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Posted by STEVE M on

I just love this RCA advertisement, dating from 1965 proclaiming that a new kind of transistor will help man land on the moon.  Did transistors play a part in the space race and when did the first transistor go into space I hear you muse, well, I think I can tell you a little bit about this.
As a consequence of  the launch of Sputnik on October 4, 1957, people around the globe heard Sputnik’s unassuming beep beep for 21 days, as this first-ever satellite orbited Earth. And they were riveted. It was over their heads and now they knew how chicken-licken had felt!!    Just a month after the launch of Sputnik 1, Russia launched Sputnik 2 which carried a living animal, a dog named Laika - this was possibly a feasibility study to determine the effective use of Inter Continental Ballistic Poo (ICBP) as a weapon.
The US got their act together and were determined to launch its own satellite into orbit and it did, with Explorer 1, on January 31 1958 -  just four months after Russia’s Sputnik 1 had launched.  Explorer 1 was designed and built within three months by William Hayward Pickering and his team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)  in Pasadena California. 

Explorer 1 flew into space on a  Jupiter-C rocket under the guidance of Wernher Von Braun.  Here we see Wernher,  caught 'mid ziegheil' holding aloft a model of Explorer 1 together with Van Allen and Pickering (R to L).

Explorer 1 weighed just 30 pounds (14 kilograms) and was under 7 feet (203 cm) long. It took 114.8 minutes to complete one orbit of Earth – that’s 12.54 orbits a day with its perigee of 220 miles (354 km) and apogee of 1,563 miles (2,515 km).

One scientific instrument onboard, a cosmic ray detector, took measurements of radiation as the satellite orbited Earth. This data led James Van Allen, the mission’s lead scientist, and his team, to conclude that they had discovered charged particles trapped by Earth’s magnetic field. These zones of trapped charge particles now bear Van Allen’s name to honour his discovery.

So after all this history, here's the 'money shot' not only was Explorer 1 the first American satellite placed into orbit BUT also was the first recorded use of transistors in space. 

Alas, the transistors used in Explorer 1 were not made by RCA but instead Western Electric at the Laureldale facility (Berks County, Pa.) . The transistors used  were Germanium PNP types GA-53233 & GF-4501.

 Explorer 1 continued to transmit data for four months until its batteries died on May 21 1958, remaining in orbit around Earth for nearly 12 years, encircling it 58,376 times before the orbit decayed and it burned up upon re-entry into the atmosphere on March 31, 1970 - could this have been the first example of transistor burnout ever recorded?

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