60 Years Ago: History Is Made

60 years ago today, on March 26, 1958, the U.S. launched Explorer III. Explorer III was the second successful launch of a U.S. satellite into Earth’s orbit atop a Jupiter-C rocket designed by Wernher von Braun. (Explorer I was launched on January 31, 1958). After the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I on October 4, 1957, Ed Koterba wrote critically of Eisenhower for not being more aggressive in speeding up the U.S. space program and winning the space race. He was understandably excited when he was afforded the opportunity to travel to Cape Canaveral (later renamed Cape Kennedy) to cover the Explorer III launch. Like a kid in a candy store, he savored every moment of this successful launch, as evident in the following article:

History Is Made (March 26, 1958)

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA—This was the day history would be made. “T minus 15 minutes,” the firm, vibrant voice said through the PA system on the rooftop grandstand. The Jupiter-C stood like a black-striped white pencil against the grey overcast. A jack rabbit hopped across the sand dunes. Two hundred newsmen and women milled across this perch known as Optic Building 3. “This is a precede,” said a reporter into a phone in one of the ten plywood phone booths. “Should this launching be successful, the United States will have out-stripped Russia with satellites in orbit.” This would be No. 3 for us.

They hauled us here by bus from Patrick Air Force Base 11 miles away. The rain had stopped.

“We have a ceiling of 8,000 feet,” Major Kenneth Grine of McKeesport, Pa., announced to the crowd.

“T minus 13,” said the loudspeaker. “T” meant kick-off time for Explorer III. A resonant voice in one of the booths: “This is John H. Bennett, KDKA. Hey, can you hear me?”

“T minus 12.”

“Say, where’s Verne Hoagland, the AP wants him on the phone.”

“T minus 10, holding momentarily.”

“What does ‘holding’ mean?”

“That means a temporary delay … something may be wrong with the missile.”

“I was afraid it wouldn’t go … Oh, God, I hope they make it.”

“Is von Braun in the block-house? He is? Fine.”

“Is the top section whirling? It’s supposed to whirl at minus 11.”

“It’s whirling now!”

From the loudspeaker: “Clear work on all frames. Starting to resume count. Minus 10 and counting … T minus 9.”

Someone into a phone: “The minute I see fire, I’ll say ‘go’ and you go … Just a minute while I look at it through the glasses.”

“Hey, can someone see the letters on the side of the rocket?”

“Yeah, UT.” “What’s the code on that?” “It means that’s the 24th vehicle to be launched from here.”

A local woman broadcaster into a tape machine: “I’m sitting on top of a building at Cape Canaveral … Explorer III is about to take off.”

“Minus 3.” And for the first time, tenseness. You hear the echoes, almost whispered, “Minus 3 .. minus 3 … minus 3.”

“Al,” says a voice into a phone, “the minute I say ‘there she goes,’ you can cut in the studio tape.”

“Two and one-half minutes.”

“How’s the weather in New York—freezing? It’s about 75 here.”

“T minus 2.” Silence.

“Ninety seconds.” Somebody behind repeats, “Nine zero.”

“Fifteen seconds … 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 … Zero.”

Nothing happens. You’re ill in the stomach. But you hear a veteran say, “In three seconds, you should see the flame.” An orange burst swirls around the rocket’s haunches. The missile rises. Golden flames nudge the Jupiter up … slow, slow. The roar, it is deafening. Faster, higher. “It’s away!” Beautiful. In 30 seconds it glimmers into the clouds. The rest is history.

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