National Geographic : 1960 Jul
The space agency brings to its tasks impres sive resources: seven research installations, scattered about the Nation and valued at $500,000,000; more than 16,000 employees, including many distinguished and intensely dedicated scientists; and, for the 1961 fiscal year, a budget of some $900,000,000. As con tractors, NASA has enlisted hundreds of in dustrial firms and many universities. Space Program Benefits the World Recently I took a three-months' tour of NASA's growing empire. I talked frankly and at length with scores of researchers and top administrators, witnessed many bizarre experiments, and gained an intimate insight into plans and problems. This searching examination convinced me that our future position in the space race will be far stronger than NASA's critics pre dict. Mastery of space requires the blunting of many thorny problems. No country can send men to the moon and back, for example, until it develops new space craft materials that will withstand unprecedented heat and stress. It is in such basic, little-publicized areas, I believe, that NASA's most significant contributions are being made. Dr. T. Keith Glennan, NASA chief, de clares forcefully that, even today, our position compares favorably with that of the Soviets. "We have a soundly based program, techni cally and scientifically," he told me. "That is what will be most useful to the world. Unless the Russians do something vastly dif ferent from what they have done to date, we have a better program. "I do not say this in derogation," Dr. Glen nan went on, "but the information that has been retrieved from the heavens leaves the balance in our favor. We must make the American public aware that the be-all and end-all of space exploration is not to match the Russians shot for shot." Perhaps the word "scope" best characterizes NASA's program. It ranges from our first man-in-space effort-Project Mercury, with its seven celebrated astronauts-to advance planning on projects so "far out" they seem like science fiction. It is a program of con trasts; scientists work on radical new means of propulsion for interplanetary journeys while, next door, colleagues plan ultrastream lined supersonic jet transports. The space timetable for the next decade features some 250 major launchings, continu ing a program that already boasts more satel lites and probes than the Soviets have fired. In 1961 we will attempt to hit the moon, and the following year we will try to place instru ments there in a "soft landing," so that they will radio back information. Also, in 1962 we will shoot rocket payloads close to Mars and Venus. Modern Magellan Will Circle Moon By 1964 the space agency hopes to send a rocket around the moon and back to earth. Later in the decade there are ambitious plans for duplicating that flight with a manned space craft and even for erecting a station in space. When will we put a man on the moon? Not until after 1970, the experts say. Project yourself into NASA's challenging future and imagine this scene: A space craft hurtles through the void of night at 17,400 miles an hour, its blunt nose and dull metallic sides reflecting little light from the blazing stars. Hawaii, 125 miles below in the black ink of the Pacific, falls behind; five minutes ahead lies the United States mainland and the promise of dawn. Tension.. . a cumbersome pressure suit W. D. VAUGHN Allan C. Fisher, Jr., is the only member ever chosen twice by the Aviation Writers Association for its coveted magazine-or-book writing award, the James J. Strebig Memorial Trophy. The as sociation gives this prize annually for the best writing on aviation or astronautics. Assistant Editor Fisher won the first award for his article, "Aviation Medicine on the Threshold of Space," in the August, 1955, NATIONAL GEO GRAPHIC. "Cape Canaveral's 6,000-mile Shooting Gallery," in the October, 1959, issue, brought him the second honor. Covering his prize-winning assignments, Mr. Fisher has scraped through a bellylanding in a jet, ridden whirling centrifuges, and made exclu sive visits to remote missile tracking stations.