When Explorer 1 was launched on January 31, 1958, it became the first successful firing of a U.S. satellite, thus marking the beginning of the space race with the Soviet Union.
Working closely together with the Army Ballistic Missile Agency, JPL managed to do the job in about 80 days from the time they received the Department of Defense directive, which also included modifying the Jupiter C launching vehicle.
This successful launch prompted a visit from then Vice President Richard Nixon to JPL on February 17, 1958, which included a stop at Caltech to visit and speak with students and faculty in Tournament Park that same day. At JPL he was met by aeronautics engineer Clark Millikan, Caltech’s President Lee DuBridge, and JPL’s director William Pickering.
Mr. Nixon would make a repeat visit to Caltech four years later in 1962, under the Caltech Y’s sponsorship, during the campaign for California Governor. —LK