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General Medaris therefore had no choice but to call Von Braun. "Wernher," said he, "I must put you under direct orders personally to inspect that fourth stage to make sure it is not live." Without a satellite, Jupiter-C flew 3,300 milesfarther than any U.S. missile before or since. Wernher von Braun knew then that he could surely launch a satelliteif given the chance.
The Chance. He got his chance, months later, the hard way. On the night of Oct. 4, 1957, Von Braun was called to the telephone from a Redstone dinner honoring Defense Secretary-designate Neil Mc-Elroy. Voice on the wire: "New York Times calling, Doctor." Von Braun: "Yes?" Timesman: "Well, what do you think of it?" Von Braun: "Think of what?" Timesman: "The Russian satellite, the one they just orbited."
Von Braun hurried back to the dinner table, broke the news of Sputnik I, turned earnestly to Neil McElroy. "Sir," he said, "when you get back to Washington you'll find that all hell has broken loose. I wish you would keep one thought in mind through all the noise and confusion: we can fire a satellite into orbit 60 days from the moment you give us the green light." Army Secretary Wilber Brucker, who had accompanied McElroy, raised a hand of objection: "Not 60 days." Von Braun was insistent: "Sixty days." General Medaris settled it: "Ninety days." Neil McElroy remembered the Army's promise (for that matter the Army, with constant pleas for a stake in space, did not give him a chance to forget), and two weeks after taking office he made his decision. Wernher von Braun heard about it when Medaris' voice came over his Redstone squawk box. "Wernher," said Medaris, "let's go!"
A Good Dusting. Von Braun wentand fast. The very next week, he reserved Cape Canaveral range time for the night of Jan. 29, 1958, between 10:30 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. (he would have hit it right on the nose except for bad weather). Jupiter-C had been ready for months. Says Von Braun: "All she needed was a good dusting. We simply took every bit of care on her that was humanly possible. That is the most you can do and the least you can do in missilery."
But the satellite itself, with its delicate instrumentation, might well have held the whole project up for months or yearshad not Wernher von Braun, during most of the period that he was barred from engaging in satellite work, been in what he calls "silent coordination" with Caltech's William Pickering and the University of Iowa's James Van Allen in planning Explorer and its instruments.
A Genius Quality. Thus, just 84 days after the go-ahead from McElroy, the U.S. Explorer streaked into space. And last week Wernher von Braun, who sweated out the shoot in Washington (TIME, Feb. 10), returned to his white frame house on Huntsville's "Sauerkraut Hill"and to the brightest new day that his Army-run German rocket team had faced in more than 20 years.