When we try to predict the future, we often allow our assumptions to argue for our own limitations, sometimes at our peril. In this series of Mistaken Predictions, we deride predictions that close our minds to the future and celebrate our collective visions that allowed us to imagine alternative scenarios. Equipped with tools that open us to near limitless options, we cheer the fact that the future is inherently unpredictable.
“A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.”
–New York Times, 1936.
The first rocket to leave the earth’s atmosphere was American-built WAC, launched on March 22nd, from White Sands, NM and attained 50 miles of altitude.
“An Act to provide for research into the problems of flight within and outside the Earth’s atmosphere, and for other purposes.”
With this simple preamble, the Congress and the President of the United States created the national Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on October 1, 1958. NASA’s birth was directly related to the pressures of national defense. After World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in the Cold War, a broad contest over the ideologies and allegiances of the nonaligned nations. During this period, space exploration emerged as a major area of contest and became known as the space race.
A full-scale crisis resulted on October 4, 1957 when the Soviets launched Sputnik 1, the world’s first artificial satellite as its IGY entry. This had a “Pearl Harbor” effect on American public opinion, creating an illusion of a technological gap and provided the impetus for increased spending for aerospace endeavors, technical and scientific educational programs, and the chartering of new federal agencies to manage air and space research and development.
The United States launched its first Earth satellite on January 31, 1958, when Explorer 1 documented the existence of radiation zones encircling the Earth. Shaped by the Earth’s magnetic field, what came to be called the Van Allen Radiation Belt, these zones partially dictate the electrical charges in the atmosphere and the solar radiation that reaches Earth.
In 1957, Laika, the soviet space dog, became the first animal to orbit the Earth and, sadly, the first orbital death. On 12 April 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human in outer space.
Launched on July 16, 1969, the Apollo 11 was crewed by Commander Neil Alden Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin Eugene ‘Buzz’ Aldrin, Jr. On July 20, Armstrong and Aldrin became the first humans to land on the Moon, while Collins orbited in the Command Module.