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  Chapter 1  Pencil Rocket at Kokubunji  
Article from a newspaper

The Pencil rocket project had nothing to do with space until January or February of 1955. A New Year's Day newspaper carried Professor Itokawa's article on "Let's fly from Tokyo to San Francisco in 20 minutes." Mr. Okano from the Ministry of Education looked at it while Mr. Nagata, who was assigned to an Antarctic observation project at the time, asked Itokawa "to use his rocket to participate in the International Geographical Year (IGY) program." Mr. Okano combined these two ideas in early 1955. This event gave direction to the later Pencil rocket project. The birth of the Pencil rocket was somewhat suspicious, but by the time of its experiment, the project was firmly allocated as a space observation rocket to participate in the IGY program. (Ryojiro Akiba)

In the spring of 1954 in Rome, the first IGY preparatory meeting after WWII was held. This IGY project was to reveal a global figure through the co-observation and participation of the world's top scientists. This third IGY was scheduled to be held under the strong leadership of the victorious WWII nations including the U.S., England and the U.S.S.R. in a scene designed to represent progressive technological innovations after the two world wars. The first preparatory meeting was held in Rome.

Through this meeting, two special projects were organized. One of which was the Antarctic observation mission and the other was the observation of higher atmospheric layers using observation rockets. The U.S. kindly offered its assistance to Japan: "We will provide the rockets, so how about you produce the observation equipment to be aboard them?"

Takeshi Nagata from the University of Tokyo who attended this meeting promptly sent out a telegram to Seiji Kaya at the Science Council in Japan (SCJ). After describing the offer from the U.S., Nagata added, "We will have another meeting next week. If I don't receive your reply by then I will answer to the U.S. that the council agreed to Japan's rocket observation as part of the IGY program." It was later called "Nagata's threatening telegram." Although, at that time, Kaya send back a polite telegram and the issue was carried over until Nagata's return to Japan.

Upon returning, Kaya met with Nagata, and the SCJ organized a special committee for the IGY program and made a plan urging the Japanese government for strong support. At that time, Kiyoshi Okano, who worked as a Manager of Science at the University Science Bureau of the Ministry of Education, was appointed by the government to lead the project.

By utilizing the Geodesy Council, I set up a fundamental policy as follows. "Observation plans for researchers should be made by the SCJ and the Geodesy Council should coordinate correspondence between the related organizations based on SCJ's plans." However, after a discussion with the Ministry of Finance, an unusual arrangement was chosen and the entire budget for the IGY program was appropriated to the Ministry of Education and the conformity was secured to promote this project. For your reference, Japanese observation plans were limited to ground observation of radio waves, the ionosphere, the aurora polaris, nightglows, and geomagnetism mainly on a line of East longitude 140. Observation on the troposphere and the Antarctic region using the rocket were excluded as unreachable areas. (Okano)

However, the Mainich Newspapers carried a series of articles titled "Scientiific creations" in early January 1955 and Itokawa's article, "The dream of a scientist", was carried by chance. Okano was deeply impressed by the unique idea in the line "Cross the Pacific Ocean in 20 minutes." That was the "plan and dream of the AVSA research group." Okano thought if AVSA's research was advanced enough, the rocket could be utilized in observations for the IGY project and he started to take action to achieve this goal. First of all, he asked Professor Shouji Hoshiai, director of the Institute of Industrial Science (IIS) at the University of Tokyo, to think about it and also asked Itokawa to visit the Ministry.

Okano asked Itokawa very directly, "Is it possible for Japan to launch a rocket to soar to about a 100 km altitude by 1958?" Itokawa answered without hesitation, "Let's do it!" The challenge for Itokawa had begun.

Okano's impression to Itokawa at that time was:

Professor Itokawa's wit was lively and his body was filled with energy. He is so different from other university professors entrenched in the ivory tower. He was quite active and comprehensive and quickly made decisions using the various means at his disposal to achieve his goal. I was moved. (Okano)

I don't know if the close relationship between Itokawa and Nagata -- they both graduated from Tokyo First Junior High School (currently Kudan High School), and both of them were members of the Orchestra club there -- generated a synergy effect or not, though, conferences held mainly by them progressed very quickly. At the GIY Special Committee held in Brussels in September 1955, Japan was assigned as one of nine observation points on the Earth.

The former ISS, The Second Faculty of Engineering at the University of Tokyo, which had a 150,000-tsubo (about 496,000 square-meter) site and offered 60 courses at the end of the war, was still young after its foundation and was filled with a pioneer spirit. Assuming this was the nature of the ISS, the existence of the rocket as a general research project was a godsend.

Thus, the AVSA group that developed the Pencil rocket was forced to carry this critical mission to support Japanese participation in the IGY program. From its very beginning, Japanese space development had started to progress along a rugged road with a strong combination of space science and space engineering battling each other.
The first fruit of this hard work was the vertical launch of the Pencil rocket.

Scientiific creations (Mainichi Newspapers January 1953?

The disassembled Pencil rocket

A scene from the experiment in Kokubunji

Stands used in the experiment at Kokubunji

Itokawa counting down for the launch in Kokubunji
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