Friday, April 22, 2011

50 YA - Rocket tests

Wallops Island, Virginia in 1961.

One of the early rocket test facilities used by NASA in the Space Race was located on an island on the coast of Virginia. NASA's predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) built the rocket launch site originally to be used in research for high speed drones and fighters. Once NASA was created in 1958 by President Eisenhower, the facility was incorporated into NASA as Wallops Station. Between 1959 and 1961, Mercury space capsules were tested at this site in preparation for sending the first American into space. The test vehicles used were the Little Joe rockets (which have been covered here on Spacerubble already).

Wallops is also famous for the research done there using sounding rockets. These smaller high-speed launch vehicles are used to test flight characteristics and launch small payloads for science into the upper atmosphere and sometimes into orbit. For example, 50 years ago on April 22, 1961, a Trailblazer 1 seven-stage rocket was launched to measure and analyze the effects of re-entry on objects. This of course in preparation for having a manned spacecraft re-enter the atmosphere.

Juno IRBM NASA launch at night.

On the same day as the Trailblazer launch from Wallops Station, Italian air force crews working at NASA launched a test Juno IRBM (Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile) from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The flight probably took place at either Launch Complex 5 or LC 26. At the time, the Jupiter IRBM, derived from the Juno rocket (pictured above) was being prepared for use as part of NATO's defense against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Italy, as one of our allies in NATO, would eventually establish a Jupiter launch complex in the Mediterranean as part of that defense. Fifty years ago today, they test-launched a Juno IRBM from Cape Canaveral as part of their preparations.

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