Sputnik 2 was the second spacecraft launched into Earth orbit and was the first to launch a living creature. The satellite was a 4 meter high cone-shaped capsule with a base diameter of 2 meters. It contained several compartments for radio transmitters, a telemetry system, a programming unit, a regeneration and temperature control system for the cabin, and scientific instruments. A separate sealed cabin contained the first space passenger Laika, the space dog. Engineering and biological data were transmitted by the telemetry system to Earth for 15 minutes of each 103 minute orbit. Two spectrophotometers were on board for measuring solar radiation and cosmic rays. A television camera was mounted in the passenger compartment to observe Laika.
On October 4th 1957, the Soviet Union demonstrated that it had to be taken seriously. Only a few years prior they had lagged the US badly in both bombers and Nuclear weapons. Now, there was deep concern that the Soviet’s could launch a nuclear attack on the US with their new R-7 ICBM. To add fuel to the fire, Just 4 days after Sputnik launched the Soviet Union detonated a 20 megaton Hydrogen bomb.
“The success of the Russian Sputnik was convincing and dramatic proof to people around the world of the real prospects of space travel in the not too distant future. The fact that a 23-in. sphere weighing 184 lb has been placed in an almost precise circular orbit indicates that a number of important technological problems such as high thrust rocket engines, lightweight missile structures, accurate guidance, stable autopilot control, and large scale launching methods have been solved, at least to the degree required for a satellite project.” Astronautics, Nov 1957.
By the late 1940’s, it became obvious that Army ballistic missile research activities required more room than what was available at Fort Bliss, Texas. After a long and through search the decision was made to move to the Redstone arsenal at Huntsville, Alabama. A farm town know for watercress, cotton and mosquitoes. The Redstone Arsenal was chosen for several reasons: it was on a large tract of government property, its location on the Tennessee River gave it access to the electrical power of the Tennessee Valley Authority, the climate was good, and it was not too far from Cape Canaveral, whose long range proving ground was growing in importance.
- “In 1937, I was officially demanded to join the National Socialist Party. At this time I was already Technical Director at the Army Rocket Center at Peenemünde. The technical work carried out there had, in the meantime, attracted more and more attention in higher levels. Thus, my refusal to join the party would have meant that I would have to abandon the work of my life. Therefore, I decided to join. My membership in the party did not involve any political activity.” Werner von Braun, 1947.
During the late 1920’s and throughout the 1930’s progress progress in rocket design was made in fits and starts with unclear goals. However, many technological advances in liquid fueled rockets were made. The United States Germany, Russia, France, Italy, and Great Britain all had rocket research programs. The most significant advances occurred in Germany, the U.S. and Russia. But, before we proceed with the history, I want to explain how a liquid fueled rocket works.
Mankind has dreamed of traveling into space for centuries, but in the twentieth century, scientific and technical capabilities converged with this dream for the first time. The potential of the rocket was realized independently by three different men, born in different countries, who never met each other in person. These men Tsiolkovski of Russia, Goddard of the U.S. and Oberth of Germany, each derived the same conclusions about the future of space travel. Their conclusions that become the basic working formulas of the space age.
Click the play button to listen to episode 2 of the Space Rocket History Podcast.