Cold War, Korea and the Cosmos Satellites
The Soviet achievement did not occur as abruptly as it might have seemed, for the Russians had devoted considerable resources to rocketry since the 1930s. The success of the German V-1 and V-2 ballistic missiles during World War II spurred both the United States and the Soviet Union to undertake similar programs. (Although with less spectacular results than the Germans, American scientist Robert H. Goddard had conducted important experiments with liquid-fuel rockets during the 1920s and 1930s. During World War I his early research had received financing from the Signal Corps.) The surrender of leading German rocket scientists, in particular Wernher von Braun, to the U.S. Army in 1945 brought invaluable expertise to this country via "Project Paperclip." The Russians, meanwhile, captured many of the German laboratory facilities. While the United States' missile program lagged after the war, the Soviet Union's forged ahead, launching Sputnik I the first orbital satellite on 4 October 1957.
The Russians quickly followed up their initial triumph with the launching of Sputnik II in November 1957. This time a canine passenger went along for the ride. Having suffered a second psychological blow, the United States moved quickly to close the technological gap and recover its lost national prestige. On 31 January 1958 the United States launched its first satellite, Explorer I. The Army could take credit for this accomplishment through the work of von Braun and his team of rocket experts at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, working in conjunction with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology. Had the Army's plan originally been accepted for the IGY, the United States very likely could have been the first into space. In addition to salvaging the nation's pride, Explorer, loaded with sophisticated electronic equipment-components of which had been developed by the Signal Corps-contributed greatly to the scientific knowledge obtained during the IGY by discovering the Van Allen radiation belt encircling the earth.
After many frustrating delays and the spectacular failure of its first launch attempt (which earned the project the nickname "Flopnik"), the Navy successfully launched Vanguard I on 17 March 1958. As part of its payload the satellite carried solar cells developed by the Signal Corps that helped to meet the sustained power requirements of space travel. Vanguard II followed in February 1959, carrying an electronics package created by the Signal Corps. The payload included infrared scanning devices to map the earth's cloud cover and a tape recorder to store the information. Unfortunately, technical problems with the satellite's rotation limited the usefulness of the images obtained.
Military dominance of the space program proved to be short-lived. In July 1958 President Eisenhower signed into law an act establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The new agency, which came into being on 1 October 1958, absorbed the existing National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which dated from World War I. To provide future scientists, the government subsidized an expanded science curriculum in the public schools to train the technicians needed to win the space race.
Yet military participation in the field continued. On 18 December 1958 the Signal Corps, with the help of the Air Force, launched the world's first communications satellite. Designated Project SCORE (Signal Communications via Orbiting Relay Equipment), this venture demonstrated that voice and coded signals could be received, stored, and relayed by an orbiting satellite. Its system could carry one voice channel or seven teletype channels at sixty words per minute. Among its notable feats, SCORE broadcast tape-recorded Christmas greetings from President Eisenhower to the peoples of the world. This pioneering signal station, unfortunately, had a life expectancy of only a few weeks.