60 years ago: the Space Age begins


On October 4, 1957, Sputnik opened ‘The Space Age’ . . . So when did it end?

Sixty years ago today, the Space Age began with the launch of Sputnik 1.  The London Daily Express is credited with first using the phrase with a headline proclaiming “The Space Age Is Here.”   Yet swiftly, almost spontaneously, the beep-beep-beep of the 184-lb. satellite, broadcasting on common shortwave frequencies, was acknowledged by all on all sides as the beginning of the Space Age.

If the Space Age began with Sputnik, when did it end? — for it certainly has ended as a public perception.  A case can be made that the dream died with the Challenger accident in 1986.  Perhaps to a Russian mind, the Space Age continued until March 23, 2001, when the Mir space station was deorbited, burning up over the Pacific Ocean.  But I submit that the Space Age ended on November 19, 1969, at approximately 7:30 a.m. EST.

The Space Age ended early in the first moonwalk of Apollo 12 when Alan Bean, moving the color TV camera to a position away from Intrepid, the Lunar Module, accidentally pointed the lens at the sun, burning out the vidicon tube.  Earthlings had eagerly awaited the first color TV from the lunar surface.  Instead, they ended up watching a static, jagged bright spot.  Interest plummeted.  Never to be regained.

Before the camera broke, the Apollo schedule included eight more lunar landings, through Apollo 20.  After the camera broke:   Within 45 days, Apollo 20 was canceled, ostensibly to provide a Saturn V for Skylab, since at the same time Saturn V production was stopped.  Large cuts in the NASA budget ensued.  Two more lunar landings were canceled, the hardware becoming museum pieces, as did a second Skylab space station.

And for the Russians?   Their giant moonrocket, the N-1, had failed in early July 1969 for the second try, effectively ending their moon program.

What began with an “artificial moon” the size of a basketball, passed into history, and so did the age of proclaiming the arrival of Ages.

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