But it said, “no confirmation of successful firing was received.”
The final velocity of the rocket as it plunged back into the atmosphere was estimated at 34,423 feet per second. The Air Force said this was the same speed attained by the Pioneer shortly after it was launched at Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 3.42 a.m. on Saturday.
The instrument packed moon vehicle deflected from its selected path to the moon by a “drift” in its guidance system, struggled upward into space for 27 hours after the firing.
But finally, its momentum unequal to the relentless pull of earth’s gravity, the Pioneer slowed down. At 11.42 G.M.T. yesterday, it reached its peak of 79,212 miles, faltered and then began the long plunge back to earth.
Shortly before midnight the Air Force said the Pioneer was only 21,045 miles above earth. It was expected to enter the earth’s atmosphere and burn up over the Indian Ocean.
But even as the Pioneer hurtled down toward earth it was sending back data which will be invaluable to scientists in planning further experiments, looking toward the final conquest of space by man himself.
One of the first dividends was a finding that a deadly band of radiation circling the earth appeared to grow less dense – and therefore less menacing to future space travellers – as the Pioneer drove deeper and deeper into space.
The scientists responsible for the project tried desperately to save their brainchild for at least a little while longer.
When it became obvious Pioneer would not reach the moon they sought to fire a retro-rocket in the payload capsule in an effort to swing the space traveller into an orbit around the earth.
They tried twice and failed. The rocket would not adjust the velocity of the Pioneer to put it into orbit.
They scheduled a third attempt as the rocket was nearing the end of its dizzy flight. But time was running out.
The failure of the scientists to fire the retro-rocket – originally designed to swing the Pioneer into an orbit around the moon – was attributed to unexpected temperature changes within the space vehicle.
This failure also ruled out any space pictures from the rocket’s television-type camera which scientists had counted on to bring man the first “photographs” of the hidden side of the moon.
The United States Air Force last night claimed these firsts for its moon probe Pioneer:
1. It marked the first time a man-made vehicle has reached an altitude of 79,212 miles above the earth’s surface.
“This height is more than 27 times greater than has ever been achieved,” said Major-General Bernard Schriver, commander of the air force ballistic missile division.
2. It marked the first time man has been able to measure radiation above 25,000 statute miles.
“These measurements will be of great assistance in improving instruments for future space and lunar probes and for putting man into space,” Major-General Schriver said.
3. Pioneer’s speed was the fastest ever achieved by a man-made vehicle – 34,000 feet per second or more than 23,450 m.p.h.
4. The first direct measurements of the earth’s magnetic field at altitudes ranging up to 79,120 miles.
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