Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. 62 Years Ago: Vanguard TV-3 Blows Up (Flopnik)

 

In 1955, there was a competition between the three armed services for the right to launch the first American satellite during the International Geophysical Year (actually 18 months 7/57-12/58). The Naval Research Lab won. As some of you know, my father co-wrote the proposal. He worked on the Minitrack system and designed the small test satellites.

On October 2, 1957, a memo went out that there would be no more paid overtime. Two days later, Sputnik 1 was launched and the memo was ignored. Sputnik’s signal was at 20 and 40 MHz whereas the IGY specified 108 MHz. That night, Dad called his assistant Marty Votaw and told him that the Soviets had launched a satellite. Marty responded, “Good, now we know it can be done.” Dad responded that they needed to track it. Marty asked if he could finish dinner first. Dad said yes, but come down immediately after that. They worked for three days without going home and modified Minitrack successfully to track Sputnik.

Below are IGY and Vanguard people at NRL in April 1957. The big IGY guns are in the first row. Van Allen is probably the best known (Van Allen Belts). My father and Marty Votaw are the top left.

A month later the Soviets launched Sputnik 2 with a dog on it. The pressure on the Eisenhower administration increased. The first test of Vanguard with all three stages live was scheduled for December. The Vanguardians thought it had a small chance of working. Alas, it blew up and was dubbed Flopnik.

After the hoped-for satellite cooled down, it was brought to Marty who gave it to my father. Marty asked. “What should we do with it?” Dad replied, “I guess we should bring it back.” Dad carried it on a commercial flight back to Washington. It sat in our house overnight and is now in the National Air and Space Museum.

Explorer 1 was launched by the Army in January 1958. Vanguard 1 was successfully launched in March and is the oldest satellite still in orbit. I recently moved and found a binder full of primary source materials for Vanguard. I could post some of them if there’s interest.

Vanguardians discussed TV-3 and Vanguard 1 in 2008.

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  1. Vectorman Thatcher

    Richard Easton: Below are IGY and Vanguard people at NRL in April, 1957.

    Maybe #31 had a son or nephew named Gary? 

    • #1
    • December 6, 2019, at 2:13 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  2. RightAngles Member

    We used to make Sputniks from a ball of Play Doh with toothpicks sticking out all over it.

    • #2
    • December 6, 2019, at 2:27 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  3. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    I went to freshman year of college with VanAllen’s daughter Margo. She is now a medical doctor. When I was a pharmacy tech at Children’s Hospital in Seattle in the 1980s, she was there too. I think I may have spoken with her once. I expect she’s retired now.

    • #3
    • December 6, 2019, at 2:33 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  4. Richard Easton Member
    Richard Easton

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    I went to freshman year of college with VanAllen’s daughter Margo. She is now a medical doctor. When I was a pharmacy tech at Children’s Hospital in Seattle in the 1980s, she was there too. I think I may have spoken with her once. I expect she’s retired now.

    George Ludwig, who built the instruments for Van Allen which were in Explorer 1, was in the second row far right in the 4/57 photo. He attended the Vanguard 1 50th and is in the back row just to the right of the picture of Vanguard 1.

     

    • #4
    • December 6, 2019, at 2:47 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  5. The Reticulator Member

    Full-size version of the photo for those whose eyes are getting older but still want to read the names. 

    • #5
    • December 6, 2019, at 3:03 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  6. Boss Mongo Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Full-size version of the photo for those whose eyes are getting older but still want to read the names.

    I always knew there was something I liked about you, Rec.

    • #6
    • December 6, 2019, at 3:49 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  7. Kay of MT Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Full-size version of the photo for those whose eyes are getting older but still want to read the names.

    Thank you very much, as old eyes are getting dim.

    • #7
    • December 6, 2019, at 5:15 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  8. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    If I passed up an opportunity for a book plug, they’d kick me out of the Writers Guild. My narration of Richard’s splendid work, GPS Declassified, is available on Audible. So is Eisenhower’s Sputnik Moment, a book that helps to give Ike some of the credit he deserves for shaping the early Space program. I would be delighted to offer any Ricochet members a promo code for a free download of either or both of these books. Just send me a private message. I’m proud of my narrations on these, as they are both very well written and on subjects that are important to me. I graduated from Eisenhower College in 1974, and the Eisenhower book was written by the son of one of the professors there. 

    • #8
    • December 7, 2019, at 2:01 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  9. Housebroken Thatcher

    The IGY – my dad gave me a children’s book about it, lots of pictures, it would have been about 1958. It fascinated me, fed my imagination, put me in awe of scientists, led me to read insatiably. May have been a National Geographic publication. Tried to find it on-line but failed.

    Sputnik fed many childhood dreams for so many children. Wish we could so inspire our descendants.

     

    • #9
    • December 7, 2019, at 3:33 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  10. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Slow on the uptake (View Comment):

    The IGY – my dad gave me a children’s book about it, lots of pictures, it would have been about 1958. It fascinated me, fed my imagination, put me in awe of scientists, led me to read insatiably. May have been a National Geographic publication. Tried to find it on-line but failed.

    Sputnik fed many childhood dreams for so many children. Wish we could so inspire our descendants.

     

    If you want to meet some inspired kids, check out The American Rocketry Challenge. I’ve volunteered at the finals for 17 years, as one of the grumpy old men running Safety Check-in. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.

    • #10
    • December 9, 2019, at 5:02 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  11. Housebroken Thatcher

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):

    Slow on the uptake (View Comment):

    The IGY – my dad gave me a children’s book about it, lots of pictures, it would have been about 1958. It fascinated me, fed my imagination, put me in awe of scientists, led me to read insatiably. May have been a National Geographic publication. Tried to find it on-line but failed.

    Sputnik fed many childhood dreams for so many children. Wish we could so inspire our descendants.

     

    If you want to meet some inspired kids, check out The American Rocketry Challenge. I’ve volunteered at the finals for 17 years, as one of the grumpy old men running Safety Check-in. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.

    That looks like fun. Bet you enjoy it; missed you in the photos.

    Was it just me, or did the number of posed of girls photos increase dramatically in the more recent years?

    Movie I recommend: October Sky.

    • #11
    • December 9, 2019, at 10:13 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  12. Boss Mongo Member

    So, Richard, love all your stuff about satellites and GPS ‘n stuff.

    When are you going to put your gifts to rocket propelled bullets? Asking for a friend.

    • #12
    • December 9, 2019, at 3:37 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  13. Housebroken Thatcher

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    So, Richard, love all your stuff about satellites and GPS ‘n stuff.

    When are you going to put your gifts to rocket propelled bullets? Asking for a friend.

    Seems like 007 was the intended recipient of some of those?

    • #13
    • December 9, 2019, at 4:31 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  14. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    So, Richard, love all your stuff about satellites and GPS ‘n stuff.

    When are you going to put your gifts to rocket propelled bullets? Asking for a friend.

    Gyrojet. Not really successful. A solution in search of a problem, really. The research currently underway into ammo that works underwater is more interesting. Self-cavitating projectiles.

    • #14
    • December 9, 2019, at 10:57 PM PST
    • 4 likes