Posts Tagged ‘Mercury’

Sputnik

Wednesday, October 4th, 2017

60 years ago today, the world marveled, reeled, and responded to Russia’s launch of Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite.

And so mankind’s journey towards manned spaceflight began.  Time described the chirping sounds coming from Sputnik as “those chilling beeps.”  Suddenly, the need for America to dominate the Russians in technological progress became a necessity.  A year later, NASA began operations.

Russia’s official statement informed that the 184-pound satellite, 23 inches in diameter, circled Earth at a height of 500 miles:  “The successful launching of the first man-made satellite makes a tremendous contribution to the treasure house of world science and culture.  The scientific experiment staged at such a great height is of great importance for establishing the properties of cosmic space and for studying the earth as part of our solar system.”

What once was fascination represented in comic books, movie serials, and novels became, if not a certainty, then a reality within grasp.  Bureaucracy and boasting, the twin banes of progress in any endeavor, became a sticking point.  E.P. Martz, Jr., a scientist described in the Washington Post as having “played an active part in U.S. missile development, decried, “We see extensive worldwide propaganda from our country about our plans long in advance of any readiness for an actual launching.”

For scientific prestige, the Russians were a giant leap ahead of the United States.  It, in turn, ignited frustration, if not ire, in certain factions of Washington.  Senator Richard Russell, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman, pointed out that the military factor was one of great concern, calling it a “new and terrifying danger,” but cautioned “this is no time or place for panic or fright.”

Four days after the Sputnik launch, President Eisenhower met with advisers, including Deputy Secretary of Defense Donald Quarles.  A memorandum indicates that Quarles had “no doubt that the Redstone [missile] had it been used, could have orbited a satellite a year or more ago.”  But that capability was not realized because the American approach to space exploration differed greatly from Moscow’s.  “One reason was to stress the peaceful character of the effort, and a second was to avoid the inclusion of materiel, to which foreign scientists might be given access, which is used in our own military rockets.”

Sputnik provides the backdrop for a critical scene in the 1983 movie The Right Stuff, based on the novel of the same name by Tom Wolfe.  Jeff Goldblum races down a hallway to a meeting between President Eisenhower, Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson, and other advisors.  It is a fictional counterpart to the October 8th meeting, perhaps.

Johnson compared the conquest of space to the Roman Empire’s world leadership because of roads and the British Empire’s because of ships.  Also chronicled in the book, Johnson’s statements indicated an urgency for America to get further involved in spaceflight.  NASA selected its initial seven astronauts for the Mercury program on April 9, 1959.  10 years later, an American flag was planted on the Moon.  The Russians never made it there.

The Astrodome’s Début

Friday, December 16th, 2016

Houston, we have a solution.

Famous for its humidity, Houston unveiled a revolutionary, futuristic, and air-conditioned sports refuge—the Harris County Domed Stadium, also known as the Astrodome.  Débuting in 1965, the Astrodome’s monkey reflected the 1960s Space Age, when Houston dominated the world’s attention as the headquarters for NASA, which launched unmanned spacecraft and manned flights in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs.  Houston’s Major League Baseball team changed labels, too.  Introduced as the Colt .45s in 1962, the team became the Astros concurrent with the Astrodome’s début.

Houston’s relationship with professional baseball began in 1888 with the Houston Buffaloes, a minor league fixture until 1961.  The Buffaloes, in fact, needed to be expunged from Houston so that a major league team could enter the market.  On January 17, 1961, the Houston Sports Association, the entity owning the rights for a National League team in Houston, purchased the Buffaloes and moved the team to Oklahoma City, where they became the 89ers.

The Astrodome provided Houstonians the opportunity to see events without worry regarding the weather.  “The searing Texas sun will still beat down, the angry Gulf Coast winds will still howl and the tropical rains will still fall, but NOT on the spectators in the Astrodome,” described the Houston Sports Association in its 1965 promotional magazine Inside the Astrodome.  “They sit in almost regal splendor in plush-type opera seats protected overhead by a permanent translucent roof covered with 4,596 skylights of clear ‘Lucite’ plastic and in a temperature of 74 degrees controlled by a $4,500,000 air-conditioning system of 6,600 tons.”

Until the Astrodome was erected, though, the Colt .45s needed a home field.  Colt Stadium was erected in a few months, though its conditions endorsed an indoor facility for Houston.  In his 2014 book The Astrodome: Building An American Spectacle, James Last wrote, “The team would play three seasons in Colt Stadium and, by all accounts, conditions there underscored the need for an indoor venue.  Ballplayers and spectators wilted under the high heat and humidity and were feasted on by mosquitoes drawn to the damp, low-lying site”

Besides the comfort provided by luxurious seats, cool temperatures, and protection from the elements, the Astrodome entertained fans with an electronic scoreboard featuring animation, an innovation in the mid-1960s.  Along with NASA’s missions, the Astrodome became geographic shorthand as it elevated Houston to worldwide fame.  In their 2013 book Deep in the Heart: Blazing A Trail From Expansion To the World Series, Bill Brown and Mike Acosta cite the description of renowned baseball journalist Mickey Herskowitz:  “But somewhere along that first year (1965), you could go to any city in the world, London or Paris for example, and if somebody asked where you were and you said Houston, they would know about the Astrodome.  People forget the impact the Astrodome had.”

The first game played in the Astrodome was an exhibition between the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees on April 9, 1965.  Dick Farrell threw the first pitch, Mickey Mantle hit the first home run, and a new era of multi-purpose domed stadiums was born.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 11, 2015.

Harmon Killebrew, Lew Burdette, and the Red Seat

Friday, December 9th, 2016

When Harmon Killebrew died in 2011, obituaries recalled the statement of former Baltimore Orioles manager Paul Richards:  “Killebrew can knock the ball out of any park, including Yellowstone.”

Killebrew’s power resulted in 573 home runs in a 22-year career spanning 1954 to 1975.  Beginning his career with the Washington Senators, Killebrew did not see much playing time in his early years.  Between 1954 and 1958, he played in 113 games, hit 11 home runs, and smacked 57 hits.

In 1959, however, Killebrew’s career launched with enough power to ignite the rockets in NASA’s nascent Mercury program—he was an All-Star, playing in 153 games, smashing 42 home runs, and notching 105 RBI; Killebrew played in 13 All-Star games in his career.

The Washington Senators transported to Minnesota after the 1960 season and became the Twins.  Killebrew, in turn, became a folk hero to the Twin Cities metropolitan region.  “You can’t put into words the depth of Killebrew’s meaning to the Twins and to baseball fans in Minnesota,” wrote Scott Miller in “Killebrew was no ‘Killer,’ except when it came to slugging,” Killebrew’s obituary for CBSSports.com.  Killebrew played the last year of his career for the Kansas City Royals.

Metropolitan Stadium, the home field for the Twins during Killebrew’s reign of terror on American League pitching, succumbed to the domed stadium craze started by the Houston Astrodome in the mid-1960s.  The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis débuted in 1982, serving as the new home for the Twins and the Minnesota Vikings.  Consequently, developers razed Metropolitan Stadium.  Located in Bloomington, a Minneapolis suburb, the stadium site provided fertile ground for a shopping mall—the Mall of America.

On a wall at the MOA, a red seat from Metropolitan Stadium marks an example of Killebrew’s power.  With two outs in the 4th inning of the June 3, 1967 game against the California Angels, cleanup hitter Killebrew went yard with second baseman Rod Carew and third baseman Rich Rollins—the #2 and #3 hitters in the Twins lineup—on base.  Killebrew’s three-run homer created a moment that endures for Twin Cities baseball.  It landed 522 feet into the spot now occupied by the seat; some sources put the distance at 520 feet.  It’s the longest home run at Metropolitan Stadium.

Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1984, Killebrew holds the distinction of being the first Twin honored in the hallowed corridors of Cooperstown.  Lew Burdette, the answer to the “Who threw the pitch?” trivia question, finished his career with the Angels in 1966 and 1967, appearing as a relief pitcher.

Burdette had a role in another iconic game.  On May 26, 1959, Harvey Haddix pitched 12 perfect innings for the Pittsburgh Pirates in a game against the Milwaukee Braves,  Burdette matched Haddix for the number of innings, though not perfectly; the Braves ace scattered 12 hits, struck out two Pirates, and scored a victory for the Braves when Joe Adcock hit a solo home run in the 13th inning.

The 1957 World Series was Burdette’s apex.  After a 17-9 season for the Braves, Burette pitched three complete games against the New York Yankees, including two shutouts.  His exploits earned him the World Series Most Valuable Player Award.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on November 27, 2014.

NASA, Space, and Popular Culture

Monday, June 29th, 2015

RemingtonNASA’s Golden Age of Projects Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo inspired television programmers and producers to use space as a theme in the 1960s.

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“Lost in Space” (Part 1 of 3)

Monday, November 4th, 2013

In 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) evolved from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA).  NASA’s mission consisted of beating the Russians in the Space Race.  No easy task, this.  The year prior to NASA’s birth, the Russians placed Sputnik I in orbit.  It was the first man-made object in space.

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1960s Sex Symbols: Witch or Genie?

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Who would you rather have as your other half in romance, marriage, and domesticity?  A witch or a genie?

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