SPACE: We're in Trouble

Glaring in the darkness like some colossal firework, a 98-ft. rocket blasted off a launching pad at Cape Canaveral, Fla. one night last week. As it zoomed skyward, trailing a gaudy glow of reds and greens, a watcher in the Canaveral blockhouse gasped out an awed, unscientific tribute: "Isn't she beautiful?"

The biggest rocket the U.S. had ever launched, a three-stage Atlas-Able, was off on the U.S.'s most ambitious space shot so far. The mission: to send an intricate, 372-lb. payload of instruments into the vicinity of the moon—and if all went well,...

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