Science: Stuttering Discoverer

Two days before Pioneer IV's successful takeoff, the Air Force launched its first Discoverer satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Discoverer was the U.S.'s first attempt to put a satellite into polar orbit, which would make possible surveillance of the whole of the earth's surface. The booster, a

Thor ICBM, and the second stage, a 19-ft. liquid-fuel job built by Lockheed, apparently worked well. Watchers assumed that the bird, which consisted of the 1,300-lb. second stage with a 40-lb. instrument payload, had gone into orbit over the South Pacific.

But something went...

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