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Project Vanguard: The NASA History Paperback – January 9, 2009
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This work tells the story of Project Vanguard, the Naval Research Laboratory's effort to develop the world's first Earth orbital satellite. Chosen as the U.S. effort on September 9, 1955, to support the scientific inquiry of the International Geophysical Year (IGY)--in part because it did not interfere with high-priority ballistic missile development programs--it proved somewhat less successful than intended but ultimately quite important from a scientific perspective. President Eisenhower's Vanguard decision called for existing organizations within the Department of Defense to develop and launch a small scientific satellite "under international auspices, such as the International Geophysical Year, in order to emphasize its peaceful purposes[;]...considerable prestige and psychological benefits will accrue to the nation which first is successful in launching a satellite...especially if the USSR were to be the first to establish a satellite." The U.S. approved a budget of $23.5 million, modest but considered adequate for the effort by scientific and technical personnel, to carry out the program.
Vanguard enjoyed exceptional publicity throughout the second half of 1955 and all of 1956 and 1957, but the technological demands upon the program were too great and the funding levels too small to foster much success. From initial cost estimates, Vanguard mushroomed to a cost of $67.Read more ›
Matt Bille, author, The First Space Race: Launching the World's First Satellites (TAMU, 2006)
This book is well written and does a good job describing the history and technology behind the Vanguard project. It is certainly of interested to those with a strong interest in the space history, as well as to space-buffs in general. Perhaps the best part of the book is the introduction, written by no other than Charles Lindberg. I found the choice of Lindbergh surprising. But Lindberg does such a good job in describing the psychology of the times that I think no one could improve upon the topic.
On page 20 appears a photo of a very young and debonair von Braun. (No wonder so many resent him.) This shows that contrary of general opinion, von Braun did have early influence on Vanguard.
In my opinion the biggest weakness of the book is that it tries too hard to paint Vanguard as a huge success. Vanguard did have some success, and a lot of clever engineering went into it. But ultimately it failed in its primary mission. Furthermore, three successful satellites in eleven attempts is not a sterling record. The reasons for the shortcoming are complex, but ultimately come down to rivalry with the Army, and an underestimation of the USSR.