dV = -g*ISP*ln(1- Wp/Wi)
Back to English.
Broken down, the above equation is actually
The key parameter is the number representing
"ISP" -- a rocket's "specific impulse" (expressed
Specific impulse is somewhat like a "miles
per gallon" reading for your car; the higher the specific impulse
(ISP) for a given rocket system (engines plus fuel),
the more efficient the total rocket system is ... in terms of "miles
per gallon" usage of that fuel ....
And, the higher the final velocity you
can achieve with a given amount (mass) of fuel.
And ... higher final
velocities result in higher orbits!
So, high ISP numbers are good; lower ISP
numbers are ... "less good" ....
In terms of determining if the JPL upper
stages could have achieved the performance levels required
to place Explorer I into its higher-than-expected orbit, we
began by looking at the published parameters of the solid rockets JPL
used in constructing those stages for von Braun's final "composite"
One major clue was in Van
Allen's own report:
"... the final burnout velocity
of the fourth stage was somewhat higher than intended [emphasis
According to the Smithsonian's "National
Air and Space Museum Data Sheet, Department of Astronautics" --
on an official NASA website--
The fuel and oxidizer used in the JPL-designed
"solid" upper stages for the Jupiter-C was "... polysulfide-aluminum
and ammonium perchlorate." This was pretty standard stuff, even
if its ISP was fairly poor, compared to almost any liquid chemical
rocket fuels in use today; the ISP varied from about "220 seconds"
in the atmosphere, to about "235 seconds" in a good
vacuum (because, contrary to common misperception, rocket engines actually
work best in a pure vacuum -- when the thrust exhaust isn't
slowed down by the surrounding air!).
The Smithsonian data sheet also neatly
listed the "fueled" and "empty weight" of each Jupiter-C
Plugging these numbers into the Rocket
Equation, and averaging the atmospheric and vacuum ISP efficiencies
of the upper stages together (as the Jupiter-C rose out of the atmosphere
that night, and the later stage ignitions became more efficient ...),
gave us the maximum theoretical "by the book" velocity
those three upper stages could have imparted to Explorer I
at "orbit injection."
dV = -32.2 X 228 X (662lb/1380lb)
= 3520 feet per sec
We already knew that this velocity, added to
the maximum velocity imparted by the liquid-fueled first stage
(at "staging"), was the "nominal satellite injection
velocity" -- what was required to place Explorer I into
its planned orbit of about "220 by 1000 miles" (red line,
Since the actual orbital parameters (according to George
Ludwig's figures) were "223 by 1592 ..." -- almost 600
miles higher at apogee than "nominal" (the blue
line, below) -- what we really needed was a measure of how much additional
velocity that approximately 600-mile increase in apogee represented,
to put Explorer I into an orbit that much higher (and
more elliptical) than originally targeted ....
a well-known "rule of thumb" in rocket science -- that, for "every
additional foot per second of injection velocity" at perigee (the
low point of the orbit), a spacecraft gains "about a mile of additional
altitude at apogee" (the highest orbital point).
Using this approximation, Explorer I had gained
something like "an additional ~600 feet per second"
Was this covered by the normal variations for solid
rocket performance of that generation?
Inverting our Rocket Equation -- and solving for the
additional ISP required of those solids, to match that now known
additional performance -- produced the following result:
Additional required velocity = ~ 600 feet per
3520 + 600 = 4120 total feet per second for Explorer
Increase in Explorer I injection performance
= 4120/3520 = 1.17
in 2nd, 3rd and 4th stage propellant ISPs =
1.17 X 228 = ~ 267 secs!
This amounted to almost a twenty percent performance
increase -- in ALL the upper stage solid ISPs -- over the same
solid-fueled rockets' measured performance in previous JPL applications!
The idea that one of the 15 solids in those
upper stages might exhibit this degree of major variation,
was barely plausible; that ALL of them TOGETHER (required to produce
the total delta velocity increase) had done so that night,
was simply impossible ... by any known chemistry and physics.
"Normal physics" also says you "can't
get something for nothing." Yet, somehow, by this simple calculation,
Explorer I DID exactly that--
Acquiring six hundred extra
miles of "something" ... from absolutely nothing.
Just how the hell did JPL and von Braun manage to
* * *
It would have been at this point -- for anyone who actually
DID this simple set of calculations, in 1958 -- that they HAD to have
realized they had a major discovery on their hands ... and
... a major problem.
The problem was:
No "small variations" -- a few percent, at
best -- of the Jupiter-C's individual solid rockets in the vehicle's
upper stages -- from "grain size, packing density, mixture variations,
etc., etc." -- could possibly account for a ~20% INCREASE
in overall delta V at burnout ... resulting in almost 600
additional feet per second ... and 600 additional
vertical miles ... of "super performance" for America's
So, what was left ...?
That, serendipitously, Explorer I had made--
A profound and fundamental scientific breakthrough
... regarding how objects really gravitationally
orbit one another!
And that, as a result, almost 300 years of Newton's
long-accepted "Law of Universal Gravitation" was, somehow,
wrong ... as might be his equally unquestioned "Three
Laws of Motion" ... and potentially (shudder ...), even Einstein's
"General Theory of Relativity" ....
Whatever the ultimate cause -- this was NOT
going to be any "small" Scientific Revolution.
And, that was precisely “the Problem”
And the solution to "the Problem" -- as we
can now demonstrate -- was a political decision, made by "someone"
that night, to instigate an immediate cover-up of
this entire, stunning US space discovery ... which obviously, if openly
verified, would have been--
Tthe most important result of the entire
A cover-up which (according to the evidence)--
Is still on-going.
For, while Ludwig and Van Allen -- both eminent physicists,
both intimately familiar with the Explorer Program (because
they were designing all its intricate on-orbit measuring instruments!)
-- freely published the intended orbital parameters of Explorer
I we've just cited, and even compared them to the higher, enlarged
orbit ... neither of them seemed to realize (and Ludwig STILL doesn't
...) just what those numbers had to represent (unless,
of course, they were ultimately "persuaded" to remain "ignorant"
If either physicist, for a moment, had sat down and
actually gone through the "rocket calculations" we just have,
both would have instantly realized that to expect that type of "anomalous
super performance" -- from EVERY one of the 15 solid-fueled JPL
rockets atop von Braun's modified Redstone--
Yet, neither of these key physicists (nor, any other
physicists, astronomers, rocket engineers, members of the scientific
press, etc., etc.) -- over these last fifty years -- has apparently
EVER done this simple calculation ... or stopped to consider (if they
have), even for a moment, the extraordinary alternative to the inevitable
assumption "it must have been the rockets ...."
That, it might have been, instead--
* * *
One blatantly obvious initial reason that Van Allen
and Ludwig DIDN'T do this calculation that same night, HAD to have been
"Wernher von Braun."
After all, this was "Wernher's baby!"; if
HE didn't know what made his rocket tick ... what might account for
its "dazzling increased delta V" ... who would?!
That von Braun was immediately prepared to be 'less
than candid" about this remarkable Jupiter-C "over
performance" (initially, by simply not discussing it ...) --
to, in every way, downplay the ultimate significance of what had really
happened to Explorer I that night -- is apparent in his immediate
actions at the National Academy press conference that morning--
With the entire world press corps gathered, and hanging
on his every word ... he said nothing!
And, he continued to say nothing ... to his death.
However, giving him the benefit of the doubt ... for
"great uncertainties" in the numbers that first roller coaster
morning, when "the cold light of day dawned …" von Braun
had to have found time to do those crucial calculations. And he HAD
to have realized then that nothing involving the JPL solid upper stages
could have resulted in that amount of "extraordinary, additional
Yet, three months later
in that same Des Moines Sunday Register article, in April 1958
-- von Braun would simply say:
been just a slight error in our quick estimate of the satellite’s
initial speed and period of revolution [emphasis added] …."
"Slight error" ....
Six hundred additional feet per second (that's
just over "four hundred miles per hour ...");
and ... six hundred miles higher as a direct result,
at apogee ....
Yet, all from ... NOWHERE.
Where were the "triumphant
official ABMA press releases" ... the proud "White House announcements"
(at the height of the Cold War and this sudden "space race"
with the Soviets) ... and then, the ultimate "solemn ceremony"
in Stockholm ... celebrating such an extraordinary scientific breakthrough
in "Newton Laws" by the United States -- the first
... in almost three centuries!?
The proof that von Braun knew that this wasn't
just "the result of his own rocket" -- that, in fact, this
was something BIG ... something potentially "extraordinary"
-- comes from von Braun himself:
Immediately following the baffling events surrounding
the launch of Explorer I, von Braun began quietly writing and
sending out a series of clandestine letters all over the world
-- to a very select group of "extraordinary physicists" ...
but deliberately, NOT to any associated with the Explorer program
(like Van Allen!). In this correspondence, he is clearly, unquestionably,
looking for “an alternative physics” -- that could
eventually explain what really happened to Explorer I.
Not exactly the actions of "just a rocket guy"
-- complacently satisfied with his own vehicle's performance!
One fascinating von Braun exchange involved fellow German
countryman, theorist Burkhard Heim (below).
Another -- if anything, even more indicative of von
Braun's real thinking, in his persistent secret efforts to
understand the apparent “new gravitational physics” that
(he obviously now believed ...) had, somehow, radically altered
Explorer I's orbit after launch -- involved the even more remarkable,
anomalous gravitational discoveries of a future Noble Laureate,
Dr. Maurice Allais.
But first -- to Heim's theoretical relevance to von
Braun's "problem" ....
Heim (who had worked at the world-famous
"Max-Planck-Institute for Astrophysics," in Goettingen, Germany,
after the War), had rocked the physics and space communities just a
few years earlier, by presenting at the 1952 and 1954 sessions of the
"International Astronautical Federation (IAF) Congress" historic
scientific papers, outlining the first theoretical proposal for "fuel-less
field propulsion technology“ -- a means of sending true space
vehicles to other planets, without the profound "limitations
of rockets" ....
Because his radical proposal was backed
by some extremely innovative (if highly complex) "unified field
equations," created by a bona fide physicist attached to such a
prestigious German scientific institution, Heim immediately became something
of an international celebrity. Here was a "scientific somebody"
in the 20th century, directly suggesting that Newton's long-inviolate
Third Law of Motion "... for every action there is an equal and
opposite reaction" -- which lies at the heart of every rocket-based
propulsion system -- might, in fact, be completely circumvented
by a new 20th Century "space-time field technology"--
Which could itself move through
space -- yet, expel NO "reaction mass" ... by electromagnetically
"hooking into the very fabric of 'space-time'" itself!
Heim worked on his theories in close collaboration
with quantum theory physicist and pioneer Pascual
Jordan (himself a close associate of Nobel Laureates, Max Born and
Werner Heisenberg. Jordan also is known as the developer of "the
non-associative Jordan Algebras"). Significantly,
Heim was seeking in this collaboration to carry out key physical
experiments with Jordan ... in gravitation -- because, even
before the War, the latter had turned his attention from "quantum
mechanics" to "cosmology" ... the origin and evolution
of the largest structures in the Universe ... where gravity
reigns supreme ....
But the joint projects Heim proposed, to
test his own far-reaching "gravitational theories," never
materialized -- as the necessary government funding in post-War West
Germany in the 1950's (except for a small grant from the aerospace firm,
Messerschmitt-Belkow-Blohm) was apparently "not available."
The title of one of Heim's later papers
(1976) -- "Basic Thoughts on a Unified Field Theory of Matter and
Gravity" -- specifically reveals his fundamental and continuing
interest in alternative gravity research, some 20 years after
he first burst upon the world stage ... and the obvious reason for von
Braun's provocative (and well-documented) "sudden interest in Heim"
in 1958 ... right after Explorer I!
For, according to the "Research
Group -- Heim Theory" -- a collection
of international scientists currently collaborating on publishing and
discussing Heim's "unified field" work, in English (following
Heim's death, in 2001) -- Wernher von Braun's telling interest -- remember,
a "rocket guy" -- centered specifically on Heim's
radical ideas re "... spacecraft field propulsion and
According to the Research
"... in a letter to Heim, Wernher
von Braun enquired about progress in the [German] development of
such a field propulsion system since otherwise he could not
accept responsibility for the enormous cost of the [Apollo]
moon-landing project. Heim [because of the lack of West German
government funding to develop the technology] answered in the negative
[emphasis added] ...."
From this documented correspondence, it
should be blatantly apparent that Wernher von Braun -- thought by the
press and public to be merely a "steely-eyed missile man"
-- was actually probing far beyond ... searching avidly for an "alternate
gravitational solution" to his major Explorer I
problem, one which did NOT involve "trivial rocket explanations."
Obviously, at some point after that memorable
January night, von Braun had carried out the same calculations
we just did ... and had come to the same conclusion:
"Something" was radically
wrong with all existing gravitational theories ... used (quite unsuccessfully,
it turned out ...) to attempt to predict the orbit of Explorer I.
In other words, Von Braun -- contrary to
his public "caviler dismissals" of Explorer I's anomalous
behavior (the statements in the Sunday Register ...) -- privately,
was clearly ... secretly ... bent on finding "a serious,
workable alternative to Newton and Einstein ...!"
As his independently confirmed private
correspondence with Burkhard Heim, now unquestionably confirms.
Von Braun's letters to and from Maurice
Allais (below) are even more revealing -- in terms of the alternative
gravitational ideas von Braun (backed by personal experience,
remember ...) was obviously willing to entertain.
Allais, a French economist by training (he would go
on to win the Noble
Prize for Economics, in 1988) was also an accomplished physicist
-- publishing copious experiments through the French Academy of Sciences
fourteen physics prizes -- including, the Gold Medal of the
National Center for Scientific Research (C.N.R.S.), the most distinguished
honour in French Science, from the 1930's through the 1980's].
The work that obviously brought Allais to von Braun's
attention was the French physicist's startling observation of "...
highly anomalous pendulum motions, made during a solar eclipse over
Paris in 1954 ...." (and repeated, during another solar eclipse,
also over France, in 1959).
Allais noted that the normal, progressive "Foucault
motion" (due to the rotation of
the Earth) of his laboratory's uniquely-designed "paraconical pendulum,"
during the eclipse, suddenly reversed ... and literally "ran
backwards" (with the Earth's rotation!) ... until mid-eclipse,
when the pendulum motion reversed again ... rapidly resuming
its normal rate and direction of angular rotation (below) ....
This set of completely inexplicable (under any current
theory ...) solar eclipse observations has since been termed "the
Here (below) is a trace of Allais' actual, remarkable
1954 pendulum observations -- made during the eclipse.
The graph shows (red line) the normal, progressive angular
trend (the downward slope) of the pendulum's apparent rotation, mirroring
the Earth's actual opposite motion.
This trend is suddenly interrupted by an upward
deflection in the graph -- at the precise beginning of the
eclipse (left green line) -- representative of the complete reversal
(backwards rotation) of the pendulum's (normal) forward angular
This hour-long "pendulum anomaly" is then
followed (near mid-eclipse -- center green line) by a rapid
resumption of the normal downward trend ... once again, the normal "mirrored
reflection" of the Earth's inertial spin ....
Needless to say (but, we'll say it anyway
...), this astonishing behavior was completely unpredicted
("unmodeled" is the term ...) by either Newton or Einstein
-- in terms of the "normal" inertial motions of a pendulum
freely swinging under gravity ....
Or, to quote Allais directly:
"... indeed, the effects of the
eclipse are spectacular and cannot be explained in the framework
of currently accepted [gravitational or inertial] theories
"Over many centuries, no phenomenon
had ever before been exhibited, whose observed values were from
twenty to a hundred million times greater than the values
obtained by [prior theoretical] calculation [emphasis in the original]
In a very real sense, Allais' stunning
eclipse observations were a remarkable "ground-based version"
of von Braun's equally aberrant Explorer I behavior in space;
in von Braun's growing perception, the two phenomenon could only be
caused by the same gravitational anomaly -- ergo,
his obvious interest in Allais' continuing experiments.
Documentation of this fascinating von Braun/Allais
correspondence comes from two independent sources: Professor
Allais himself ... and the current, official website of the NASA-Marshall
Spaceflight Center -- whose first Director was ... Wernher von Braun.
Allais, writing in 1999, in "a
memoir for NASA" -- flatly stated:
"... with regard to the validity
of my experiments, it seems best to reproduce here the testimony
of General Paul Bergeron, ex-president of the Committee for
Scientific Activities for National Defense, in his letter of
May 1959 to Werner von Braun [emphasis added] ...."
In that same year -- 1999 -- a summary
of Allais's provocative experiments was posted on the NASA-Marshall
website, in anticipation of a possible repetition of Allais' original
observations -- to be carried out during an August, 1999 total solar
eclipse about to sweep over Europe in a geometry very similar to Allais'
Remarkably, the NASA-Marshall website also
cited von Braun's "interest" in professor Allais' experiments
... and even made mention (though, quite obliquely ...) of "why"
he took some interest ....
"... rocket pioneer, Wernher von
Braun, NASA/Marshall's first director, first became interested in
Allais' experiments in 1958, when early investigations began to
look at predicting satellite trajectories in orbital mechanics
[emphasis added] ...."
The total understatement of "the Problem"
by NASA, in 1999, and the equally apparent "downplaying" of
von Braun's much deeper personal involvement with Allais (as you shall
see ...) -- even after half a century -- is telling ....
For, the evidence of how just how seriously
von Braun took Allais' work is amply revealed by what the rocket expert
publicly did next:
In 1959, following
the May letter from General Bergeron (cited by Allais, above) -- von
Braun apparently personally arranged for the French
physicist to publish a lengthy, three-part series on his revolutionary
pendulum experiments in
a leading US aerospace journal (and, for the first time in English
-- as Allias' published experiments had previously been available only
in French ...):
The journal was "Aero/Space Engineering"
Allais' series did not "beat around
the bush," but directly confronted the startling possibility that
his lengthy series of meticulous pendulum observations, consisting of
literally thousands of hours of detailed repetitions -- which
included the extraordinary, totally unexpected 2 hours and 34 minutes
of the amazing events during the '54 eclipse -- revealed fatal flaws
in the previously "sacrosanct" laws of Newton and
The same "fatal flaws" first
experienced by von Braun, in space ... in the bizarre orbital
behavior of Explorer I, the night of January 31, 1958.
In hindsight, von Braun seems to have hoped
that, by sponsoring open US publication of Allais' revolutionary data
in a major US space engineering publication, the resulting
"discussion and debate" might spur a timely "innovative
engineering solution" ... one that he himself could ultimately
then use to quietly solve "the secret Explorer problem"
For, there was still no open acknowledgment
of the existence of the "Explorer anomaly" itself
... either, within the aerospace community, or to the public. Von Braun's
idea may have been that, by exposing other rocket engineers and scientists
to Allais' astonishing, compelling experimental contradictions
to existing gravitational theory ... someone in that community
"might just hit on a solution" ....
At least, that's the best I can come up
with at the moment, to explain -- from a remove of over 50 years --
von Braun's clearly contradictory efforts in this time period -- his
continuing decision (agreement?) to hide the "ultimate
space discovery" from the rest of the world ... but, simultaneously,
to sponsor open publication and discussion of the potentially
revolutionary physics that seemed to lie at the root of "the
For ... "the Problem" was only
In the slightly more than a year and a
half that had elapsed -- between the first appearance of the "Explorer
anomaly," January 31, 1958, and the US publication of the first
section of Allais' unique, three-part experimental examination of the
real nature of gravity, in September, 1959 -- von Braun had
successfully orbited two additional Explorer satellites
... and the US Navy had orbited three (of its planned eleven
And, all of them ... exhibited
the same type of "baffling orbital anomalies"
as Explorer I!
* * *
Von Braun's "worst fears" -- that Explorer
I was NOT a fluke -- were totally confirmed less than
two months later ... with the successful orbiting of Explorer III.
Launched March 26, 1958, the satellite was
planned for a trajectory essentially identical to Explorer I's
original intended orbit: 220 by 1000 miles. However, to the chagrin
of von Braun and his launch team, the new spacecraft also wound
up in a close repeat of Explorer I's peculiarly extended
And, again, no one (except von Braun ...) seemed to
have a clue as to what was really going on ....
III 's final orbital parameters were -- "125 miles by
1750 miles ... with a period of 115.7 minutes" -- an orbit more
elliptical (and even higher) than Explorer I's ... but
of almost exactly the same duration!
There was NO WAY this
could be dismissed as simply another "over performance" by
the Jupiter-C (and yet, of course, according to the "experts,"
that's all it could be ...)!
the launch of Explorer
IV four months after that -- July 26, 1958 -- "the anomaly"
Explorer IV's final orbit was "163 miles
by 1373 miles ..." compared to the, again, intended "220 by
1000." At first glance, this does NOT look like any kind of confirmation
... until the fact that Explorer IV was carrying twice
the payload of scientific instruments, compared to the previous
spacecraft, was factored in ....
Then, the "peculiar physics" matched once
again -- perfectly.
As previously noted, in this same time frame -- March
17, 1958 to September 12, 1959 -- the US Navy (finally) succeeded in
placing three Vanguard satellites of its own in space.
All of them ... also reached "higher and
more elliptical orbits" than originally planned -- so high and
so elliptical, that they now represent the three oldest
man-made objects still orbiting the Earth ... half a century
after they were sent aloft; each still with a remaining life span (before
they someday, finally, dip low enough to reenter the Earth’s atmosphere
Of "several hundred years" ....
And yet, despite all this ... "the secret"
No one in the press, writing about
any of these historic early launches, even seemed to suspect
that "something was seriously wrong" (or, if they did, they
certainly didn't write about it ...). They didn't seem to even
notice that all these early orbits were "significantly
higher" than originally planned, at altitudes (as anyone can calculate
...) the rockets themselves weren't even capable of reaching!
But, since von Braun -- the hero of the hour -- was
saying nothing ... it had to be "the rockets,"
right? They were simply "more efficient" than originally designed
(rah ... rah for "good ol' American technology." Take that,
you commies ...).
After all, who wanted to argue with "the man?!"
Von Braun's cover-up -- and simultaneously quiet (if
not quietly desperate) quest ... for an "alternative physics"
to ultimately fix the problem ... was working--
Certainly, "the cover-up" part .....
* * *
At this point, if there are still skeptics remaining
out there (there always are ...) -- who simply don't (or won't)
believe us -- look carefully at von Braun!
Clearly, von Braun's aggressive
world-wide search for a workable physics "work
around" to this major (if carefully hidden ...) overarching problem,
was not something he was doing "just out of idle curiosity";
he, of all people, obviously realized that if this apparent "breakdown"
of Newtonian mechanics in satellite dynamics was not ultimately
understood -- and then somehow controlled -- the impossibility of
placing future satellites in any kind of planned orbits would
rapidly spell "the End" to the entire space program!
If spacecraft couldn't be launched on precisely predictable
trajectories, then, scientific missions based on known satellite
orbits (and thus, calculable Earth geometries), couldn't be
successfully carried out; carefully designed military reconnaissance
fly-overs of intended targets (like, suspected missile bases in the
Soviet Union ...) couldn't be pre-planned (a Cold War concept
that the Pentagon was secretly counting on, even then ...); and missions
-- unmanned or manned -- to the Moon ... or to the other planets (such
as Mars -- von Braun's personal favorite ...)--
So, it was imperative that someone -- von Braun!
-- truly "figure it out" ... and soon.
For mission planners, on both sides of the Iron Curtain
(after the successful launch of Explorer I), had decided
to raise the stakes ... and set their eyes on the Moon as the
next prize in this new geopolitical game.
William Pickering, Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory
(JPL) -- which, you might remember, had designed both Explorer I
and its three solid-fueled upper rocket stages -- was at the forefront
of those planners on the US side who now had their sights set on places
"far beyond low-Earth orbit ...”; Pickering, in the immediate
aftermath of Sputnik, had
strenuously argued for a major US effort to “… send
an American spacecraft to the Moon at the earliest possible opportunity
In the Pentagon, just one month after Explorer I
was launched, ARPA (the "Advanced Research Projects Agency")
was hurriedly formed by President Eisenhower, as a means of coordinating
the various military services response to the new Soviet space challenge
(two years later, the new civilian space agency, NASA -- also
formed by Eisenhower in the summer of '58 -- would assume control of
all of ARPA's "non-military" space missions).
Within a month of this "military
R&D agency's" formation, taking its lead directly from Pickering's
earlier proposal ARPA dramatically announced -- on March 27, 1958 (just
one day after von Braun successfully orbited Explorer
III) -- that it was looking to "shoot the Moon," with
a "quick and dirty" program called "Pioneer" ...
as a way of finally upstaging the Russians and taking back "some
of the political momentum" in the "space race."
That was the obvious politial intent.
the actual DOD statement, the more
diplomatic language read "... to determine our capability of exploring
space in the vicinity of the moon and to obtain useful data concerning
Unfortunately, from August 1958 through December of
that year, there were four straight failures in this hurriedly-
put-together, first US "Lunar Program."
And then, one day after New Year's Day, January 1959
... came another Soviet surprise:
"The First Soviet Cosmic Rocket" (later
renamed Luna-I ...) was launched by the Soviets toward the
Moon , on an upgraded "R-7 intercontinental rocket" -- placing
an ~800-pound unmanned Russian probe on an impact trajectory designed,
for the first time, to contact the surface of another world
Given the size of the Soviet "Block-E" upper
stage atop its R-7 launcher (below - top), compared to the tiny American
Pioneer lunar spacecraft (below - bottom), and Block E's sheer
mass (which provided ample ability to carry both the required guidance
system and the fuel for several mid-course corrections en route to the
Moon ...), Luna I should have easily impacted "within
60 to 120 miles of its intended aiming point ...."
Thirty four hours after launch, the Soviet's first unmanned
lunar probe successfully crossed the Moon's orbit ... but, ahead
of the Moon ... by some "3700 miles ..." (below), before eventually
moving into a ~ year-long, recurring solar orbit: the first
manmade object of the "space age" to totally escape from Earth
... renamed "Mechta" -- Dream.
Major question: why, with all that mass and technology
going for them ... did the Russians miss!
Von Braun, looking at their mission from the outside
(since, it was damn certain the Soviet's weren't calling him
with daily updates!), could only logically conclude one thing:
That, whatever "non-Newtonian" forces were
acting on his (and the Navy's Vanguard) spacecraft
in Earth orbit, seemed now also to be acting on the Soviets
as well! This was the first independent confirmation of this possibility,
as in Earth orbit the Soviets could claim (and had) that any
orbit they achieved was the one that "they'd intended" ....
Missing the Moon ... by more than its own diameter
(2160 miles) ... and,
with the Soviet's sophisticated space navigation technology, was
pretty dramatic evidence that the mysterious "Force" (non-Newtonian
gravity) demonstrably operating on von Braun's spacecraft ... had also
been operating on the Soviet's, all along!
And ... that it extended into space at least
to the distance of the Moon ....
What was also obvious was the fact that, they too, seemed
totally incapable of doing anything about it!
Unfortunately, this crucial insight still didn't provide
von Braun with any practical assistance in compensating for
these maddening "non-Newtonian" celestial mechanics in his
own program ....
For, two months later, when it came von Braun's turn
to try again -- with another US Moon-bound mission (like Explorer
I, built by JPL), "Pioneer 4" -- the JPL/von
Braun spacecraft missed the Moon by 37,000 miles (below)--
Ten times the Russian's error!
Pioneer 4 Trajectory
And still, the US press suspected nothing.
"Space travel" in these early, heady days,
was still so new, so filled with all sorts of "known unknowns"
(to borrow a notorious line from later Secretary of Defense, Donald
Rumsfeld ...) that the press covering these early missions was essentially
"just reading press releases." They were certainly NOT doing
any original, substantative reporting on ... let alone real,
in-depth, original investigations of, "government space
If the US Army, the Navy, ARPA ... eventually, NASA
itself ... were all excusing these early mission failures and
anomalies as just typical "equipment problems," or, "unexpected
thrust," or, "guidance difficulties," etc., etc. -- who
in the press corps, in those early years, knew enough about this totally
new profession -- literally, "rocket science!" -- to effectively
argue with a "giant" like von Braun?!
And -- who would want to try!?
So, the cover-up rolled on ....
Ten months later, Von Braun had to have experienced
another major shock when, on September 12, 1959, the Soviets launched
their second unmanned "Cosmic Rocket" to the Moon
And this time ... they didn't miss.
What had the Soviets learned in those "intervening
months," that von Braun was still attempting to figure
out -- regarding the "non-Newtonian" forces now demonstrably
acting on all spacecraft -- whether they were in low Earth
orbit ... or, headed for the Moon!?
And, how had they been able to "figure
it out" -- allowing their second lunar attempt to successfully
crash land on the lunar surface (complete with Soviet flag and Communist
Party pennants) ... once again, ahead of the Americans?
Inquiring minds ....
* * *
And yet, just nine years later ... on December 24, 1968
... three American Apollo astronauts -- with almost
surgical precision -- would be successfully inserted into
lunar orbit via Earth-based, computer-driven orbital calculations
... carried out "in Houston." They would make ten historic
circuits of the Moon that Christmas Eve ... returning live
television from their lunar orbit to an awe-inspired world ... complete
with an eerie and unique reading of Genesis ... before "returning
safely to the Earth" -- exactly as John Kennedy envisioned ....
How did NASA do it?!
How -- in the face of the baffling "non-Newtonian
gravitational anomaly" discovered by von Braun only ten years
earlier, which had made it impossible for the US to not
only predict future orbits of Earth satellites, but also to
successfully aim any spacecraft at the Moon ... and certainly,
to successfully place one in lunar orbit -- did the United
States actually carry out ... just nine years after the Russians
hit the Moon with Luna 2--
More inquiring minds really want to know ....
Just eight years earlier ... in 1960 ... von Braun was
made head of NASA's massive rocket development program, to ultimately
design the monster "moon rocket" -- the 363-foot tall, 3300-ton
Saturn 5 (above and below) -- that would one day send Americans triumphantly
to the surface of the Moon ....
Von Braun was one of the key NASA personnel -- as first
Director of NASA's "Marshall Space Flight Center" -- tasked
with finding the best way to use this massive vehicle he was
designing "to carry out the mission" ... even before Kennedy's
historic commitment to "Apollo," in 1961.
Yet, back in 1960, von Braun secretly also knew he couldn't
really "complete that mission" ... because of the continuing
"non-Newtonian dynamics" problem!
The immediate task at hand for
the rest of NASA (which didn't know they had a problem ...)
was determining exactly "how" such a massive launch vehicle
could best be utilized in the envisioned "Apollo Program"
-- in support of a "direct ascent" mode (go from Earth, land
directly on the Moon, then return); in an "Earth orbit
rendezvous" mode (rendezvous various elements of the Apollo Expedition
in Earth orbit first, before heading for the Moon and then
returning); or, in a "lunar orbit rendezvous" mode (send two
Apollo craft -- on one rocket -- to the Moon ... splitting
them apart in lunar orbit for a separate landing by one of them, before
rendezvousing back in lunar orbit with the first ... and then
returning safely to the Earth - below).
The last concept was nicknamed "LOR" ... vigorously
championed by a young engineer from NASA-Langley, John Houbolt . But,
despite LOR's clear engineering and economic advantages in making it
feasible to reach the Moon before the President's 10-year deadline
(by NOT attempting to build and land a spacecraft on the Moon weighing
close to a hundred tons, and standing almost 70 feet high
- below!), Houbolt kept running into "... mysterious brick walls"
-- in his years-long, virtually "one man crusade" to convince
NASA senior management that this was the ONLY way that Apollo could
Houbolt found, to his puzzlement and increasing professional
frustration that, despite making "eminent engineering sense to
more and more NASA managers and engineers ..." (when he got a chance
to brief them on the full details in person ...), LOR stubbornly remained
"for some reason" (that no one would ever come right
out and tell him ...) the
least favored of all of these early lunar landing ideas ...
across the Agency.
Based on what we have documented here, at least one
man in NASA knew that "reason"....
Von Braun, obviously (because of the still-concealed
"non-Newtonian dynamics" situation ...) was adamant
that the only hope of achieving any Apollo Landing was "direct
That meant that your intended "rendezvous target"
was the entire Moon ... as opposed to (in LOR) "an
infinitesimal, artificial spacecraft ... floating somewhere in the dark
... in lunar orbit." This conviction was, undoubtedly, based on
von Braun's assessment that, if the Russians had (somehow!) made it
to the lunar surface with a direct ascent trajectory for their
unmanned Luna-2 ... he could too!
With "direct ascent," with "a big enough
rocket and enough fuel ..." you could employ a "brute force
technique" to get to the surface of the Moon -- overwhelming the
unpredictable orbital dynamics of whatever gravitational anomalies were
interfering with the spacecraft trajectories enroute ... by using repeated
rocket burns (and a lot of fuel ...) to constantly correct
your course ... until you safely landed on the Moon!
But that required a truly massive rocket ...
much bigger even than the Saturn 5 ....
This, in our opinion, is why von Braun was so fixated
on "direct ascent" from the beginning: a single, ultra-massive
rocket (that he eventually, fittingly called Nova - see below)
-- designed to send an equally massive lunar landing craft directly
to the lunar surface from the Earth ... carrying sufficient fuel to
ultimately counteract any "non-Newtonian uncertainties"
that it encountered on the way there ... and ... in returning home.
It was the only Apollo strategy -- based on
what von Braun knew about the real orbital dynamics of cis-lunar
space in 1960 -- which had even a slim chance of actually working!
Later, because of the sheer size of the Nova
fuel margins, von Braun reluctantly expanded his "direct ascent"
lunar mission concept to include "Earth Orbit Rendezvous"
(EOR); the "brute force" method would
also work in Earth orbit -- ultimately allowing two (or more)
spacecraft to come together -- rendezvous -- and thus, a greater mission
flexibility in assembling the right spacecraft components for
Apollo ... before heading for the Moon.
And, if anything went wrong -- if rendezvous was NOT
achievable (because of the continuing "non-Newtionian dynamics
problem ...") -- the astronauts, with EOR, were still "only
a couple hundred miles above the Earth" ... where, within hours,
they could easily come home ....
NOT possible with LOR--
Where the astronauts could become literally "stranded"
... in a spacecraft not capable of carrying enough fuel to
overcome the even more uncertain "non-Newtonian forces" --
operating 240,000 miles from Earth ... in lunar orbit.
This, from our analysis, was von Braun's real (though
never stated ...) reason for totally rejecting LOR
... until, that is, the summer of 1962 ....
Then -- to the amazement of the entire aerospace community,
including (especially!) his own Marshall engineering team (who were
definitely NOT for LOR) -- von Braun abruptly reversed his
previous position on "how best to accomplish Kennedy's grand vision,"
and announced at a major June, 1962 NASA meeting, that he had "changed
his mind," and was now "backing lunar orbit rendezvous unconditionally
This was von Braun's public
"... we at the Marshall Space Flight Center
readily admit that when first exposed to the proposal of the Lunar
Orbit Rendezvous Mode we were a bit skeptical—particularly
of the aspect of having the astronauts execute a complicated rendezvous
maneuver at a distance of 240,000 miles from the earth where any
rescue possibility appeared remote. In the meantime, however,
we have spent a great deal of time and effort studying the four
modes [Earth-orbit rendezvous, LOR, and two Direct Ascent modes,
one involving the Nova and the other a Saturn C—5], and we
have come to the conclusion that this particular disadvantage [low
probability of successful astronaut rescue in lunar orbit] is far
outweighed by [LOR's] advantages [emphasis added] ...."
Von Braun's sudden, simply inexplicable
(to most NASA veterans ...) high profile "LOR reversal" ...
could only mean one thing:
That -- in this crucial time frame -- "something"
suddenly had changed ... in the whole (still classified) "non-Newtonian
Curiously, just over a month before this major NASA
meeting, on April 26, 1962 -- out of all the previous failed
attempts -- a US unmanned spacecraft, Ranger 4,
finally, successfully, impacted
the surface of the Moon!
Was von Braun's sudden, dramatic "turn around decision"
regarding LOR because, the "non-Newtonian dynamics problem"
-- still standing firmly in the way of all reliable space rendezvous
-- had finally, quietly, been solved?; had Ranger 4
been merely the final, visible demonstration of this in-space
celestial-mechanics resolution (with the publicly-presented aspects
of the mission merely a convenient “cover”)?!
The more I thought about it (and my own recollections
from the early 60's, of the extremely troubled history of the entire
"Ranger Program" from this period -- where, successive
spacecraft in the series "just kept failing," and there were
even eruptions in Congress over "gross NASA mismanagement"
of the laboratory in charge, coming after two equally-scathing
"high-level" NASA Headquarters reviews of JPL's Ranger
management performance) -- the more I began to wonder ....
Could the entire Ranger Program have
been just a "cover," all along ... a test-bed (complete with
"scientific instruments" and even "principal investigators"
from various universities ...), but for the real purpose of
flying -- in space -- various deep space mission profiles ...
in repeated empirical attempts to understand, and then ultimately fix,
Was this the real objective of Ranger
from its inception: to develop practical "non-Newtonian,
celestial-mechanics equations" ... that could successfully correct
for the "non-Newtonian anomaly" ... in future
Was this how NASA learned -- literally by "trial
and error" (LOTS of error ...) -- how to so precisely
navigate spacecraft in Earth orbit and deep space ... despite
the continuing "non-Newtonian Problem?!"
Like a flash bulb going off, I suddenly realized that
this specific NASA laboratory, once even under Congressional
investigation for all the "gross irregularities" discovered
in the Ranger Program, which had designed ... and built ...
and launched Ranger 4 -- the first unmanned NASA spacecraft
to finally, navigationally, make it to the surface of another planet
-- was none other than the same laboratory (even before it
was in NASA ...) whose engineers had also designed and built ...
Bill Pickering's ... Jet Propulsion Laboratory!
And suddenly, it all fit ....
There was even a statement in
an official NASA history of the Ranger Program that correlated
exactly with our own assessment:
“… as the [Ranger] project got underway, the
[supposedly scientific] priorities established at JPL revealed the
essential purpose of all five Ranger flights to be the development
of 'basic elements of spacecraft technology required for
lunar and planetary missions' [emphasis added] ...."
Which would have definitely included “…
develop viable interplanetary navigation techniques ….”
JPL had to have known about the "Explorer
I anomaly" – and, from the beginning!; it had to have
been aggressively working on its own solution (with von Braun?)
... since that January night, in 1958!
Who would have had better motivation to figure out and
solve this overwhelming celestial navigation problem -- than the one
laboratory whose director was intending from the beginning
(according to Bill
Pickering's official NASA biography ...)
"to turn JPL into NASA's most important interplanetary
Which (by solving this "insolvable problem?"
-- and learning to control a Physics which makes completely
obsolete both Newton and Einstein!) ... it ultimately
Suddenly, the much broader policy implications of NASA's
consistent "kid gloves treatment" of JPL -- even during the
Ranger fiasco -- especially, in terms of the "inexplicable
influence" JPL has seemed (somehow) to exert over NASA's other
programs (out of all proportion to its inherent size and actual institutional
role ...) took on entirely new meanings ....
In this scenario ... without JPL, and its (obviously
top-secret) successfully-developed (via Ranger ...?)
interplanetary space navigation computer programs, no one else
in NASA was going anywhere … unless JPL agreed.
And that could explain almost everything …
regarding NASA’s 50-year-old history ... and actions.
In terms of Apollo, the crucial "last-minute switch"
by von Braun -- from opposing to supporting LOR -- was clearly the single,
key decision that ultimately allowed the entire Apollo Lunar Program
Because, with NASA's official
selection of LOR a few weeks later, as the means of actually landing
on the Moon -- a separate, smaller spacecraft to take the astronauts
down from lunar orbit to the surface ... and back up again -- the entire
Apollo Program suddenly became "manageable": the individual
Apollo components became far "lighter" (less massive ...);
thus, they now required (comparatively speaking) a much smaller moon
rocket to carry them ["only" the Saturn 5 -- as opposed to
von Braun's vastly more robust (and far more expensive!) twelve million
pound thrust Nova rocket].
Ultimately, because of all of this, the Apollo Program
itself was carried out on a much shorter developmental time-frame
than it would have followed otherwise -- which, in the end, was what
enabled NASA not only to beat President Kennedy's visionary deadline
... but, to "beat the Russians to the Moon" while doing it!
Did Wernher von Braun -- with
"a little help from his friends at JPL" -- make all this happen,
by finally "figuring out" Explorer I's extraordinary,
still-classified, "non-Newtonian discovery ... and problem"
... and, in 1962?
And, if so, how did they do it ... and in so
doing, potentially give Humanity the keys to unlocking not only the
entire solar system to future human exploration ....
The secret of building real "anti-gravity
spaceships" -- with which to ultimately colonize
that solar system!
A full half century after Explorer I
... is "someone" now doing exactly what we've just described:
Carrying out a real, "top-secret"
Space Program ... perhaps, by now, far beyond this solar system
... and, with a fleet of "gravity-controlling spacecraft"--
All based on JPL's "secretly-derived New Physics"--
While the NASA that we see on television ...
still pretends "it only plays with rockets?!"
And, no one in the American press corps is still suspecting
Stay tuned ....
II of "Von Braun's 50-Year-Old Secret"
the Enterprise Conference – and Explore the Implications of This Remarkable
New Discovery with Other Members of the “Enterprise Crew” ….