Beyond the Atmosphere: Early Years of Space Science

[33] As World War II came to a close, a group of engineers and scientists in the Communications Security Section of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington began to cast about for new research problems to which to apply their talents. Long hours were spent on the subject, and the list of possibilities grew to sizable proportions. Milton Rosen, a competent, versatile, imaginative electronics engineer, suggested that the group might apply its wartime experience with missiles and communications, including television, to a study of the upper atmosphere. The suggestion became the eighth to go on the blackboard in the office of Ernst Krause, head of the section. Thereafter it was referred to as Project 8.
When the debate finally wound down, Project 8 was the clear winner To the many physicists in the group the project offered an attractive and important field of research. The engineers could feel the challenge of instrumenting and launching the rockets that would be needed by the scientists. And because of the importance of knowledge of atmospheric properties to communications and the design and operation of missiles, it was possible that the Navy might support the project.
The director of the laboratory approved the upper-air research proposal in December of 1945, and the section became the Rocket Sonde Research Section, a name that appropriately enough also came from the originator of the Project 8 idea. No one in the section was experienced in upper atmospheric research, so the section immediately entered a period of intensive self-education. Members lectured each other on aerodynamics, rocket propulsion, telemetering-whatever appeared to be important for the new tasks ahead. The author gave a number of talks on satellites and satellite orbits. Indeed, the possibility of going immediately to artificial satellites of the earth as research platforms was considered by the group, which assimilated carefully whatever information it could obtain from military studies of the time. The conclusion was that one could indeed begin an artificial satellite program and expect to succeed, but that the amount of new development required would be costly and time consuming. The [34] scientists could not hope to have their instruments aloft for some years to come and, anyway, were not likely to get their hands on the necessary funds. The Rocket Sonde Research Section accordingly shelved the satellite idea and turned to sounding rockets.
As they were considering what rockets-including the jet Propulsion Laboratory's WAC-Corporal-might be available for the research they contemplated, word came that the U.S. Army would be willing for interested scientists to conduct experiments in some of the V-2s it was planning to fire at the White Sands range in New Mexico. Because of the narrow confines of the range, the missiles would have to be fired along nearly vertical trajectories and would accordingly make ideal probes of the upper atmosphere. To explore the possibilities Krause invited a number of interested persons to meet at the Naval Research Laboratory. At the meeting, on 16 January 1946, physicists and astronomers interested in cosmic ray, solar, and atmospheric research were present. Because of the potential importance of upper-air data to military applications, the services were well represented. It was plain from the deliberations that a number of groups both in universities and in the military would be interested in taking part in a program of high-altitude rocket research.