Part 2 - Development

Chapter 5

Specifications for a Manned Satellite

(October - December 1958)

[109] "All right. Let's get on with it !"

These were the informal words of leadership that launched the development of the United States' first manned space flight program. They were spoken by T. Keith Glennan, newly appointed first Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, following a briefing by eight civil service aeronautical engineers who felt ready to become "astronautical engineers." This was exactly a year and three days after national debate and preliminary planning had been precipitated by Sputnik I. Glennan's words symbolized the firm resolution of the Congress, the Eisenhower administration, and the American people to accept the challenge of nature, technology, and the Soviet Union to explore the shallows of the universe.1

By the first anniversary of Earth's first artificial satellite, Americans generally seemed willing, if not eager, to accept the rationale of scientific experts and engineering enthusiasts that the new ocean of space could now and should now be explored by man in person. The human and the physical energies necessary for man to venture beyond Earth's atmosphere had become, for the first time in the history of this planet, available in feasible form. These energies only needed transformation by organization and development to transport man into the beyond.

If these were the articles of faith behind the first American manned satellite program, they had not been compelling enough to spark action toward space flight before the Sputniks. Public furor was inspired primarily not by the promise of extending aeronautics and missilery into astronautics, but rather by the nationalistic fervor and punctured pride caused by the obviously spectacular Soviet achievements. Faith, fervor, and even some fear were perhaps necessary if the [110] American democracy was to embark on a significant space program. But the people most directly concerned with mobilizing the men and the technology to accomplish manned orbital flight had first to organize themselves.

1 T. Keith Glennan, in a letter to C. C. A. dated Dec. 18, 1963, said he could not recall precisely either the dates or the happenings at the meetings during his first official week in office. But he added, "It seemed the natural course for me to accept the recommendations of the only people who knew very much about the matter and initiate the program as soon as NASA became an operating agency. In short, I do not recall that President Eisenhower actually assigned the manned space flight program to NASA - I guess I just accepted the tasks which we would have to undertake." See also Clotaire Wood, interview, Washington, D.C., Sept. 1, 1965, for witness to the words to proceed.

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