On January 31, 1958 JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) sent the first American Spacecraft into orbit. She was named Explorer I. Sputnik had gone into space only months before in October 1957 and Americans were scared/pissed-off/highly motivated to get our own craft circling the earth. JPL, working with the Army Ballistic Missile Agency, was urged by the White House to get something built and flying as soon as possible. JPL built the satellite, the upper stage of the rocket and a tracking system to go onto the Army’s liquid-filled rocket. Not only did we have an earth orbiting satellite but ours was the first satellite to have science instruments aboard. Take that Khrushchev!
To celebrate 50 years of amazing work and to celebrate Explorer I as the pioneering craft it is (not to be confused with Pioneer 10), they will be screening “JPL and the Beginnings of the Space Age,” a 55 minute documentary that charts the transformation of JPL “from a producer of ballistic missiles to a preeminent center for robotic exploration of our solar system and beyond.”
The screenings will be shown:
Thursday, Jan. 24
Location: Beckman Auditorium, California Institute of Technology campus on Michigan Avenue, one block south of Del Mar Blvd, Pasadena
Time: 8 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 25
Location: Pasadena City College, Vosloh Auditorium 1570 East Colorado Blvd. Pasadena
Time: 7 p.m.
It will also air on KCET, Channel 28, on Saturday, Feb. 2 at 10 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 3 at 5 p.m.
Photo from the JPL/Explorer 1 site — go there for a history of the program and lots more great photos, newsreel footage and animations from 50 years ago.