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sunguar

Misconceptions: The Unisphere and the Three Rings

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(The purchase of a brass Unisphere started me down this rabbit hole)

I love the Unisphere.  She's my grey lady.  (If you've got something bad to say about her, try not to do it in front of me).

 

But there's been a lot of misinformation and misconceptions about the three rings that surround her, on television and in print

So what do the three rings represent?

 

Natural History Magazine (published by the American Museum of Natural History) states the three rings, "trace the three paths of John Glenn's Mercury capsule in 1962".

The History Channel's "Modern Marvels" states the three rings represent "the orbits of three satellites of that time"

In the documentary, "Peace Through Understanding", World's Fair Historian Mark H. Millar states: "The three rings represent the first three satellites that America launched".  (This would be: Vanguard 1A, Explorer 1, and Vanguard 1B).

And our friend of the modern age, Wikipedia, states the rings are believed to represent the orbits of, "Yuri Gagarin (first man in space), John Glenn (first US astronaut to orbit the earth), and Telstar (first communications satellite)."

Other say they represent the first three objects placed in orbit (which would be Sputnik 1, Sputnik 2, and Explorer 1)

A USS press release states the rings, "represent the paths of three orbiting satellites".

 

So which is it?

Let's go right to the United States Steel documentary of the making of the Unisphere: "The Unisphere, Biggest World on Earth".

And the documentary says:

Nothing (except the rings weigh three tons)

 

 

Let's see if some photos can help.

5b6ca583952f5_rsz_uniabc(1)a.png.05641c3ffaadadbca75eb7d3a85c9092.png

If one of the rings represent the orbit of John Glenn's capsule, it can only be one.  The top ring (red dot) which passes near the Cape (where Glenn was launched on February 20, 1962) and also crosses Australia (where the US had some ground tracking stations) can only be Glenn's ring.

5b6ca930f35fa_rsz_unigagar_editeda(1)abc.png.08a56c6b92756caaaaaf5cce271cbf52.png5b6cab795246e_rsz_unigaga3dot_edited(1)abc.png.af74c53ed9d49db3c03980d43b79bc69.png

On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in southern Kazakhstan (USSR), so that could only leave one orbital ring (red dot) that belongs to him.  He reentered the earth's atmosphere after firing his retro rockets over Africa (second photo/3 blue dots).

That leaves one ring.

5b6cb121d3a51_rsz_unitelestar_edited(1)ab.png.c5d569a00d522234897b430792fe1f5f.png

Telstar was launched from the Cape Canaveral on July 10, 1962.  The third ring (green dots) comes nowhere near the Cape nor the satellite ground tracking station located in Andover, Maine.  

Gilmore Clarke (the designer of the Unisphere) originally wanted 12 orbital rings (twelve satellites were in orbit at the time of the fair) but this proved impractical and "settled for three symbolic rings" instead.  It is unknown if these three rings were Gagarin, Glenn, and Telstar.

It is likely that the third ring may have been placed where it is for chiefly aesthetic reasons.

Too bad Gilmore isn't around any longer.

I've got some questions I'd like to ask.

 

The Unisphere (being the symbol of the Fair), would have a standard and consistent image which would be placed on all products and merchandise associated with it.

Correct?

Not in a million years. 

(to be continued?)

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To correlate the rings with particular satellites, you have to ignore whether they are over a launch or landing point. None of the conjectured objects were geosynchronous, so the only identifying characteristics are the min and max altitude (perigee and apogee) and the tilt of the orbital plane. 

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Telstar 1
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telstar_1
Perigee    952 kilometres (592 mi)
Apogee    5,933 kilometres (3,687 mi)
Inclination    44.8°
Extremely eliiptical compared to Unispher rings

Yuri Gagarin
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vostok_1
Perigee    169 km (91 nmi)
Apogee    327 km (177 nmi)
Inclination    64.95 degrees
Closer and more elliptical than the Unisphere rings

John Glenn:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercury-Atlas_6
Perigee    149 kilometers (80 nautical miles)
Apogee    248 kilometers (134 nautical miles)
Inclination    32.5 degrees
Closer and more elliptical than the Unisphere rings

It would be interesting to find out if any of the inclinations match or not, but the major similarity to the actual three orbits is only that there are three rings.
 

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On ‎8‎/‎9‎/‎2018 at 7:42 PM, waynebretl said:

To correlate the rings with particular satellites, you have to ignore whether they are over a launch or landing point. 

Yuri Gagarin only had one orbit.

You must think of this in terms of an architect trying to figure out orbits, and not in terms of planetary orbital mechanics.

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2 hours ago, sunguar said:

Yuri Gagarin only had one orbit.

You must think of this in terms of an architect trying to figure out orbits, and not in terms of planetary orbital mechanics.

Very true, and when you do look at it in terms of orbital mechanics, it just verifies this and that the architect did not follow any particular actual orbits.

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I'm still curious as to what the architect was thinking about the third, or other ring.  Was it to stop the Unisphere from looking like a giant atom?  

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Maybe just a general compositional sensibility - usually, an odd number of elements is most pleasing, and three is the strongest odd-number arrangement, being so obvious as to be perceived instinctively. It cannot  be confused with a close even number, as, for an extreme example, eleven vs. twelve.

The "rules" of odd numbers and groups of three are often taught in photography courses. 

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Here's another globe with three rings: (circa 1962)

friendship7spoon.jpg.7dca7325335e64b9d5b7804d4909ffa7.jpg

Representing the three orbits of Friendship 7, which of course, carried John Glenn.

 

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