By Richard C. Hoagland
© 2008 The Enterprise Mission
A half-century ago, from a windswept Florida beach, the United States finally "got back in the game" -- after the shock of the Soviet Union's Sputnik just three months earlier -- and successfully launched its own satellite into an orbit of the Earth ... dubbed after launch, "Explorer I."
Unknown to anyone but a handful of civilian engineers and US Army personnel, intimately involved with the launch that night, this would became a true "history-defining moment" -- when the launch team, via Explorer I, immediately and serendipitously made America's MOST important and overarching discovery, of all nations that would someday ever venture off the Earth ... in the entire fifty-year history of "space"--
The secret of gravity and inertia themselves ... revealed as a true "anti-gravity effect" -- somehow operating on Explorer I ... radically affecting its very orbit!
A seminal discovery ... which -- at the stroke of a White House pen -- could have re-written not only the history of science … but, the destiny of the entire world ….
However, this was not to be.
This monumental, history-making breakthrough was immediately followed by the United States' most far-reaching political move of this same half-century -- a hurried decision, made apparently that same night, to keep this phenomenonal "anti-gravity" discovery a total secret ... not only from its own civilian scientists, its own "free press" ... its own citizens and taxpayers ... but, from everyone on Earth!
This is the story of the Enterprise Mission's painstaking, years-long investigation (given context in our recent New York Times bestseller -- Dark Mission: the Secret History of NASA): the "back-engineering," scientific and political analysis of this "world-changing, pre-NASA discovery" ... and the grave global consequences that have now evolved from the crucial decision, made by "someone" in a position of Authority that night--
To simply ... "bury it."
In subsequent pages, we will detail and document "who" exactly made this amazing breakthrough, precisely "how" it was achieved, and "what" the stunning, world-wide implications could have been ... if science had been allowed to take its natural course that night -- if this unique discovery had been freely presented, freely studied and freely discussed in the global scientific community in the ensuing years ... and then, implemented as a revolutionary, Earth-based "gravitational control technology."
But, most important--
We will detail how this paradigm-shattering breakthrough can now be duplicated -- by any student, in any decent high school physics laboratory ... literally, anywhere on Earth!
And what that now could mean for all Humanity.
* * *
Explorer I was launched at 10:48 PM EST, January 31, 1958 -- from Pad 26A, at Cape Canaveral.
The Jupiter-C rocket (C standing for "composite") that successfully launched this first US satellite into the Florida skies (below), was actually a converted "Redstone" military ICBM -- a rocket developed as a US Army advancement over their earlier "V-2s," by Wernher von Braun and his imported team of "Operation Paperclip" German Nazi rocket engineers to the United States, in the decade immediately following World War II.
This "Jupiter-C satellite launcher" was built around a main liquid-fueled rocket stage, composed of two separate tanks for housing liquid oxygen and the "Hydyne" hydrazine-based fuel, standing a total of 47 feet high and weighing, fully loaded, 62,700 pounds.
Atop this "main stage" were 15 individual, much smaller solid propellant rockets, arranged in three additional "stages" (weighing a total of 1380 pounds), consisting of 11, 3 -- and finally, 1 -- topped, at 71 feet above the ground, by the ~31-lb, bullet-shaped Explorer I satellite itself (below) -- literally bolted to the fnal "solid" stage beneath it.
Explorer I's best-known, unclassified contribution to space science was the discovery of the famed “Van Allen” radiation belts – named for the University of Iowa physicist, James van Allen, who first found (via his radiation detectors aboard Explorer I, confirmed by the two successor Explorer III and IV spacecraft) the high-energy “donuts” of charged particles circling the Earth, trapped by its "dipole" magnetic field (below).
Van Allen went on to win the equivalent of the “Nobel space physics prize” for this fundamental space discovery -- which was eventually found to be a basic feature of ALL planets in (and outside) the solar system exhibiting similar magnetic fields.
He even made it to the cover of TIME magazine.
By stark contrast, the ultimately far more significant (literally "physics-shattering" -- as you shall see) anomalous orbital dynamics exhibited by this same satellite, and, on its very first orbit that night--
That, Explorer I’s actual trajectory, unambiguously (and most disturbingly) seemed to violate two basic laws of 20th Century Physics, immediately after launch--
Have received NO scientific acknowledgements, prizes, or peer-reviewed discussions … even fifty years after their totally unexpected discovery ....
So, "who" made this remarkable discovery ... and then (as the evidence will prove ...) actively participated in its subsequent, deliberate, decades-long (and still on-going) cover-up?
Why -- none other than Wernher von Braun, himself ....
To fully understand the extraordinary technical and political significance of what "mystifyingly" occurred that January night in 1958, one has to go back to the events themselves, swirling around this "super-charged, US Army launch attempt by von Braun and his German team ..." -- a desperate effort for the US to "catch up" in a space race it was clearly still losing to the Soviets at that point -- and compare what was expected to happen with Explorer I's launch ... with what actually happened.
* * *
Because of the extremely primitive status of the "global satellite tracking network" in 1958, required to follow a satellite in orbit, the number of "stations" up and running the night Explorer I was finally launched was "few and far between"; the portion of this Mercator-projection map (below) NOT shaded, is the latitude coverage straddling the equator dictated by the planned inclination of the first US satellites -- Vanguard and Explorer -- designed for orbits between "latitudes 40 degrees north and south." As you can see, most of the existing ground stations were concentrated along a band running raggedly north and south, mostly in the Americas -- heavily favoring one side of the planet but leaving the rest of the world "dark" (the scattering of stations seen in other parts of the world -- such as the one in central Australia -- did not yet have the proper equipment to detect Explorer I's radio frequencies, having been originally planned to support the Navy's Vanguard Program).Explorer I was launched by von Braun and his team with an orbital inclination of "33.3 degrees ...."
Thus, when the spacecraft disappeared over the South Atlantic horizon from Cape Canaveral that evening, after being launched "downrange" (the line extending southeast from Florida -- above), there was essentially no way for von Braun (or anyone else ...) to track it, to KNOW from "telemetry" (radioed information ...) if "his" satellite had been successfully placed in orbit by the Jupiter C ... or not--
But to impatiently just wait ....
Until Explorer I -- moving at ~18,000 miles per hour (5 miles per second ...) -- had almost completely circled the entire world ... and came back around ... within range of special radio receivers set up in the deserts just north of San Diego, California (a place called menacingly "Earthquake Valley" ...).
There, if the receivers picked up Explorer I's faint telemetry signals as it was coming over the Pacific Ocean for the first time -- after the spacecraft had almost circled the entire planet -- word was to be "flashed" (by "long-distance telephone" -- as it was quaintly called in those days ...) to Cape Canaveral (where von Braun's Army launch crew was nervously waiting ...), and, to the Pentagon in Washington DC -- where von Braun himself, Van Allen, and William Pickering (Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory -- JPL -- the West Coast facility which had constructed the actual satellite) -- were also watching "the clock tick down the seconds" ....
If the eventual word from Earthquake Valley was "go," the three scientists were then scheduled to begin a live press conference over at the National Academy of Sciences, and announce triumphantly to an equally waiting world--
"We did it!"
Only after all this "waiting and nail biting" ... a literally hours-long vigil, and an equally archaic mode of communicating "success" when it was finally learned (over a single telephone line -- stretching between California and Washington DC ...) -- would (or could!) anyone in the rest of the world that night really KNOW that Explorer I had successfully made it into orbit!
That key California signal -- for a carefully planned, Explorer I trajectory around the Earth of 220 by 1000 miles -- was expected at about 12:30 AM EST, February 1, 1958 (below).
Slightly over an hour and a half after Explorer's launch from Florida," the moment of truth" in this intensely anticipated "window" came ... and went--
Then -- it was 12:31 ... then, 12:32 ... and more nothing.
Because of the "clockwork" nature of satellite orbits when, by 12:33, there was STILL no signal ... it became dreadfully apparent to von Braun's entire senior team -- General John B. Medaris, head of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) which had actually launched Explorer I for the US Army earlier that night (below)--
And ... William Pickering ... Director of the Cal Tech laboratory (JPL) under contract to ABMA for the actual design and construction of Explorer I (below)--
That, they were likely never going to hear that desperately hoped-for signal ... because, somehow ... "something" had gone radically wrong!
By 12:41 AM it was all but certain.
Instead of going into orbit and coming around the Earth on time, Explorer I had -- somehow -- been plunged back into the atmosphere far over the horizon from the Cape -- and, by now, had simply burned up ... literally, somewhere on the far side of the world ....
It was never going to "come around the Earth and over Earthquake Valley ..." -- because it no longer even existed!
A photograph of von Braun (below) -- snapped while he and everyone else at the Pentagon desperately awaited word ... any word -- captures perfectly what he was obviously fearing--
Von Braun would later directly write about his roller coaster emotions during that "interminable wait," in a piece entitled "The Story Behind the 'Explorers,'" appearing in the Des Moines Sunday Register, April 13, 1958:
Then, at 12:42 AM--
There it was!
Within the next 30 seconds, all four Earthquake Valley stations picked up Explorer I's transmitted signals "loud and clear."
The United States was -- finally -- in orbit!
Explorer I had just been "late."
But ... why?
George Ludwig -- Van Allen's chief assistant, and designer of the ~18 pounds of batteries and custom-made radiation-monitoring equipment on-board Explorer I -- described his own automatic first reaction--
With the (belated!) acquisition of Explorer I by Earthquake Valley -- von Braun, Van Allen and Pickering were whisked from the Pentagon to the more "scientific" (and civilian ...) "National Academy of Sciences" -- for a packed "2:00 AM press briefing ...."
Amid all the adulation and congratulations, this iconic photograph (below) was taken, capturing the mood of "a new US technological and political renaissance" -- symbolized now by the resounding success of Explorer I -- in the face of the Soviet Union's "daunting early wins" in this new game ....
Lost in all the well-deserved self-congratulations ... was the nagging real reason for Explorer I's agonizing delay at Earthquake Valley: its "higher than planned" orbit.
And ... any serious questioning -- either from the assembled scientists that night, or from the press -- as to how something like that could even have been achieved ... powered only by von Braun's relatively primitive "Jupiter-C" rocket ....
* * *
Van Allen (below) -- when he wrote about his own emotional experience that memorable night -- also barely touched upon "the problem"--
Van Allen -- NOT being a true "rocket scientist" (he was, after all, primarily a physicist -- specializing in custom-designed instrument payloads for sounding rockets ... not the launch vehicles themselves) -- can be forgiven for not immediately appreciating the deeper implications of the problem presented by Explorer I's inexplicable, significantly higher-than-planned orbit that night; he could only assume (as, apparently George Ludwig did ... and everyone else) that the "higher orbit" was the by-product of a "slightly greater efficiency" -- somewhere in von Braun's pioneering, multi-staged Jupiter-C launch vehicle -- most likely, in the solid-fueled rockets, designed by JPL (in addition to the satellite), that comprised those critical last three upper stages ....
As we have detailed in "Dark Mission," in the chapter devoted to the remarkable history of one of JPL's key founders -- Jack Parsons, and his early solid-fuel rocket pioneering -- "solids" in this period were only slightly more predictable than "alchemy" ... or "magik"; depending on a variety of arcane chemical and physical variables -- the exact proportions of fuel to oxidizer mixed together; the physical size of the propellant grains of that resulting mix; the density of the final packing of those grains into the rocket's casing; even the temperature of the propellant -- any one of these parameters could affect the final product, which would result in a well-known "variable thrust and burn time" for all solid-fueled rockets of the period ....
Parson's singular claim to fame was, by exhaustive trial and error, over more than two decades (from the 1930's through the 1950's ...), to finally have hit upon a fuel/oxidizer mixture, and a loading process, which eliminated almost all these inherent solid-rocket variability’s ... almost.
For these well-known reasons (to those who "hung around the fledgling space program ..."), it was assumed by all the "non-rocket scientists" (and by the press ...) that one of these "normal variables" in the Jupiter-C's upper stages easily accounted for the rocket's additional performance ....
That "everyone assumed" this was the case, is obvious ... because, it is equally obvious that no one at the time (at least, anyone who will talk ...) actually sat down and carried out even the most basic of "rocket calculations" -- of just how "over efficient" von Braun's Jupiter-C had to have been ... to result in anything even approaching Explorer I's much higher-than-expected orbit!
Fifty years after the fact, we have done those calculations ... with some spectacular and very thought-provoking results.
* * *
OK, now comes the part where the "mathematically challenged" (or squeamish ...) might want to turn away. If you do, we promise we'll summarize the cool stuff -- in neat, plain English -- at the end ....
The foundation of all true "rocket science" is--
The “Rocket Equation!”
Solving for dV (the final rocket velocity), the equation becomes: