Tag: Project Vanguard; Flopnik

Project Vanguard Test Vehicle Satellites Are Approved


I moved three years ago and found a binder from my father who worked on Project Vanguard. Project Vanguard was approved in 1955 as the American attempt by the Naval Research Lab to launch a satellite during the International Geophysical Year (actually 18 months from July 1957 to December 1958). The Soviets were first with Sputniks 1 and 2. After the failure of Vanguard TV-3 (see below), the Army launched Explorer 1. But the three oldest satellites in orbit are Vanguards 1-3.

I’m working on an article for the 65th anniversary of Vanguard 1 next March (here’s an article I wrote for the 60th). My father designed the small test satellites which were launched before the larger Vanguard scientific satellites. Here’s the memo from Vanguard’s director John Hagen approving this (which I found in the binder).

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Today is the 64th anniversary of America’s first satellite. I did a post about it a year ago.  I will instead discuss a bit more about Flopnik. That sad occasion was Vanguard TV-3 blowing up on December 6th, 1957. A few weeks later The New Yorker published an article by Daniel Lang which included some […]

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Dec. 6, 1957: Space Age Pearl Harbor?


In 1955, both the United States and the Soviet Union announced that they would launch a satellite during the International Geophysical Year (IGY 7/57-12/58). The Naval Research Lab won the competition with Wernher von Braun and the Army to launch the first American satellite. My father co-wrote NRL’s proposal and worked on Project Vanguard’s Mintrack system to track the satellite and designed the small test vehicle satellite which was to be used in the early Vanguard launches.

On October 4, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1 which was the first human-made satellite. It has been called the shock of the century. A month later Sputnik 2 put the first living mammal, the dog Laika, into space. There was increasing pressure on the White House which announced that Vanguard TV-3 would launch the first American satellite. That surprised the Vanguard people since it was the first test with all three stages live and they thought it was unlikely to work perfectly.

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.