Re: Space Age's 48th birthday

From: George Olshevsky (
Date: Sat May 10 2008 - 05:07:16 UTC

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    I'd like to update an old email of mine from 2005. I recently came
    across and gobbled up a number of back issues of Space World on eBay
    and it turns out my memory was playing tricks on me:
    On Tue, Oct 4, 2005 at 3:28 PM,  <> wrote:
    > Today, October 4, 2005, is the 48th anniversary  of the USSR launch of
    > Sputnik 1, the first earth satellite. I well remember the  furor the Soviets caused
    > in the USA in 1957 with their satellite, which among  other things boosted the
    > attendance at my parents' adult education Russian  language classes(!). I had
    > just started 7th grade then, at Buffalo, NY's PS #54,  and was as interested
    > as a grade-schooler could be in the world's missile and  space programs.
    > Almost a month later, on November 3, 1957, the Soviets lofted  Sputnik 2, which
    > carried a living but otherwise most unfortunate dog called  "Laika" (which,
    > besides being the name of a breed of Russian dog, also means  "barker"). America's
    > first satellite launch, of a Vanguard test satellite  (Vanguard TV3 [test
    > vehicle 3]: what were TV1 and 2, pray tell?) on December 6,  1957, ended
    > ignominiously with the explosion of the launch vehicle two seconds  after ignition. The
    > American space program seemed to be in the  basement.
    > Right next door to PS #54 was a small convenience store called  Van Jon's.
    > Sometime in 1958 their magazine rack carried a little magazine titled  Space
    > World, which I used my allowance to buy (I think it sold for a  quarter--like Mad
    > magazine). I didn't get the first issue, but the issue I had  mentioned a
    > little table of artificial earth satellites compiled by Willy Ley  that had
    > appeared in the preceding issue. Sputnik 1 was designated 1957 alpha  (typed in
    > Greek) and Sputnik 2 was 1957 beta in the table. Those designations  were said to
    > have been devised by none other than astronomer Fred Whipple.  Individual
    > objects from each launch were given numerical subscripts: 1957 alpha  1 was the
    > Sputnik 1 rocket body (which I later learned was the entire "SL-1"  second
    > stage); 1957 alpha 2 was the actual satellite; 1957 alpha 3 was a nose  fairing
    > (and this object has never been catalogued by SpaceTrack); and 1957 beta  (with
    > no subscript) was the Sputnik 2 rocket body with payload attached, the  only
    > orbited object known from that launch. I have since learned that the  payload
    > containing the dog was supposed to separate but failed to do so, and  that this
    > caused a malfunction of the thermal control system keeping the dog  alive,
    > leading to the animal's early demise.
    > The Whipple international  designations were used until the end of 1962, when
    > they were replaced by the  typographically more friendly numerical
    > designations still in use (e.g.,  1963-01A, later 1963-001A), wherein the Greek letters
    > were replaced by numbers  and the numerical subscripts were replaced by Roman
    > letters (excluding I and O,  which in the early digital age were easily
    > confused with digits 1 and 0,  respectively). The last Greek-designated launch was
    > 1962 beta omega--three full  circuits around the 24-letter Greek alphabet. That
    > was Kosmos 12, a USSR  reconsat.
    > I picked up one subsequent issue of Space World at Van Jon's,  after which I
    > was no longer able to find the magazine on the newsstand  (grade-schoolers are
    > of limited means for such endeavors). Later, after I  entered college, I
    > found a few current issues on sale at the newsstand at the  Harvard Square subway
    > station in Cambridge, MA. The magazine had been taken over  by the notorious
    > schlock vender Ray Palmer (e.g., Fate magazine) and was  reprinting parts of
    > the Goddard Satellite Situation Report as a service to its  readers, to keep
    > them current on satellite launches. I bought copies when I  could find them, but
    > distribution was always very spotty. Incidentally, that  same Harvard Square
    > newsstand regularly carried current issues of Flight  International, which I
    > collected for several years when I lived in  Cambridge--particularly those that
    > excerpted parts of the RAE Table of  Artificial Earth Satellites.
    > It was those two early 1958 issues of Space  World, as well as a 1960 issue
    > of Time magazine that featured an article on the  space program, that inspired
    > me to maintain my own table of space launches and  artificial earth
    > satellites, an account of which I have already bored fellow  list members with. Does
    > anybody happen to know more details of the history of  that little magazine? Or
    > even have back issues for sale? A Google search of the  title turned up nothing
    > useful.
    Those two issues of Space World were from 1960 (not 1958), dated July
    (volume 1 number 2) and September (volume 1 number 3). I do recall
    picking them up at Van Jon's convenience store, but it must have been
    during the summer break between my freshman and sophomore years in
    high school, when I would have been riding around the neighborhood on
    my bicycle; I did not visit Van Jon's regularly after leaving grade
    school. They're almost certainly in a box somewhere in my garage and I
    may find them some day not too far in the future. Also in the garage
    should be a bunch of the latest issues, picked up two decades later
    after I had moved to San Diego.
    Soon I will have the "Willy Ley satellites" issue (Volume 1 number 1,
    dated May 1960), which I won in an eBay auction earlier this week. In
    all the 48 years (this month!) since it was published, I've never held
    a copy in my hands.
    I must say the Otto Binder issues of Space World (1960 through early
    1963) are of noticeably better quality, both in terms of writing and
    production, than the rather garish Ray Palmer issues (late 1963 and
    up, through the late 1980s, maybe even early 1990s). There are about
    300 issues(!) in the run, and I still have quite a few to pick up.
    Viewed with hindsight, they're all charmingly quaint--and they do
    carry some interesting pop-sci space articles, even if most in the
    Palmer stretch were reprinted from other sources. A high point in the
    Palmer issues are the pretty regular James Oberg articles, columns,
    and editorials when he served a stint as one of the magazine's
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