German (and later American) Wernher von Braun was responsible for developing the V2 rocket, after the war he worked for NASA, jump starting the American space program. War time application of V2 rockets as transports for warheads included deaths of thousands of innocent civilians. Nonetheless, this was a major technological feat, ahead of its time. Today it is largely ignored by history of space exploration. Among its most advanced aspects was a sophisticated guidance system in a form of gyroscopes that steered the rocket to a particular location. Both Soviets and Americans reverse engineered V2 rockets and built their copies, with later designs improving on them. (1)
First pictures of Earth from space are taken
Courtesy of White Sands Missile Range/Applied Physics Laboratory
In 1946, American scientists were using former German (NAZI) V2 rockets to conduct scientific research and experiments. On October 24, 1946 first images of Earth from space were taken from an altitude of 65 miles high. Man, for the first time, gazed upon his little world from beyond it.
The infamous V2 rockets were developed and used by the Third Reich towards the end of the war to bomb London and other populated areas. In the last days of the war, American and Soviet troops captured remaining V2 rockets at Peenemunde's hidden underground storages. Once these highly advanced, for their day, rockets were brought back, along with German scientists, the two super powers began experimenting with them, improving their capabilities and putting them to scientific use. Among many early accomplishments, most symbolic, perhaps, was this video footage filmed in outer space looking down on our little planet. The symbolic importance of this mission, however, did not become apparent until much later. Scientists were more concerned about the affect of the cosmic rays on the onboard equipment.
Fruit flies become first animals to cross the boundary of space
This photograph of a Fruit Fly was taken by Andre Karwath
United States military launches fruit flies into space utilizing a refurbished V2 rocket. These became first living organisms from Earth to enter outer space, apart from any accidental bacteria that may have been unknowingly launched into space in prior missins. Along with the fruit flies cargo contained cotton and rye seeds. The rocket did not, and was not intended to, orbit the Earth. Purpose of the experiment was to test how radiation may affect various biological samples. Fruit flies were found alive after parachuting down to Earth in a capsule, setting a stage for presence of more complex biology in space. (2)
Albert Series: first astronaut monkeys
Albert the First before launch
On 03.22 MST, June 11, 1948, Americans (Air Force Aeromedical Laboratory) attempted to send a Rhesus monkey, first primate astronaut, into space on a modified V2 rocket. Unfortunately, it died enroute, failing to pass the boundary of space. Albert, weighing nine pounds, was sealed in a personal capsule. Flight lasted for six minutes and reached maximum altitude of 39 miles. Even though Albert the first perished, he was a first primate astronaut in history of the Earth and paved way for subsequent missions.(3)
Albert the second became the first primate to reach space, on June 14, 1949. He passed the internationally recognized boundary of space, known as the Karman line, reaching a maximum altitude of 83 miles or 134 kilometers. Albert the second perished upon return to Earth.
Albert the Second before launch
Albert the third (cynomolgus monkey) and Albert the fourth (rhesus monkey) concluded these series of launches. These four astronaut monkeys perished for the advancement of science. The Albert Series project was not popularized by the government and was kept in relative secrecy.
Launch of Albert the second in 1949 from White Sands, New Mexico
The monkeys were given anesthetics and were studied via various sensors and cameras. This was deemed necessary to prevent human loss in the future manned missions which were already contemplated at the time. It took a decade, until 1959, to successfully send monkeys into space and safely return them alive to Earth.
U.S. Bumper 5 rocket sets new altitude and velocity records
Launch of Bumper 5 from New Mexico. Click on the image to see in full resolution. Courtesy of NASA/nasaimages.org
Bumper 5 rocket was the first fully successful launch of its series. This was a first large two-stage rocket composed of an American WAC Corporal research missile and a German V-2. The latter being the second stage. The name originates from a literal bump that is generated by the second stage of the rocket, further increasing velocity. Bumper 5 was launched from White Sands, New Mexico. The program involved Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the United States Army, and General Electric.
The purpose of the Bumper program was to investigate launching techniques for a two-stage missile and separation of the two stages at high velocity, to conduct limited investigation of high-speed high-altitude phenomena, and to attain velocities and altitudes higher than ever reached. (4)
Bumper 5 achieved highest velocity of 5,150 miles per hour (8,288 kilometers), becoming the fastest human-made object ever made and launched up to this point. It also reached highest altitude of 393 kilometers (244 miles), far exceeding any previous achievements and setting a new maximum altitude world record.
According to some accounts, the reached altitude was 6 kilometers higher. Second stage (WAC) contained telemetry equipment that relayed via radio transmissions data back to Earth from space. This was also a first at such extreme altitude and velocity conditions. Considering that there is no scientific evidence that NAZI V-2 rocket launches breached the boundary of space, Bumper-5 is also the first scientifically proven man-made object to reach the outer space.