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Saturn Spacecraft Launched into Orbit

Jan. 29, 1964 - The United States put into orbit today the heaviest spacecraft payload in history, surpassing the Soviet Union for the first time. A huge Saturn, its untried upper stage loaded with liquid hydrogen fuel that is a key to accomplishing the planned manned trip to the moon, was launched at Cape Kennedy at 11:25 a.m. EST. Ten minutes later, the entire upper stage, minus expended fuel, was in orbit. It was ranging, at last report, from a low point, or perigee, of 164 miles to a high point, or apogee, of 471 miles.

President Johnson hailed the Saturn launch as a “giant step forward for the United States space effort.” He watched the launching on a television set in his office. “On behalf of a grateful and proud nation,” he said, “I warmly congratulate the scientists, technicians, managers, and employees of the space team for their contribution to peace and progress.”

The nation’s embarrassing inferiority to the Soviet Union in spacecraft-lifting capacity has, for the time being, been overcome and then some. The weight of the payload, or cargo, orbited today was about 20,000 pounds. The top Soviet payload of 14,292 pounds, was reported on two unmanned flights. Propagandistically, then, the latest Saturn launching was everything the nation could have wanted. And to underscore how far the nation has come, NASA officials noted that the first American satellite had been launched just six years ago this Friday and had weighed a meager 31 pounds.

But outdoing the Russians was only a by-product of the essential purposes of the flight, which were: First, to prove the workability of the two-stage 560-ton booster in anticipation of the first flights of dummy moon-flight capsules. And second, to increase the nation’s knowledge of the vital liquid hydrogen technology. Today’s launch was carried live on television.

Tomorrow, the U.S. will try to make it two spectaculars in a row. It plans to launch a Ranger spacecraft to the moon with a battery of television cameras to take pictures of the lunar surface as they plunge to destruction.


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