CEO of the American Institute of Physics (AIP). Credit: AIP news release.

Speaking of the SSB, its Director, Michael Moloney is moving on to become CEO of the American Institute of Physics (AIP).  In a news release today, AIP announced that he will join the institute on March 5.

Moloney has been Director of the SSB and the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) since 2010 after working at the Academies in other positions, including as study director for the 2010 astronomy and astrophysics Decadal Survey — New Worlds New Horizons.  He also was a foreign service officer for the Irish government for 7 years, serving at the Irish Embassy in Washington, DC and the Irish Mission to the United Nations, and working as a press officer in Dublin.   []

[Editor’s Note: Michael was my successor as Director of SSB and ASEB and has done a terrific job over these past 8 years.  I wish him the very, very best in his new pursuits!]

Falcon 9 Surprises Even Elon Musk

SpaceX launched the GovSat-1 communications satellite for the government of Luxembourg today.   The picture perfect launch went even better than SpaceX expected.

The company often recovers the Falcon 9 first stages by landing them on an autonomous drone ship at sea or returning them to land depending on how much fuel is left over after it completes its main task of sending the second stage and satellite on their way to orbit.  In fact, this was a “flight proven” or “used” first stage that was originally used for the NROL-76 launch in May 2017.  This is the sixth time SpaceX has reused a first stage.

Today, however, the stack was so heavy there was not enough fuel to land at sea or back at Cape Canaveral, so the first stage was commanded to splash down into the ocean.  That’s usually the end of a rocket stage.

This evening, however, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted that the first stage survived and the company will try to tow it back to shore.  Turns out it was testing a “very high retrothrust landing” and succeeded better than planned.

Recently Published on 

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.