50 Years Ago In Space … and Writer Congrats

Astute readers might say to themselves, “Not much was happening a half century ago in space,” but something happened on the ground on September 17, 1958, that was important to U.S. space exploration: the NASA-ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency) Manned Satellite Panel was formed.

According to THIS NEW OCEAN: A HISTORY OF PROJECT MERCURY, the panel recommended:

The objectives of the project are to achieve at the earliest practicable date orbital flight and successful recovery of a manned satellite, and to investigate the capabilities of man in this environment.

To accomplish these objectives, the most reliable available boost system will be used. A nearly circular orbit will be established at an altitude sufficiently high to permit a 24-hour satellite lifetime; however, the number of orbital cycles is arbitrary. Descent from orbit will be initiated by the application of retro-thrust. Parachutes will be deployed after the vehicle has been slowed down by aerodynamic drag, and recovery on land or water will be possible.

A. Vehicle
The vehicle will be a ballistic capsule with high aerodynamic drag. It should be statically stable over the mach number range corresponding to flight within the atmosphere. Structurally, the capsule will be designed to withstand any combination of acceleration, heat loads, and aerodynamic forces that might occur during boost and reentry of successful or aborted missions.
The document outlined generally the life support, attitude control, retrograde, recovery, and emergency systems and described the guidance and tracking, instrumentation, communications, ground support, and test program requirements.

I love the concise nature of the statements, and the fact that the whole plan consumed “only two and one-half pages of typescript.” These days stating the objective by itself would probably take almost that much space. (Maybe typewriters and carbon paper helped them get to the point.)


Congratulations to my writing friend and fellow member of the Codex Writers Group, Alex Wilson, for reaching the finals of the Writers of the Future Contest! I hope he snags one of the prizes, and that I reach the same point … or sell so much that I render myself ineligible. 😉

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