I have never been a fan of science fiction. Model airplanes kept me abreast of the latest developments in aviation. In high school, 1935-1939, my doodlings showed sketches of highly streamlined airplanes, most of which were well ahead of military aircraft of the time. All of these designs, however, I knew to be practical and based on known technology.
During the 1950's, the Air Force was engaged in secret studies of orbiting spacecraft, as revealed in history books such as Spaceflight Revolution (ref. 19.1). My first inkling that flight in space was being considered at Langley was a talk at a department meeting, probably given by William J. O'Sullivan, Jr. He, along with Clinton E. Brown and Charles H. Zimmerman, had made comparisons of the efficiency of flight outside the atmosphere with flight in the atmosphere for long-distance travel. These studies showed that launching a ballistic rocket that would travel halfway around the world would require as much fuel as the flight of an airplane with a lift-drag ratio of 2 or 3. Of course, as the distance approached a complete orbit, the ballistic vehicle would continue to fly increasing distances with no further fuel expenditure so that the relative efficiency increased. Nevertheless, because halfway around the world was the greatest distance anyone would wish to travel and because supersonic airplanes had a lift-drag ratio of at least 6, I concluded that ballistic travel was not very promising. The difference becomes much more striking when the type of propulsion is considered. An airbreathing engine such as that used in airplanes does not have to carry the oxygen required for combustion, whereas a rocket motor used for ballistic vehicles must carry both fuel and oxidizer. The weight of the oxidizer is several times the weight of the fuel.
I continued my research on airplanes and was as surprised as anyone when the newspapers announced the flight of Sputnik, a small experimental satellite launched by the Russians. This event resulted in great public interest and many attempts by amateurs to listen to the beep-beep signal as the satellite passed overhead. The public outcry was nothing, however, compared to that a couple of months later when the Russians orbited the Sputnik II, a two-ton satellite carrying a live dog. I knew that the weight of the object placed in orbit was only a very small fraction of the weight of the rocket required to launch it and was therefore very aware of the strides the Russians must have made in rocket propulsion.
My son, 9 years old at that time, kept a scrapbook as a school project in which he pasted many pictures of rockets and space ships, as well as clippings from newspaper articles related to the space program. A quotation from one article shows the concern felt about the Russian accomplishments (ref. 19.2)
 New York, Jan. 6, (AP) - Malcomn P. McNair, widely known economist, said today the Russians in a very real sense already have won the cold war.
Sputnik has blown up our fool's paradise.
It is difficult to find words or tones of sufficient gravity to present what I am convinced is the true situation. I do not think we have as yet begun to realize the full picture partly because our leaders have been afraid to give us the facts.
In a very real sense, the Soviets have already won because it is now demonstrated that we cannot match Russian progress toward specific objectives of knowledge, power, and achievement without voluntarily submitting ourselves to a substantial degree of purposive direction in our lives, direction of investment, direction of manpower, direction of education.
The rapidly moving changes in the national space program, as well documented in Spaceflight Revolution, resulted on October 1, 1958, in the passing of the National Space Act and the formation of NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, from the former NACA centers, as well as the Army and Navy installations involved in space flight. I remember the comment made by Thomas J. Voglewede, head of the Performance Branch of the Flight Research Division, when he came to work that morning. He said, "The NACA is dead, long live the NASA." No doubt he pronounced the NACA and NASA as individual letters, as had been customary with the NACA employees. While this interpretation is still customary when referring to the NACA, the pronunciation of NASA as a single word became common soon after that and is now generally regarded as the correct designation for the organization.
The immediate result of this announcement was that every group immediately considered how its knowledge and expertise could be applied to aid the space effort. In the case of my Branch, I considered that studies of the stability and control of spacecraft would now be emphasized and that the portion of the space flight in the atmosphere during launch and entry would be fruitful subjects for research.
During this same period, another event occurred that had a pronounced effect on the work of the Flight Research Division. A Headquarters edict, published in 1958, stated that no further testing of high-speed airplanes would be done at Langley. All future flight research on airplanes of this type was to be done at the NACA Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California (now called the Dryden Flight Research Center). The reasons for this change were primarily to save money by consolidating research efforts and secondarily for safety reasons because of the perceived dangers of flight of experimental aircraft in a populated area.
The sudden emphasis on space flight could be considered fortunate as a highly interesting and popular change of activity to occupy the personnel who had previously conducted flight research on airplanes. Actually, the reason for optimism was more fundamental. Aeronautical research had reached a plateau around 1958. Many of the research contributions of Langley and the other NACA centers had reached fruition in the design of advanced airplanes. These airplanes included jet bombers and transports, supersonic fighter airplanes, and the British Concorde and the Russian TU-144 supersonic transports. No really revolutionary steps forward for atmospheric aircraft were envisioned at that time, nor have occurred in the ensuing years.
The change in emphasis in research, as well as the subsequent change in organization of the NACA Headquarters and of the Research Centers brought about by the space program, makes this a suitable time to end this book. Much research that was conducted during the ensuing years remains to be described.