January 31, 2018 | David F. Coppedge

JPL Honors Explorer 1 Manager on 60th Anniversary *

Dr Henry Richter, who has contributed articles to CEH, is a VIP at NASA’s 60th Anniversary celebration of America’s first satellite.

Readers of Creation-Evolution Headlines are familiar with Dr Henry Richter as a distinguished senior citizen and great American, now 90, the author of two books on spacecraft and a JPL spacecraft pioneer. Here’s a way to see how he looked 60 years ago. For its Historical Photo of the Month, JPL published a photo of Richter as a young man in 1958 when he was active at the lab. He is shown describing the transmitters that he designed for the Explorer 1 satellite. Explorer 1 successfully launched on January 31, 1958, beginning America’s catch-up with the Russians and rise to pre-eminence in space.

Dr Henry Richter in 1958

In 2018 JPL celebrates the 60th anniversary of America’s first satellite, Explorer 1.  Henry Richter started working at JPL in 1955 as an engineer and Supervisor for the New Circuit Elements Group. Later he was a Staff Engineer for the Deep Space Network and then Chief of the Space Instruments Section (322). During the Explorer Project Dr. Richter was project manager for the satellite design, in charge of JPL experiments for the International Geophysical Year, and was liaison between the Satellite Instrumentation Group and the Operations and Data Groups. He published a book in 2015 –America’s Leap into Space: My Time at JPL and the First Explorer Satellites.

The photo is a frame grab from the documentary, X Minus 80 Days, produced by Jet Propulsion Lab and the Army Ballistic Missile Agency after the mission. The 20-minute video shows the preparations for the mission leading up to the launch, and is recommended viewing for those wishing to relive the historic days that led up to the formation of NASA.

JPL’s article also describes the welcoming party JPL is giving Dr Richter today (31 Jan 2018) as he speaks to the lab.

On Wednesday, January 31 at 3:30, Dr. Richter will present his JPL Story in the Hub (111-104), followed at 4:30 by a book signing. He’ll share the story of JPL’s role working for the Army/Caltech and of the remarkable people who were part of the Explorer team. During the late 1950s, JPL extended rocket engineering to spacecraft design, using components that were on the cutting edge of technology. When they were finally given the chance to combine the instruments, upper stages, and launch vehicle, they accomplished the task in just a few months.

In honor of the anniversary, Dr Henry Richter was selected as Scientist of the Month for CEH. The biography is a work in progress. More material will be added as we hear from the JPL celebration.

Update 31 Jan 2018: Space.com posted an article with several vintage newsreels about Explorer 1.

Update 1 Feb 2018: Dr Richter shared with us this feedback from the JPL event organizer: “Congratulations on a wonderful Story!  We’ve had so many positive comments about the event, and what a great job you did.  Thank you so much for taking the time to spend the afternoon with us and share your memories and your expertise about the project…. The LARS staff (Library, Archives, and Records) really enjoyed hosting your visit.”

On November 11, 2017, CEH Editor David Coppedge spent a few minutes at Dr Richter’s home recording a short interview as he autographed copies of his latest book, Spacecraft Earth: A Guide for Passengers. Here is part of the exclusive interview, interspersed with historical photos of JPL and the Explorer 1 mission, where Richter shares stories of his involvement in the space race.

Video is for exclusive use for David Coppedge and Creation-Evolution Headlines. All rights reserved.

If we get any news about Dr Richter’s appearance at JPL, and how it was received, we will share it here.




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  • mikeboll64 says:

    I don’t know how to ask this without sounding disrespectful to Dr. Richter’s life work… and a great deal of yours as well, David, but here goes:

    NASA receives about 52 million dollars of hard earned tax payer’s money PER DAY. Billions every year, and trillions since it’s inception. What have the US taxpayers really gotten in return? You can’t say satellites, since we had ground based telecommunication and global positioning systems long before that. You can’t say Google Earth or weather overviews, since those are still done by planes and high altitude weather balloons. And the airplane Sophia can actually takes better pictures of outer space than Hubbell.

    So what really does the world have to show for the trillions it’s been forced to give to its various space programs?

    We see people on the ISS showing off NFL jerseys, wearing gorilla costumes, and spewing water all over the electrical component-filled space station while showing us how they wash their hair and brush their teeth… but what good thing are they doing for the children who go to bed hungry every night?

    $52,000,000 every DAY could sure feed a lot of widows and children.

    • You raise a valid concern, but it does nothing to disrespect Richter, because his work began before NASA. His work was in a critical period of the cold war where success in space was a vital matter of national defense and of national morale. By 1960, Richter had left JPL. NASA continued to provide national benefit under von Braun, another Christian and creationist, with the moon shot. The planetary missions, I think, also performed a vital role. The DOD also relies on intelligence gained from space. You might say that things started downhill with the shuttle and ISS in terms of cost/benefit ratio using taxpayer funds. There is a hopeful sign, however, in the transfer of NASA’s accumulated technology to the private sector, first with communications satellites and now with launch vehicles. Maybe the day will come when NASA works itself out of a job.

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