SPACE: Reach for the Stars

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Shirtsleeved, tousled, and bright-eyed with the dream that gave Germany its V-2 and the U.S. its first orbiting satellite, bull-shouldered Wernher von Braun paced the yellow-walled office in Building 4488, nerve center of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency at Huntsville, Ala. Already on his cluttered mahogany desk last week was a new satellite assignment: preparing a Jupiter-C to power Explorer II into space late this month. More work was on the way; called by the telecommunications room, Space Engineer von Braun hurried down the hall, talked to Defense Department Missile Director William Holaday in Washington, turned to an aide with the heady news that two more Huntsville rocket projects had been approved ("O.K. on No. 8 and No. 10"). Back in his office, Von Braun flopped into a chair behind a huge pile of congratulatory messages, found just a moment to reflect on the fantastic rush of events. "Oh, to be in space this week," he grinned. "It's so quiet up there."

It was anything but quiet on Planet Earth. Under the impetus of the satellite Explorer's fiery success came the first federal space agency, the Senate's first space committee, the first Democratic and Republican attempts to stake political claims on space—and a full-throttle U.S. Army drive to exploit its satellite success after months of telling itself that it was the Pentagon's stepchild. Army brass marched with a color guard into a Capitol Hill hearing room to present a new service flag to the House Military Appropriations Subcommittee. Patrols of Army public-relations officers prowled Pentagon corridors, passing out word that, given the chance, the Army could develop a rocket motor to put a 15-ton satellite into space with a man aboard. The Air Force stood that sort of talk as long as it could, then leaked a story about using its Thor intermediate-range ballistic missile to put up a 1,000-lb. satellite as early as June. The Army promptly upped the ante to 1,500 Ibs.—and the Pentagon's interservice storm signals were flapping furiously.

A Broomstick Would Do. Yet for all the rivalry, hard-working servicemen and civilian specialists along the whole broad front of U.S. missilery felt a new nearness to space as Explorer radioed back its readings (see SCIENCE). And of the legions of scientists, generals, admirals, engineers and administrators at work on missiles and man-made moons, German-born Wernher von Braun, 45, best personified man's accelerating drive to rise above the planet. Von Braun, in fact, has only one interest: the conquest of space, which he calls man's greatest venture. To pursue his lifelong dream, he has helped Adolf Hitler wage a vengeful new kind of war, has argued against bureaucracy in two languages and campaigned against official apathy and public disbelief on two continents through most of his adult years.

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