Natural Satellites of Earth

From: Murphy, Mike P (GEAE) (
Date: Thu Apr 01 2004 - 15:50:02 EST

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    Hi James, Ted and the rest of the list...
     I recall that there was an effort to locate natural, small satellites of
    the Earth around the time of the International Geophysical Year in 1957.
    Since the Soviet Union and the US were on the verge of launching artificial
    satellites, some researches wanted to perform a search for any natural,
    small satellites before a lot of man made objects were sent up.  I do not
    have the references with me right now, so I can not give you exact document
    titles, but I do remember reading about the effort.  One reference may be
    the January, 1957 issue of Sky and Telescope magazine, in which astronomer
    (and later astronaut) Karl Henize gave a descritpion of the Baker-Nunn
    tracking camera that was being developed to track artificial satellites.  It
    may have been used in the survey before any man made targets were in orbit.
    I am not sure if I can find the references quickly, as a lot of my material
    of that type is packed in storage, but you should be able to find some
    information out there yet.  Maybe this will jog the memory of some of the
    others on the list.
     Also, the US did launch some satellites into extremely retrograde orbits,
    with inclinations on the order of 143 degrees.  Maybe that is too far off to
    be the objects mentioned in the article James referred to, but there are a
    few of these objects still in orbit.  I tried to view a few of them about
    ten years ago, but they are faint and I was not equipped with the proper
    optics back then.  If I recall, these objects were in more circular orbits,
    and they were high as well.  It may be possible that the objects referred to
    by James are booster stages from those launches, although the inclinations
    are off.  If memory serves correctly here, I think these objects were
    launched between 1964 and 1966.  They are listed in the catalog.
     I saw the OFEQ-3 satellite quite a few times when it was still in orbit,
    and it was really interesting to see a satellite going across the sky
     A note on Karl Henize...  He finally flew into space on shuttle mission
    51-F in August of '85, and during launch one main engine was shut down due
    to a failing thermocouple.  The orbiter flew an "Abort to Orbit" (ATO)
    profile, and the mission continued to completion at a lower then planned
    orbital altitude.  Karl Henize died climbing Mount Everest in 1993, and his
    body remains on the mountain.
     Sorry about not providing all the reference details, but I hope this helps
    a bit!
    Mike Murphy 
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