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The Rocket Age and the Space Age

4 Oct 2019, 19:54 UTC
The Rocket Age and the Space Age
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V-2 and Sputnik

The V-2 rocket and a model of Sputnik 1.

by Douglas MessierManaging Editor

The first successful launch of Germany’s A-4 ballistic missile and the orbiting of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik-1, took place 15 years and one day apart. The two achievements are related in more ways than their proximity on the calendar.

On Oct. 3, 1942, an A-4 developed by Wernher von Braun and his German Army team reached an altitude of 85 to 90 km (52.8 to 55.9 miles) after launch from Peenemunde on the Baltic Coast.

Whether this counts as the first human-made object to reach space is a matter of debate. The V-2 exceeded the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s 50-mile (80.4-km) definition of space. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) , which keeps records on such achievements, uses 100 km (62.1 mile) as the boundary.

But, both of those definitions came later. The Germans who launched the V-2 that fall day had no doubts about what they had just done.

“Do you realize what we accomplished today? Today the spaceship was born,” von Braun’s Army boss, Walter Dornberger, declared at a celebration that evening.

Well, not exactly. An actual spaceship would come ...

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