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REFLECTIONS 1961: County residents proud of satellite


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Published on: Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The teamwork of four Silver Spring men counted heavily in the success of the United States’ pioneer launching of a triple-header rocket with its one-of-a-kind nuclear generator aboard at Cape Canaveral Wednesday night.

Involved were Lt. Col. Theodore Wyatt, USMCR, 3904 Isabell St.; John Dassoulas, 13004 Vallywood Dr.; David W. Rabenhorst, 9217 Mintwood St.; and Robert E. Fischell, 1027 McCeney Ave. A fifth Marylander, Capt. Robert Carpenter of Frederick, also was in the picture.

Started Friday

Last Friday, four days before the Navy’s unprecedented triple-decker payload was to be launched, a high-level Navy decision was made to insert the first atomic-powered generator for satellite flight into one of the units—the Transit 4-A—before its takeoff at Canaveral.

If delivered to the Cape in time for the 4-A launch, the generator would be the first satellite-borne atomic unit in history, and score a major technological breakthrough for the United States.

Original Recommendation

Particularly anxious to see the generator sent up was Dassoulas, who made the original recommendation for its trial as an engineer at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Silver Spring, and who had worked for more than two years checking its feasibility, making specifications.

Capt. Carpenter was the next to enter the scene, as an Atomic Energy Commission project engineer who was assigned “guardian angel” of the Applied Physics Lab’s proposal. He was to be in charge of getting the generator package to Transit engineers already counting off the hours at Canaveral over 1,000 miles away.

The laboratory, which served as communications center for the last-minute clearance, notified its Cape Canaveral field chief, Rabenhorst, who was to prepare the payload to receive the nuclear unit.

Within the next 24 hours, the atomic battery was given final testing at the Martin Co. in Baltimore, transported by automobile to Washington, then flown to Canaveral and bolted to the Transit 4-A.

Wyatt Flies It

It was Col. Wyatt who volunteered to fly the historic device and its custodian, Capt. Carpenter, to Canaveral Saturday morning. Wyatt’s World War II-vintage AD-5 propeller plan covered the 1,000 miles in four and a half hours, arriving as preparations to receive the generator were being completed.

Behind the efforts of all these men were those of APL’s Bob Fischell, project supervisor for satellite electrical power systems who had been responsible for integrating the nuclear electrical generator with the Transit’s electronic systems.

Provides Power

The generator activates two low-power navigational signal transmitters in the transit, as well as the heart of the satellite’s navigational signal system. Without moving parts, it is theoretically capable of providing power for many years.

Transit’s power system is designed so that in case of any failure of the unique atomic generator the solar cell-battery system can be radio-commanded to take over, supplying electric power for the satellite transmitters.

Included with Transit in the triple-header rocket, riding “piggy-back” atop the principal passenger, were Greb, a 55-pound satellite designed to measure the sun’s X-Ray radiation in the Van Allen geomagnetically-trapped radiation zones and the phenomena of the Arctic auroras.

All three satellites, as well as the atomic generator, were subjected to a punishing round of environmental tests at the Applied Physics Laboratory here long before the Navy’s first triple-decker rocket reached the launching pad.

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