Jim Oberg has written a very interesting article at MSNBC.com, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the launch of mankindâ€™s fourth artificial satellite, Vanguard 1. While it is no longer functioning or communicating, it is the oldest satellite still in orbit. Jim says, â€œVanguard 1 was the first artificial earth satellite powered by solar cells, and its small suite of instruments provided unprecedented information on Earth’s size and shape, air density and temperature ranges, and the micrometeorite density in space. Tracking its orbit helped geophysicists realize that Earth is not round but slightly pear-shaped, with a slight, symmetric equatorial bulge.â€
Jim has a lot of good history included in the article, but most intriguing, Jim reports Vanguard 1 could become the first satellite brought home, for museum display, by a new generation of robotic space vehicles. That would be incredible! Such an attempt would be a demonstration of robotic space vehiclesâ€™ capabilty, in addition to providing an Earth orbit (and highly exciting) version of retrieving Gus Grissomâ€™s Liberty Bell 7 from the ocean floor. Do check out Jim’s article.
Jim Oberg, of course, is a noted journalist, author, linguist (sorry, inside joke) and space consultant for NBC News.