Source: NASA Historical Reference Collection, NASA History Division, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC.

Scientific and Technical Information Division

Washington,. D.C.


As A YOUTH, near the beginning of this 20th Century, Robert Hutchins Goddard began to dream of spatial voyages, thereafter becoming the great pioneer of astronautics. The Vanguard project, which this book records, was a major step in transforming his dreams to reality. It may be said to have rooted into Goddard's New Mexico rocket launchings, and to have stretched far upward toward man's landing on the moon.

This is a record of amazing human accomplishment. It is also a record of conflicting values, policies, and ideas, from which we have much to learn. It shows how easily an admirable framework of scientific success can be screened from public view by a fictitious coating of failure; yet how important that coating is in its effect on world psychology and national prestige.

Herein is portrayed both the genius and the ineptness of our American way of life. On one hand, Vanguard history rests proudly with outstanding accomplishments; on the other, it emphasizes clearly how much more could have been accomplished through inter-service cooperation and support that was withheld. One is made aware of the penalties brought by such diverse elements as extended wartime hatred and a sensation-seeking press. Even in retrospect, we view Project Vanguard through the haze of an environment that was out of its control-an environment including atomic weapons, Sputnik, and cold war with the Soviet Union.

These chapters bring out again the age-old conflict that continues between security and progress, in spite of their relationship. My own first contact with the Vanguard program was a part of this conflict. It exemplifies the obstacles. sometimes unavoidable, that delayed the launching of America's Number I satellite.

In 1955, I was sitting as a member of one of the ballistic-missile scientific committees when the subject of orbiting a satellite was broached. Everyone present agreed that a satellite-launching project was practical, important, and deserving of support. But what priority should be assigned to it? We were working under staggering concepts of nuclear warfare, and the imperative need to prevent a strike against the United States by the Soviet Union. Our mission was to speed the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles with sufficient retaliatory power to discourage attack. Members of the committee believed that the security of our nation and civilization would depend on our ability to shoot across oceans quickly and accurately by the time Russia had missiles available for shooting at us.

A shortage of scientists, engineers, and facilities existed in fields of missiles and space. Military projects needed every man available. The consensus of committee opinion was that we should concentrate on security requirements and assign to the Vanguard program a secondary place. There would be time to orbit satellites after our nuclear-warhead missiles were perfected and adequate marksmanship achieved.

My second contact with American satellite development relates largely to the realm of "might have been." It impinged only indirectly on Project Vanguard; but it throws light on our apparent early space-backwardness in relation to the Soviet Union. During my visit to the Army's Redstone Arsenal at Huntsville on a military mission, Wernher von Braun showed me one of his mock-ups and told me of his plans for orbiting a satellite. He had been unable to obtain the authorizations and funds required to put an actual satellite in orbit; but according to his estimates, he could have done so many months before Russia's Sputnik I was launched-at a minute cost as measured by present-day space expenditures.

Why was the Redstone-von Braun satellite project not supported? Answers vary with the person talked to: The Navy's brilliant developments in satellite instrumentation had tipped the choice to Vanguard, and budgetary restrictions had prevented a paralleling project. The name Redstone was too closely associated with military missiles. Vanguard offered lower costs, more growth potential, longer duration of orbiting. We would eventually gain more scientific information through Vanguard than through Redstone. To these observations, l can add from my own experience that inter-service rivalry exerted strong influence; also, that any conclusion drawn would be incomplete without taking into account the antagonism still existing toward von Braun and his co-workers because of their service on the German side of World War II.

My third contact with the satellite program was one nearly every American experienced: the effect of a superficial and sensational press. This has retarded the development of many important projects, Vanguard among them. It places such an unrealistic penalty on developmental errors that increased costs and delays result through excessive attempts to avoid them. Generally speaking. success comes faster when a percentage of error is not only accepted but included in planning schedules.

In addition to the over-caution caused by press and public monitoring, the emphasis of scientific perfection had its retarding effect on our launching of a satellite. How often I heard the statement that only the quality of data obtained mattered, and that the United States should not take part in a race with the Soviet Union to orbit a few pounds of matter around the earth. In spite of frequent warnings both from within and without scientific circles, an ivory tower of intellect was built-and suddenly shattered by Sputnik.

The amazing effectiveness of Sputnik was due even more to the American reaction than to the Soviet satellite. That the Russians are a great people has been proven beyond doubt. Over and over again through generations, they have made outstanding contributions to fields of scientific progress. One of these fields is astronautics. From Tsiolkovskiy through Gagarin to scientists, engineers, and astronauts of current days, Russians have been acclaimed throughout the world. The launching of Sputnik I was another great Russian accomplishment, and it was proper that we regarded it as such. One might have expected Washington to cable congratulations to Moscow, possibly to add that we would soon complement with our own satellites this Russian contribution to the International Geophysical Year, and then to proceed with the carefully considered plans we had adopted.

Instead, an atmosphere bordering on hysteria pervaded the United States. After having decided that we were not primarily in a race to launch the world's first satellite, we seemed to start running, laps behind, in a race already won, and to convince ourselves that we had been in it right along. In convincing ourselves, we went far toward convincing the rest of the world along with us-with a resulting lowering of American prestige.

Why did America, starting with the lead that Robert Goddard gave us, permit another country to be first in orbiting a satellite? I think we would gain more basic enlightenment from asking why we were so disturbed psychologically by the orbiting of Sputnik. We led the world in science, technology, and military power, even in the development of astronautics scientifically. Our leading minds had suppressed the spectacular in space in order to emphasize the scientific. Yet when the spectacular appeared as a pinpoint of light above our heads, it seemed to obliterate our great accomplishments of science. From such an irrational reaction, what rational conclusions can we draw?

That the spectacular and psychological exert tremendous influence on life is obvious. That we underestimated this influence in planning our early satellite program is just as clear. That, in hindsight, we should have changed the relative priority between missiles and satellites can still be argued. That we missed an opportunity to have held the established priority and still orbited the world's first satellite seems highly probable.

In rational analysis, two facts emerge to silhouette against a turbulent background. The Project Vanguard objective was accomplished during the International Geophysical Year, as planned, and our military forces achieved a retaliatory power before the Soviet Union could have destroyed our civilization by a ballistic-missile attack. Both programs were successful despite the many obstacles encountered.

This carefully researched history of Project Vanguard, resulting from years of study by Constance McLaughlin Green and Milton Lomask, escorts the reader step by step through planning, setbacks, successes, and final launchings, including effects of individual and mass psychology. Since contributions by the armed services form the web on which the following chapters pattern, it seems appropriate to apply to the authors, as well as to Vanguard, those high compliments of military terminology: Mission accomplished and well done.

To this decade-later evaluation, I believe it is pertinent to add that Project Vanguard contributed in major ways to the manned lunar orbitings and landings in which principles of scientific perfection were maintained and America was first.

Charles A. Lindbergh

11 August 1969