Posts Tagged ‘Space’

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.

Baseball, Aerospace, and the Lancaster JetHawks

Monday, February 27th, 2017

Nestled in the Antelope Valley of California, about 70 miles from Dodger Stadium, the Lancaster JetHawks of the California League play in a ballpark labeled, quite appropriately, the Hangar.

Antelope Valley is one of the focal points for America’s aerospace industry.  In October 2015, Northrop Grumman won a massive contract for building stealth bombers.  Melody Petersen and W. J. Hennigan of the Los Angeles Times reported, “In the months leading up to the highly anticipated decision, Northrop had told local government officials that it planned to build much of the plane at the sprawling complex of hangars and runways in Palmdale known as Air Force Plant 42.”

According to the JetHawks web site, the Hangar—originally called Lancaster Municipal Stadium when it débuted in 1996—cost $15 million to build.  Outside the Hangar, an F/A-18 Hornet symbolizes the region’s aerospace link.  NASA donated the Hornet to the city of Lancaster, which installed it at the ballpark.

Proximity to Edwards Air Force Base, about 30 miles from the Hangar, gives the JetHawks another rationale for a team name connecting to the region’s culture, a common branding device for sports teams.  For example, the New York Knickerbockers moniker refers to the name of the fictional narrator in Washington Irving’s novel A History of New York.

Further, the JetHawks enjoy a space affiliation with the Houston Astros team, which changed its name from Colt .45s in 1965 to reflect Houston’s status as aerospace’s epicenter; the Astros label reinforces Houston’s space connection.

Aerospace Appreciation Weekend is an annual promotion for the JetHawks, underscored by bobbleheads of aerospace icons as giveaways.  Honorees include astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Fred Haise, and Jerry Ross.

In 2014, Jake Kerr and Jeff Mooney led an ownership group to buy the JetHawks.  Kerr and Mooney also own the Northwest League’s Vancouver Canadians.  “There is a strong foundation to build from here in Lancaster and with the experiences and success we’ve enjoyed in the Northwest, we hope to take the JetHawks brand and bring it to not only our longtime fans, but to a whole new generation,” said Kerr, as reported by milb.com.

Mooney promised, “Our journey in baseball will notice an increased effort to make this organization something they can be proud of.”

Additionally, milb.com reported on the present ownership group led by Peter A. Carfagna, who praised, “We have enjoyed our stewardship of the JetHawks franchise and, upon closing, are excited to hand the reins of the franchise to an experienced group of individuals who will build on the successes we have enjoyed in recent years.”

Abdication of the JetHawks aegis did not, in any way, mean a divorce from Minor League Baseball.  Carfagna clarified that his group would keep its ownership of the Midwest League’s Lake County Captains in Eastlake, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb.

The Kerr-Moooney syndicate is the third owner of the JetHawks, which began operations in 1996.  In the October 11, 1995 Times article “JetHawks Nickname Flies in Lancaster, but How Will the Mascot Walk?,” logo designer Daniel Simon explained, “They liked the concept of the hawk and concept of the jet.  But if it’s a jet, that’s just a jet, and if it’s a hawk, that’s just a hawk.  If you have the combination, that’s unique.”

The JetHawks team has aerospace in its DNA—the Riverside Pilots played in Riverside, California from 1993-1995, before transitioning to Lancaster.  Prior to Riverside, though, no aerospace connection existed; the team played in Reno, Nevada from 1955-1992.  During its tenure in the Biggest Little City in the World, the team enjoyed the label Silver Sox, except for the 1982-1987 period, when it was Padres.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 20, 2016.

61 in ’61

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

In 1961, John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as the nation’s youngest elected president, The Dick Van Dyke Show débuted, and Alan Shepard became the first American astronaut in space.

1961 was also the year of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle.  The M&M boys.

As members of the 1961 New York Yankees, Maris and Mantle chased the ghost of Babe Ruth, vying to break Ruth’s single-season record of 60 home runs.  Ruth set his magic number of 60 as a member of the legendary 1927 Yankees.  It was a seemingly unbreakable record.  But if Maris or Mantle broke the record—or if both of them did—it would symbolize the home run torch being passed to a new generation of power hitters, keep the single-season home run record in the Yankee family, and explode the myth that certain records are unbreakable.

Maris, an import from the Kansas City Athletics, won the 1960 American League Most Valuable Player Award in his first year as a Yankee.  Mantle, a Yankee who spent his entire career in pinstripes, had his share of achievements, including the Triple Crown Award in 1956. Mantle dropped out of the race in September because of an illness.  Yankee broadcaster Mel Allen referred Mantle to Dr. Max Jacobson, who gave Mantle a shot.  It made Mantle’s situation worse.  And he wasn’t the only celebrity to suffer, either.  In her 2010 book The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood, Jane Leavy wrote, “Mantle said he never knew what was in Jacobson’s syringe, and he never paid the bill, either.  Mark Shaw, the Kennedy family photographer, paid with his life, dying of amphetamine poisoning in 1969.  Tennessee Williams’s brother told the Times that the playwright had spent three months in a mental hospital that year as a result of taking drugs prescribed by Jacobson.  Truman Capote collapsed after a series of injections and had to be hospitalized with symptoms of withdrawal.  When Mel Allen was fired by the Yankees after the 1964 season, the infamous medical referral was widely cited as cause.”

Leave also reported that nearly 50 counts of “fraud or deceit” involving amphetamines led to the revocation of Jacobson’s  medical license revoked in the 1970s.

Sidelined, Mantle’s home run tally stopped at 54.  Maris broke Ruth’s record on October 1, 1961, when he smacked a pitch by Tracy Stallard into Yankee Stadium’s right field stands in a Yankees-Red Sox game—the last game of the 1961 season for the Yankees.

A faction of baseball enthusiasts believes that Maris did not technically break Ruth’s record.  This theory rests on the number of regular season games for each player.  Ruth had 154 games.  Maris, 162.  The American League’s expansion to Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. in 1961 prompted the addition of eight games.

Ruth also had less at bats in ’27 than Maris did in ’61.  But Maris had challenges that Ruth did not face, including night games, air travel, and black players increasing the depths of competition.

Tommy Holmes of the New York Herald Tribune reported that the paying crowd totaled 23,154, a figure far below the capacity of Yankee Stadium.  “The crowd kept yelling,” wrote Holmes.  “It wouldn’t stop until Maris—Not once, but twice—climbed the steps of the dugout, bared his crewcut and waved a smiling acknowledgment.  He looked a bit like Kirk Douglas at a moment of triumph in Spartacus.

Roger Maris won the 1961 American League Most Valuable Player Award.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 15, 2014.

Star Voyagers

Saturday, October 3rd, 2015

RemingtonWhen Apollo 13—based on the book Lost Moon—premiered in 1994, it reminded America of NASA’s glory days.  Apollo 13, the third mission planned to land astronauts on the Moon and return them safely to Earth, did not accomplish its goal as a result of a malfunction on the spacecraft.

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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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