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Man into Space?
June 1961 Radio-Electronics

June 1961 Radio-Electronics

June 1961 Radio-Electronics Cover - RF Cafe[Table of Contents]

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Radio-Electronics, published 1930-1988. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

Mercury Redstone - RF CafeAccording to the postscript to this editorial, Hugo Gernsback wrote his opinion on the then current state of space exploration and his recommendation for how future efforts should proceed, a month before Alan Shepherd made his historic suborbital flight aboard the Freedom 7 Mercury capsule. That May 5, 1961, feat marked mankind's first foray into space. Surprisingly, Gernsback was not in favor of a manned space program. He believed the resources and expense required to support human life in space would be better invested in developing autonomous and remotely controlled robotic systems. Many people agreed with him then and today. Although I do not oppose manned space flight, I tend to agree with Gernsback that much more can be accomplished with machines than with humans. NASA's many successes on Mars are evidence of the accomplishments possible with robots, and the long-term missions possible. At some point it might be necessary to explore sending men to other planets, but there really is no imperative at this time - just a desire to do so. Coincidentally (or maybe not so coincidentally), Mr. Gernsback refers to his vision of a lunar probe as "surveyor," which was name of NASA's series of robotic lunar lander probes deployed from 1966 to 1968, in preparation for the Apollo 11 manned lunar landing in July of 1969.

Man Into Space?... Electronic Robot into Space More Realistic ...

Man Into Space?, June 1961 Radio-Electronics - RF Cafe

Erie Time News, May 5, 1961 - Alan Shepard's historical flight into suborbital space aboard the Mercury-Redstone rocket - RF Cafe

Erie Time News, May 5, 1961 - Front page coverage of Alan Shepard's historical flight into suborbital space aboard the Mercury-Redstone rocket.

By Hugo Gernsback, Editor

For a number of years, the phrase man into space has been firing the public's imagination in a constantly accelerating tempo. Yet what does it mean?

Does it refer to an experimental rocket shot 50 to 100 miles up with a human passenger, then parachuting back to earth? Or does "man into space" go into orbit above the atmosphere, circle the earth once or a few times, then return to terra firma? Or does he circumnavigate the moon and perhaps land on it? The public does not differentiate between these steps; all it wants to know is when and if man does it.

As one who has constantly publicized spaceflight in his various magazines since 1911, the present writer must deplore the present wholly unscientific, costly uselessness of today's so-called "spaceflights."

For more than 50 years, practically every possible angle of mechanical flight into space has been studied and well understood - very little that is new has been added since Sputnik 1.* Rockets, their orbits, survival in the vacuum of space, weightlessness and its effects on man, rocket flight trajectories between other worlds - all were known and had been charted exactly by scientists. For nearly 50 years, most scientists have known that man would probably not be affected adversely by conditions found in space, including meteoroids, radiation and weightlessness. Since then, test animals have been shot above our atmosphere into space and returned unharmed.

Hence the totally unscientific present-day man-into-space propaganda-publicity has been deplored by many responsible scientists. Furthermore, practically all forward-looking Western spaceflight authorities know that today's rockets certainly will not be in use when regular interplanetary trips begin. Something much better will be used. It seems that the Russians have already made a start in that direction. Nuclear or similar power certainly will be the energy in use in all scheduled future spaceflights. With an abundance of power, landing on the moon (or other planets) and returning to the earth will present no problems - the "entry" difficulties now so much in the news will disappear, chiefly on account of adequate "retro-power."

The crying need today for the coming serious exploration of the moon is, not an unrealistic man-into-space experiment, but a full-scale expendable electronic auto-robot which will be an all-out pilot pioneer project. It will do far more than a man could ever hope to do, yet accomplish it much better, faster and over a much longer period.

A number of such automated machines have been described in space literature, but to the best of our knowledge none is sufficiently comprehensive in scope. Practically all recently proposed mechanical moon surveyors feature some solar cells, lunar drills, radio and TV camera and other elementary probes. Some proposed models are also mobile.

But far more is needed. Scientists, for instance, require months-long temperature records, radioed to earth every hour during all the phases of the moon. They have, from actual astronomical tele-bolometer observations, concluded that the moon's surface temperature varies between 220° F above and 250° F below zero. Careful and accurate measures over long intervals are necessary to give precise records to check the theoretical conclusions.

This in turn poses the question of power for the moon robot, once it starts functioning. Batteries alone are useless because they are too short-lived. We need real electrical power for our lunar drills, radio transmitter, TV camera and other instrumentation. We propose a reasonably large parabolic reflector, say 15 to 25 feet in diameter. Constructed like a folding umbrella, it takes little room in transit via rocket from earth to moon. On landing, it opens automatically, ready for work. Half the inside of the reflector is polished aluminum, the other half covered with solar cells. The solar cells give electrical current immediately when the reflector has turned automatically toward the sun. They then start charging the storage batteries. The reflector also focuses itself automatically into the best angle of the available sun's rays.

In the meantime, the heat rays of the reflector are concentrated on the focus that contains a mercury boiler. The resulting energy runs a high-efficiency electrical generator which also charges the storage batteries, giving sufficient electric power to tide over the electronic robot during the long lunar night. Thus we have two distinct sources of power.

There will also be an astronomical telescope which can be trained by telemetric control from earth toward many parts of the heavens. Yes, it can be used day and night, because even in daytime much of the lunar sky is black. A special TV camera sends the telescopic pictures earthward.

Aside from several dozen other necessary research instruments, we will mention only one, a most important tool, particularly for earth-weather research: One of the new supersensitive infrared detectors that can scan the slowly rotating earth constantly during our day and night, and will transmit at the same time an uninterrupted stream of vital cloud and heat information to our meteorologists.

Another innovation is necessary to safeguard the very important "soft" landing of the electronic robot. Retro-rockets alone, in our opinion, are not sufficient to soft-land such a heavy instrument-laden machine. Under each of the three large, padded feet of the robot there would be an automatic inflatable polystyrene balloon about 6 to 10 feet in diameter. A minute prior to landing, water (or other liquid) is injected into the folded balloons. Under the sun's fierce heat, the liquid evaporates quickly, fully inflating the tough 1/16-inch-thick walled balloons. This in addition to retro-rockets, will make a really soft landing possible. After the robot has settled on the moon, the balloons deflate automatically.

The weight of such a robot, despite its load of instruments, can be kept to under 500 lb. On the moon, this is only a sixth as much, or 83 lb.

Such an electronic explorer can be built today. It should be possible to rocket it to the moon within 3 years. It will be the most realistically needed "yeoman into space." - H.G.

* References

Konstantin E. Tsiolkovskiy. "... Permanent observatory, to revolve around the earth beyond the limits of the atmosphere, like its moon" (1895). Soviet Space Science. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1959, p. XIII.

K. E. Tsiolkovskiy. "A space ship model realized from designs made in 1903 by pioneer rocket theorist Konstantin Tsiolkovskiy." Russian Science in the 21st Century. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1959, p. 150A.

Dr. Robert H. Goddard. A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes. Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, Vol. 71, No.2 (May 26) 1919.

Prof. Hermann Oberth. Wege Zur Raumschiffahrt ("Roads to Space Travel"). Munich, Germany: R. Oldenbourg, 1928.

H. Gernsback. Ralph 124C 41 + (A space novel serialized in 12 installments). Modern Electrics Magazine, April 1911 to March 1912. New York: Modern Electrics Publication.

(This article was written a month before April 12, the date of the first man into space event.)



Posted July 28, 2023

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