Part I : 1945 - 1950

3. Hydrogen-Oxygen for a Navy Satellite



Attitudes towards Missiles and Satellites


[38] While the advocates of satellites in the Bureau of Aeronautics were pursuing their technical studies, they were also attempting to obtain high-level support. They estimated that five to eight million dollars would be needed, but in the budget competition, they faced an uphill struggle. Ironically, their sister service, the Army Air Forces, had support at the top but little initiative at the working level. During September, the AAF's Scientific Advisory Committee, headed by Dr. Theodore von Karamn, issued the first volume of its series, Towards New Horizons- a bold assessment of future developments.14


On 12 November 1945, in his Third Report to the Secretary of War, Gen. H. H. Arnold predicted that strategic bombers would eventually be replaced by long-range ballistic missiles that would need to be launched "from true space stations, capable of operating outside the earth's atmosphere."15


If the Bureau of Aeronautics men were heartened by Arnold's statement, they must have been dismayed the next month at the lack of support from the top scientist in the government. In December, Vannevar Bush, Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, appeared before the Special Senate Committee on Atomic Energy and stated:


There has been a great deal said about a 3000-mile [5600 km] high-angle rocket. In my opinion such a thing is impossible and will be impossible for many years. 16


Bush was not alone. The following April, the chairman of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, Jerome C. Hunsaker, echoed the same view in an address before the National Academy of Sciences:


One is tempted to speculate about the possibilities of an improved rocket of this type [V-2]. An engineer cannot see much prospect for an improved propellant nor for much better materials of construction. It is unlikely that a ratio of starting weight to empty weight of much more than three can be obtained. It, therefore, appears that the range of 200 miles is near the maximum for the type.17


By the first part of 1946, the funding prospects for the satellite project were well below what its supporters in the Bureau of Aeronautics considered to be a minimum. They decided that drastic action was needed to save the project and contacted the AAF regarding a jointly supported satellite project. A meeting on satellites was held on 7 March 1946, with Hall speaking for the Bureau of Aeronautics on the proposed joint [39] effort. The initial reaction was favorable and Hall was elated. However, his joy was shortlived; in less than a month he was called to the office of Lt. Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, the AAF deputy chief for research and development, and told that the AAF would not support the Navy proposal. LeMay did leave the door open for future discussions on earth satellites.18 Almost coincident with the meeting on 22 March a JPL-Army Ordnance WAC rocket became the first American rocket to go beyond the earth's atmosphere. It reached an altitude of 93 kilometers.