The scientific tourist #165 — Vanguard TV-3

While the U.S.’ space program is the subject of some debate currently, it’s facing nowhere near the level of doubt seen in its early days. Here’s the result of the U.S.’ first attempt to launch a satellite into orbit — it’s Vanguard TV-3 (test vehicle 3):

Vanguard TV-3

TV-3 was a tiny thing, 15.2 cm (6 inches) in diameter, weighing all of 1.36 kg (3 lb). But what doomed it was a (soon to become famous) launch vehicle failure (direct link) on December 6, 1957:

TV-3 was recovered from the site of the explosion, was restored, and is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum on the Mall in Washington, D.C. It’s almost identical to the later Vanguard 1 satellite, which was launched successfully a few months later in 1958. Vanguard 1 holds the record for the oldest man-made satellite still in orbit, and while contact with it was lost in 1964, it’s coming up on the 53rd anniversary of its launch on March 17.

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2 Responses to The scientific tourist #165 — Vanguard TV-3

  1. Roger Easton says:

    The TV-3 payload was NOT restored — it was in that condition(on our kitchen floor) the next morning. My Dad was one of its designers (see NatGeo 12/1957). And it was a test vehicle – not a full-up launch. Vanguard TV-4 launched 14 weeks later and is the oldest object in orbit. Vanguard was no failure.

    • Sam Wise says:


      According to the NASM writeup (follow the link), they *did* restore TV-3 — but then subsequently took it back apart so that the display would more closely resemble its condition when found. Also, if you’ll re-read my writeup, you’ll see that I didn’t call Vanguard a failure — but that launch attempt clearly was.

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