Tuesday, July 26, 2011

50 YA - ICBM Testing

Titan 1 liftoff from Cape Canaveral.

FIfty years ago the Cape was a whirlwind of activity. NASA had just completed the launch of Freedom 7, with astronaut Gus Grissom. Despite the loss of the capsule in the Atlantic, other projects continued as planned. On July 25, the Air Force successfully launched a Titan-1 Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile, or ICBM. Using its own internal guidance, the rocket travelled 5,000 miles out over the Atlantic Missile Range.

Titan 1 on a test pad.

The Titan project would develop to become one of our most important rocket programs, not just for military purposes, but also for NASA. The space agency had just completed its second manned suborbital flight, and would now prepare for a launch of a man into orbit. The Soviets had already completed this task, because their A-7 rocket had greater thrust and could lift a heavier capsule. NASA's choice for lifting the Mercury capsule (1-man) into orbit would be the Atlas ICBM rocket, modified for safely carrying a human. There were still problems with this rocket, which had failed many times on the test launches. But looking even further, NASA planned to develop the Gemini program to launch a two-person craft into space, and for that NASA would need a very powerful rocket. Titan would end up serving that purpose years after Liberty Bell 7.

Minuteman-1 at a museum.

On July 27, 1961, the Air Force successfully launched another new ICBM rocket. The Minuteman-1 lifted off from the Cape Canaveral from its pad and continued downrange about 4,000 miles. This was the third test of this new ballistic missile. Minuteman would eventually add to, and later replace the Titan as our main silo-based nuclear deterrent. The advantage a Minuteman missile had over the Titan, was that Minuteman had a solid-fuel rocket engine and could thus be launched more quickly.

At the Cape, the Air Force used pads LC-15, 16, 19 and 20 for the Titan 1 program launches. The Minuteman LGC-30 Minuteman-1 program performed launches from Launch Complex 31. This complex would become famous many years, later, as the resting site of the remains of the space shuttle Challenger after its explosion and wreckage recovery.

LC-31 in 1961, with Minuteman-1 in place.

Lowering the remains of Challenger into the silo that would be constructed at LC-31. This site is visible today from the bus tour at the Cape Canaveral Air Force complex.

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