Soviet Union

June 12, 1957 – Weightlifter Paul Anderson Sets World Backlift Record

On June 12, 1957, Georgia-born American hero Paul Anderson entered the Guinness Book of World Records with a backlift of 6270 lbs.  The 24-year-old strongman had already broken many United States and world records over his five-year career.  As a member of the 1955 United States Weightlifting team, he traveled behind the Iron Curtain to the Soviet Union.  At a meet in Gorki Park, St. Petersburg, he set three world records to the delight of the Cold War-era crowd.   Paul also won the Gold Medal in weightlifting at the 1956 Summer Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia.

Paul Anderson Wikimedia Commons

Record-breaking weightlifter Paul Anderson

The platform Paul used for his record-breaking backlift held the heaviest items he could find around his Toccoa, Georgia home, including a safe filled with weights and concrete totalling 2480 lbs.  The Guinness Book entry read:

“Greatest lift.  The greatest weight ever raised by a human being is 6,270 lbs. in a backlift (weight lifted off trestles) by 364-lb Paul Anderson (U.S.) (b. 1932), the 1956 Olympic heavyweight champion, at Toccoa, Georgia, on June 12, 1957.”

Paul made his life work the establishment and continued success of the Paul Anderson Youth Home in Vidalia, Georgia. An alternative to incarceration with adult criminals, the home offered troubled or homeless boys a second chance for a new life.  They received a good education and learned a strong work ethic.  Paul made over 500 public appearances a year in support of the home, giving weightlifting demonstrations and sharing with the crowds his Christian faith and love for America.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

November 3, 1957 – Sputnik 2 Sends First Living Animal into Orbit

Monument to Laika, Moscow

Monument to Laika, Moscow

On November 3, 1957, the Soviet Union successfully launched their second Sputnik earth satellite from an ICBM R-7 platform.  The 13 foot high, 2 foot diameter capsule contained compartments for radio transmitters, a telemetry system, a programming unit, regeneration and temperature control systems, scientific instruments (including photometers to measure ultraviolet and x-ray solar radiation), and in her own separate padded and pressurized cabin, a part-terrier, part-Samoyed female dog named Laika.  Other than hitchhiker microbes, no living animal had ever blasted off into space before little 13-pound Laika (which meant “Barker” in Russian) went up, fitted with a harness, electrodes to monitor her condition, and supplies of oxygen, food, and water.

With Sputnik 1 still orbiting Earth, transmitting radio signals and ICBM nightmares across the globe, Sputnik 2’s successful launch introduced an even greater level of perceived alarm and threat by Cold War antagonists to the USSR’s new space supremacy.  Sputnik 2 did not carry out its mission entirely as planned, however.  While the satellite-bearing rocket achieved earth orbit, where it successfully jettisoned its nose cone, a portion of the rocket called “Blok A” did not separate, inhibiting the thermal control system.  Vital thermal insulation was torn loose during the nose cone separation as well, and Sputnik’s internal temperatures soon reached 104°F.

Sputnik 2’s fate to burn up in earth atmosphere reentry occurred on April 14, 1958, after 162 days of circling the globe.  The original plan for Laika – painful for all animal-lovers everywhere to contemplate – was for her to provide information for a limited period of time on the effects of space flight on living beings, through monitoring her vital signs.  After ten days, she was to be euthanized by lethal medication-supplemented food.  Once sent into orbit, she could never return.  But after the early loss of her capsule’s thermal insulation, Laika was only able to survive for a few hours before succumbing to the heat and stress.  Her death was a small, but significant tragedy on the road to man’s Race to Space.

Sputnik 2 Module

Sputnik 2 Module. Photo: Raumfahrer.net

October 25, 1957 – The Rocky Mount Evening Telegram News

A Rocky Mount High School student looks over an edition of the Evening Telegram during a 1952 tour of the newspaper's original office on Howard Street. Photo: Rocky Mount Telegram archives

A Rocky Mount High School student looks over an edition of the Evening Telegram during a 1952 tour of the newspaper’s original office on Howard Street. Photo: Rocky Mount Telegram archives

On October 25, 1957, the Friday night edition of the Rocky Mount Evening Telegram reported the news from far and near to the residents of Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Published from 1894 until 1966, the Evening Telegram served a community first founded in 1816 and the home, in 1957, of about 28,000 people.

And what would those Rocky Mount residents have seen on the front page when they snapped open the evening news at the start of their weekend? Here are two of the headlines:

 

Reds Launching Could Be Fake

REDLANDS, Calif. (AP)-Russia’s launching of Sputnik may have been a “fake stunt,” says a physicist participating in the U.S. Far Side Project.

Sputnik may have been launched from a balloon–as the Far Side rocket was–instead of using an intercontinental ballistic missile, said Charles E. Bartley.

“As propaganda, the Russian launching is undeniably superb,” Bartley told a group of University of Redlands scientists. “By innuendo, it supports Soviet claims to an intercontinental ballistic missile.

“But objective analysis raises several questions. Sputnik could easily have been launched from a balloon. This would have been possible without employing a large rocket of ICBM magnitude.

He quoted a Russian scientist, Mrs. Anna T. Masevich, vice president of the Soviet Astronautical Council, as saying in Barcelona, Spain, on Oct. 4:

“Newspapers were wrong when they said the satellite weighed 184.3 pounds. I think it is not so heavy.”

Commented Bartley: “Common sense and logic sum up two reasonable suppositions. The Soviet Sputnik more likely weighs 18 pounds and it does not make sense that the Russians would expend a large ICBM rocket, even if they had it, to put that weight into an orbit when a light cluster of efficient small rockets could do the same job from a balloon.”

Bartley is the president of Grand Central Rocket Co., which makes third and fourth stage motors for Far Side rockets.

 

Not Socialized

ASHEVILLE, NC (AP)-Dr. True B. Eveleth of Chicago, executive secretary of the American Osteopathic Assn., has told the North Carolina Osteopathic Society that socialized medicine will never be imposed in the United States.

“Rapidly expanding prepaid hospitalization programs will ultimately circumvent any future possible need of government-controlled medicine,” he told the 53rd annual convention of the society here yesterday.

Dr. Albert G. Moore of Wilmington was elected president, succeeding Dr. T. M. Rowlett of Concord.

 

And at the bottom of the page, the following some-things-never-change item:

DETROIT (AP)-Mrs. Edith Hall told police a thief took $5 from her purse which she had left on the porch of her home while she raked leaves. He threw away the purse, overlooking $2,170 hidden in a secret compartment.

 

 

October 23, 1957 – Vanguard’s TV-2 Launched From Cape Canaveral

Vanguard Rocket Launch. Photo: United States Navy

On October 23, 1957, the United States Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) Vanguard program successfully tested a three-stage rocket designed to send an American Earth satellite into orbit.  The recent launch of the Soviet Union’s rocket bearing the first Earth satellite, Sputnik 1, created a sense of urgency for the U.S. to catch up with their Cold War nemesis, and the original timetable for American satellite deployment was put on a fast track.

In 1955, the United States government announced plans to create and successfully place an Earth satellite into orbit during the International Geophysical Year, running from July, 1957 through December of 1958.  Consequently, three branches of the armed services – the Army, Air Force, and Navy – all independently pursued their own rocket-development programs.  The Army’s Redstone project and the Air Force’s Atlas ballistic missiles were military in nature and of a top priority.  The NRL was always viewed more as a scientific organization and Vanguard was emphasized as a non-military project.

Two NRL program launches took place before October 23rd’s blast-off.  TV-0, launched December 8, 1956, tested telemetry systems, and TV-1 on May 1, 1957, tested the separation and subsequent second-stage ignition capabilities of the two-stage rocket design.  Several abortive attempts occurred over the summer of 1957, before TV-2 was able to test the 75 feet tall, 3.74 foot diameter, 22,156 pound, three-stage version.  TV-2 successfully demonstrated Vanguard’s ability for first-second stage separation and “spin-up” of the third stage.  Stages 1 and 2 were steered by gimbaled engines.  The third stage was “spin-stabilized, the spin being imparted by a turn-table on the second stage before separation”.  The engines worked, the turn-table worked, the telemetry and separation systems worked, but American rockets were still incapable of packing a satellite aboard.

Fast-tracking the Vanguard project in response to the threat posed by Sputnik resulted in disappointments and set-backs before achieving its ultimate goal.  Next test reservation date for Cape Canaveral’s LC-18A pad would be December 6th.  The suspense was mounting.

October 11, 1957 – Sputnik-Spotting With MIT’s IBM 704

IBM 704 Computer with Operator. Photo: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

On October 11, 1957, the enormous IBM 704 computer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computation Center produced the first “satisfactory orbit” calculations for the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Sputnik 1-spotting mission.  Operation Moonwatch, a group of amateur astronomers organized by Observatory Director Fred Lawrence Whipple, was working feverishly in Cambridge, Massachusetts since Sputnik’s October 4th launch to develop the mathematical models to accurately calculate and predict where the first man-made Earth satellite would appear in the sky at any given time.  If they could determine the position of Sputnik 1, they could derive its “orbital elements”, or “parameters required to uniquely identify a specific orbit” – scientist talk for “where exactly is the satellite now and where will be it be in five, ten, or fifteen minutes?”.

The IBM 704, introduced in 1954, was the first mass-produced computer with floating-point arithmetic hardware and core memory (instead of tubes).  Computer languages FORTRAN and LISP were first developed for use with the 704.  It was able to execute up to a speedy 40,000 instructions per second.

The astronomers had three targets to work with: the Sputnik 1 satellite with its radio transmitter; a detached nose cone from the satellite; and the satellite’s discarded booster rocket.  Early in the morning of October 11th, at around 7:00 AM, the state-of-the-art IBM 704 was able to lock on and calculate the critical Earth-orbit data for the booster rocket.

Being able to accurately locate objects orbiting the Earth and passing over the United States was of great national security interest.  The questions on everyone’s mind since the Soviet Union’s successful Sputnik 1 launch were: Would the Soviets send up an ICBM, now that they had the technology?  And: How soon?

October 4, 1957 – Soviets Launch Sputnik 1

Sputnik 1. Photo: NASA

 

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union upped the ante in the Space Race with the successful launch of Sputnik 1, the first Earth-orbiting artificial satellite.  Blasted through the atmosphere from the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard a two-stage R-7 rocket, Sputnik 1 was a 23-inch diameter, 184 pound, aluminum-magnesium-titanium sheathed sphere with two whip-like antennae.  Powered by silver-zinc batteries, it entered a low, elliptical orbit emitting a radio signal which could be received on Earth by both Soviet scientists and the curious (and highly-alarmed) American public.  Sputnik traveled 18,000 miles per hour, completing an Earth-orbit every 96 minutes.  Radio transmissions continued for 22 days, until transmitter batteries were exhausted.  The history-making satellite spent 3 months in orbit, traveling a total of 37 million miles, before burning up in atmospheric reentry on January 4, 1958.

While not able to conduct as many experiments as the Soviets had initially hoped, Sputnik was able to gather information during its three-month run concerning the density of the Earth’s upper atmosphere, radio-signal distribution in the ionosphere, and meteoroid detection by penetration of the satellite’s outer hull.

The successful launch of an artificial satellite was one of the primary goals of the International Geophysical Year (IGY), inaugurated on July 1, 1957.  The Soviets had first proposed developing such a satellite on May 27, 1954, and President Dwight Eisenhower announced on July 29, 1955 that the United States would send their own version of the technological achievement into space during the IGY.  But Sputnik took America and its government by surprise.  Americans now had to take Soviet scientific abilities much more seriously.  A sense of vulnerability to attack led to panic reactions by the public, as they listened in to Sputnik’s ominous “beep-beep” when it passed directly overhead.  The US government responded with renewed commitment to scientific and technological research, and military and educational program revamping and investment.  ICBMs, missile defense systems, and satellites were all placed on a developmental fast-track.  After several failed attempts, the United States’ first successful launch of its own artificial satellite, Explorer 1, occurred on January 31, 1958.

Numerous references to Sputnik in movies, television shows, and pop songs have made the term part of the American cultural landscape.  Replicas and models of the satellite can be found at the United Nations, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, and the Science Museum in London.

September 29, 1957 – The Kyshtym Disaster

Map of the Mayak and Kyshtym area, USSR. Image: Jan Rieke, NASA World Wind Screenshot

 

On September 29, 1957, an explosion in a steel storage tank containing liquid nuclear waste led to the release of a massive 2 MCi of radioactive material in the eastern Ural Mountains of the Soviet Union.  Spent nuclear waste generates heat, and when tank cooling systems failed, containment of the material failed and a non-nuclear explosion occurred on the order of 70-100 tons of TNT.  The Kyshtym Disaster, as it came to be called, was the third worst nuclear disaster in history, dwarfed only by the Chernobyl reactor explosions and fire in 1986 and the Fukushima Daiichi multiple reactor meltdowns in 2011.

The incident occurred at Mayak, a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant sequestered in the closed city of Ozyorsk, near the town of Kyshtym.  Within ten hours of the release, the radioactive cloud traveled 300-350 kilometers in a northeast direction.  Fallout contaminated an area of approximately 800 square kilometers later called the East-Ural Radioactive Trace (EURT).  Secrecy surrounding Mayak and its operations led to the suppression of information about the danger to the local population; it was a full week before people began to be evacuated, without explanation.  According to an article in Critical Mass Journal by Richard Pollock, people “grew hysterical with fear with the incidence of unknown ‘mysterious’ diseases breaking out.  Victims were seen with skin ‘sloughing off’ their faces, hands, and other exposed parts of their bodies”.

Knowledge about the event could only be gathered indirectly.  An estimated 200 people died from cancer as a direct result of the explosion and release; massive amounts of contaminated soil apparently were excavated and stockpiled; and an off-limits “nature reserve” was created in the EURT to isolate the affected region.  Studies of the effects of radioactivity on plants, animals, and ecosystems later conducted and published by faculty members of the Institute of Molecular Biology in Moscow eventually confirmed the rumors of a major radioactive release.

At the time, the Soviets were hurrying to catch up with American nuclear weapons researchers.  In their desire to produce sufficient quantities of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium, they proceeded without full understanding of the safety measures necessary to protect citizens and the environment.  Their lack of concern led to open dumping of highly radioactive waste into rivers and lakes.  The level of radioactivity in the town of Ozyorsk is currently claimed to be within safe limits, but the “East-Ural Nature Reserve”, as the EURT was deceptively renamed in 1968, is still heavily contaminated.