National Geographic : 1960 Jul
KODACHROMEW NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSOCIETY Weathervane or Bizarre Javelin? Model Space Ship Suggests Both Electric engines would drive this curious craft. Workmen might assemble it on an orbiting space platform, using tools and parts ferried up by conventional rockets. Designers plan a nuclear reactor in the red nose to provide power for electric generators in the yellow tank. Rear tanks enclose engines and crew's quarters. Elongated radiator (center) dissipates excess heat from the reactor. Lewis Research Center, which specializes in propulsion, developed the model. A NASA technician holds it aloft. versatile. One scientist assured me the day is not far off when a businessman in Los An geles can chat with an associate in Paris by satellite relay-without the delays that some times vex him today. Weather and communications will get the strongest initial emphasis, but satellites hold promise in many areas; for example, as navi gational aids (typified by the Navy's Transit I-B satellite), as tools for geodetic survey, or as astronomical observatories. These and other possibilities have been explored in pre vious NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC articles.* Energy From Sunlight for Space Stations It may seem strange, since NASA worries about meteor damage, that we should launch anything so flimsy as a plastic balloon. But these huge spheres are deceptively durable. In the vacuum of space they inflate rapidly. Though punctured, they will not collapse be- cause they have no weight of air upon them. Langley's Space Vehicle Group thinks light weight, aluminum-coated plastic looks prom ising for many applications. It also looks weirdly beautiful when fashioned into shim mering models of futuristic space stations. William J. O'Sullivan, the group's chief, led me to a room filled with such models. A gleaming 12-foot balloon first caught my eye. It might have been a beach ball awaiting some giant in a playful mood. Next my awed gaze turned to a softly lighted 12 foot antenna shaped like a soup plate. I gawked at it so long that O'Sullivan had to call my attention to his tabletop models: umbrellas of plastic stretched tautly over fragile ribs (page 82). * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC: "How Man made Satellites Can Affect Our Lives," by Joseph Kaplan, December, 1957; and "Space Satellites, Tools of Earth Research," by Heinz Haber, April, 1956.