One of the more enduring images of the opening months of the Space Age was the failure of the Vanguard TV-3 launch attempt on December 6, 1957. Following three successful test flights where various stages and other hardware were tested in a step-wise fashion, the purpose of the TV-3 missions was to fly all three stages of the Vanguard launch vehicle for the first time in order to verify performance predictions with the remote chance that its payload would reach orbit. Unfortunately, the press overbilled the purpose of this test as the American response to Sputnik raising expectations for this flight (for a full discussion of the origin of the Vanguard program and the first test flights, see “Vanguard TV-3: America’s First Satellite Launch Attempt”). In response to this growing public relations disaster, the Eisenhower administration approved plans by a team led by Wernher von Braun at the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) to launch a satellite as Vanguard program officials continued preparations for yet another test flight (see “Explorer 1: America’s First Satellite”).
The disastrous launch attempt of Vanguard TV-3 on December 6, 1957. (NASA)
Recovering from Disaster
After the disastrous failure of the Vanguard TV-3 launch ...