The Space History Museum
A Virtual Museum & Community

Course

Space Buff Level I

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Vanguard
IMAGE ABOVE: The Explorer 1 launch team hold a model of the satellite overhead shortly after the actual satellite reached orbit. Dr. Werner von Braun is on the right.
The humiliation of the failed launch of Vanguard seriously damaged morale. America needed a win.

Eisenhower turned to Dr. Werner von Braun, who now worked on missiles for the Army. Despite his strong capabilities, von Braun had been kept from heading a satellite launch team because America wanted its first satellite to have no military connotations. And von Braun worked for the Army.

After Vanguard, such niceties seemed foolish. What was important was a successful launch. And soon.

Explorer 1 reached orbit on January 31, 1958. Furthermore, this satellite was more than a stunt. It did serious scientific study. In fact, Explorer 1 discovered the Van Allen radiation belts, areas of high radiation above the Earth.

The Russians were still ahead and the race wasn’t over. But at least America was finally in it.