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The Space Age in 1958

The United States entered the space age on January 31, 1958, with the launching of its first satellite, the Army's 31-pound Explorer I.

Despite the success of Explorer I and subsequent U.S. launches, President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Science Advisory Committee released a report on March 26 that was less than optimistic about the United States' chances of sending a man to the Moon and back. According to Introduction to Outer Space, written by a committee headed by James R. Killian, Jr., the United States might be able to send a man to the Moon and back within 10 to 20 years or might be able to do so before the next century. The report also included an estimate that it might cost $2 billion for the first manned round trip to the Moon.

Krafft Ehricke, space expert, explains details of a four-manned space station model to Lieutenant General Clarence Irvine.
space station model

January 31 The United States Army launched America's first satellite, Explorer I, into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The successful launch came after two previous attempts had to be aborted due to unfavorable weather, on January 27 and 30.

The Jupiter C missile which launched Explorer I into orbit.
the Jupiter C missile that launched Explorer I

Newspaper headlines announcing the launch of the first U.S. satellite.
announcing Explorer I

March 17 The United States Navy launched Vanguard I into orbit from Cape Canaveral. The 3-1/4-pound, 6.4-inch aluminum sphere's altitude was 2,466 miles at its highest point and 404 miles at its lowest.

A technician turns the switch of two tiny radio sets that broadcast on varying frequencies to indicate temperatures of the Vanguard satellite in its flight around the Earth.

March 26 The U.S. Army launched Explorer III into orbit from Cape Canaveral, after Explorer II had failed to achieve an orbit on March 5. The 79-inch-long cylindrical satellite weighed 31 pounds and contained 11 pounds of instruments, including a miniature tape recorder to collect data on cosmic ray density. Faulty firing of the fourth-stage rocket of the Jupier-C launch vehicle caused an eccentric orbit that brought the satellite to within 125 miles of the Earth, indicating a short life.

Miniature tape recorder carried by Explorer III. Note the paper clip in the foreground.
Explorer III tape recorder

May 15 The Soviet Union launched a 2,925.53-pound earth satellite packed with 2,129 pounds of instruments into orbit. It was the heaviest object ever put into orbit to that time.

July 9 and 23 Two Thor-Able missile nose cones, each carrying a live mouse, were shot approximately 600 miles into space from Cape Canaveral. Radio signals indicated their re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere and plunge into the South Atlantic 5,500-6,000 miles away, but neither was recovered.

One of the two Thor-Able missile nose cones being launched.
Thor-Able rocket launch

An Air Force scientist holds the glass "house" containing Wickie, a mouse carried by the Thor-Able missile launched on July 23.

July 26 The U.S. Army sent the nation's fourth satellite into orbit.

July 29 U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower signed a bill creating a civilian National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

August 17 The first confirmed attempt to place a man-made object in orbit around the Moon failed when an Able-1 rocket launched by the U.S. Air Force from Cape Canaveral was destroyed by an engine explosion 77 seconds after takeoff.

August 24 The U.S. Army failed to put the 37.52-pound Explorer V into orbit around the Earth.

October 11 The U.S. Air Force launched a 52-ton Thor Able-1 rocket from Cape Canaveral in a second unsuccessful attempt to send an 82.7-pound instrumented payload (Pioneer II) to within 50,000 miles of the Moon.

Brilliantly lighted path of the Pioneer II launch vehicle. The photograph was a 30-second time exposure.
Pioneer II

October 22 The U.S. Army failed to put an inflatable satellite into orbit around the Earth.

November 8 The U.S. Air Force failed in a third attempt to send a Pioneer vehicle into orbit around the Moon.

The third attempt to send a Pioneer probe to the vicinity of the Moon failed when the third stage of the launch vehicle failed.
third Pioneer launch attempt

December 6 U.S. Army scientists launched a four-stage Juno II rocket from Cape Canaveral, but this fourth attempt to send an instrumented payload to the vicinity of the Moon failed.

December 13 A 1-pound squirrel monkey was in the nose cone of a U.S. Army rocket shot 600 miles into space, but the nose cone was not recovered.

December 18 An instrumented earth satellite weighing about 8,750 pounds was fired into orbit by the U.S. Air Force from Cape Canaveral. The satellite, an Atlas, carried a pre-recorded 58-word message by President Dwight E. Eisenhower.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Explorer I

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This page was last updated on 05/27/2017.