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U.s. and soviet missile programs

The U.S. government had been seriously interested in unmanned rocket technology since late 1944, when several V2 rockets designed by Wernher von Braun were fired at London. Following the surrender of Germany, von Braun and several of his engineers were brought to Ft. Bliss, Texas, where they worked with the U.S. Army developing and testing rockets. In 1950, von Braun and his team moved to the Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Alabama, where they developed the Army’s Jupiter ballistic missile. “Dr. Wernher von Braun: First Center Director, July 1, 1960-Jan. 27, 1970,” MSFC History Office, http://history.msfc.nasa.gov.

In 1954, Eisenhower, concerned that the United States was vulnerable to surprise attack by the Soviet Union, requested that SAC/ODM conduct a study to assess that threat and recommend feasible countermeasures. SAC/ODM convened a Technology Capabilities Panel (TCP) chaired by Killian, R. Cargill Hall, “Sputnik, Eisenhower and the Formation of the United States Space Program,” Quest 14, No. 4, 34. and the president formally approved its recommendation to develop a high-altitude spy plane, later known as the U2, which could undertake reconnaissance flights over the Soviet Union and China. Mindful that such a spy plane might be shot down, In fact, in 1960 a U2 piloted by Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union, an event resulting in an international furor and cancellation of a planned meeting between President Eisenhower and Soviet Secretary-General Nikita Khrushchev. the TCP also recommended that an earth satellite be developed for reconnaissance. Hall, op. cit . Meanwhile, a committee of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), charged with planning American participation in the International Geophysical Year, forwarded to NSF director and SAC/ODM member Alan Waterman a proposal to develop and launch a small scientific satellite during the IGY. The Eisenhower administration approved the recommendation on the grounds that the launching of a satellite traveling above the atmosphere would validate its open-skies policy—namely, the right of all nations to launch satellites that would fly over other countries. On July 29, 1955, Eisenhower publicly announced that the United States planned to launch “small unmanned Earth circling satellites as part of U.S. participation in the International Physical Year.” Ibid., 35

Thus the Eisenhower administration committed itself to a two-track satellite program: the highly secret spy-satellite system and the open IGY system. Interservice rivalries, however, impeded both efforts. Out of three competing rocket programs—the Navy’s Vanguard, the Army’s Redstone (headed by von Braun), and the Air Force’s Atlas—the Vanguard won out, then failed twice in attempting to launch the IGY satellite.

Meanwhile, the Soviet Union was proceeding with its own plans to develop and launch earth satellites. On May 20, 1954, the Soviet Council of Ministers charged Sergey P. Korolev’s Scientific Research Institute Number 88 with developing an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to the United States. Ibid., 34. Shortly thereafter, Korolev requested authority to form a research department to study and “develop various aspects of this problem [development of an earth satellite].” On April 16, 1955, the Soviet daily Pravda announced that an Interdepartmental Commission of the Soviet Academy of Sciences had been charged with building an “automatic laboratory for scientific research in space.” Realizing that they could not complete the project prior to the end of the IGY, the Soviets opted to develop smaller, simpler satellites that would contain no instrumentation except a radio that could beam periodic signals to the earth. Hence the successful launching of Sputnik 1, followed a month later by the launch of Sputnik 2, carrying the dog, Laika.

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Source:  OpenStax, A history of federal science policy from the new deal to the present. OpenStax CNX. Jun 26, 2010 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11210/1.2
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