Tag Archives: Cape Canaveral

24 July 1950

Bumper 8 launch at Launch Complex 3, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, 24 July 1950. The wooden structure in the foreground houses the firing crew and support personnel. (NASA)

24 July 1950: The first rocket launch at Cape Canaveral, Florida, took place. Bumper 8 was a two-stage rocket consisting of a captured German V-2 ballistic missile as the first stage and a WAC Corporal sounding rocket as the upper, second, stage. The rocket lifted off from Launch Complex 3 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and followed a ballistic trajectory over the Joint Long Range Proving Ground. This was a low-angle atmospheric flight. The WAC Corporal reached an altitude of 10 miles (16.1 kilometers) and traveled 200 miles (322 kilometers) downrange.

The Bumper Project was a U.S. Army Ordnance Corps program, with overall responsibility contracted to the General Electric Corporation. The V-2s used in the Bumper Project were modified at accept the WAC Corporal second stage. Compressed air was used to separate the stages after the V-2 engine was cut off.

The V2, or Vergeltungswaffen 2 (also known as the A4, Aggregat 4) was a ballistic missile weighing 28,000 pounds (12,500 kilograms) when fully loaded. It carried a 2,200 pound (1,000 kilogram) explosive warhead of amatol, a mixture of TNT and ammonium nitrate. Propellant was a 75/25 mixture of of ethanol and water with liquid oxygen as oxidizer.

When launched, the rocket engine burned for 65 seconds, accelerating the rocket to 3,580 miles per hour (5,761 kilometers per hour) on a ballistic trajectory. The maximum range of the rocket was 200 miles (322 kilometers) with a peak altitude between 88 and 128 miles (142–206 kilometers), depending on the desired range. On impact, the rocket was falling at 1,790 miles per hour (2,881 kilometers per hour).

The V-2 could only hit a general area and was not militarily effective. Germany used it against England, France, The Netherlands and Belgium as a terror weapon. More than 3,200 V-2 rockets were launched against these countries.

At the end of World War II, many V-2 rockets and components were captured by Allied forces and were brought to the United States for research, along with many of the German engineers, scientists and technicians who had worked on the German rocket program. Others were captured by the Soviet army.

Bumper 8 supported by a gantry at Launch Complex 3, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. (U.S. Army)

The WAC Corporal was a liquid-fueled hypergolic rocket. After separation from the first stage, the WAC Corporal was capable of reaching more than 80 miles (129 kilometers). It was designed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and built by Douglas Aircraft. The rocket carried small research packages into the upper atmosphere. The two-stage rocket was used to develop launch techniques and to refine the separation of upper stages at very high speed.

Now named the Kennedy Space Center, but known simply as “The Cape,” the location was selected to allow rocket testing to take place over the Atlantic Ocean, minimizing danger to persons and property. As one of the points within the United States closest to the Equator, rockets launched on an eastward trajectory receive additional velocity due to the Earth’s rotation.

Launch Pad 3 at Cape Canaveral, circa 1950. A rocket is on the pad surrounded by the gantry structure. (U.S. Air Force)
Launch Complex 3 at Cape Canaveral, 28 July 1950. The Bumper 7 two-stage rocket is on the pad surrounded by a gantry structure. It was launched the day after this photograph was taken. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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21 July 2011, 21:54:00 UTC

Atlantis touches down at the Shuttle Landing Facility, 0554 EDT, 21 July 2011. (NASA)
Atlantis touches down at the Shuttle Landing Facility, 0554 EDT, 21 July 2011. (NASA)

21 July 2011, 5:54:00 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, (21:54:00 UTC) Space Shuttle Atlantis on mission STS-135, landed at Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida. Wheel stop was 5:57:54 a.m., EDT.

This 13-day mission had been the thirty-third flight for Atlantis. It had spent a total of 307 days in Earth orbit.

This brought to a close The Era of American Manned Space Flight which began 50 years, 2 months, 15 days, 20 hours, 23 minutes, 41 seconds earlier with the launch of Alan Shepard in Freedom 7, 5 May 1961, 09:34:13 EST.

The benefits of the NASA programs over these decades are immeasurable.

Space Shuttle Atlantis main wheel stop. (NASA)
Space Shuttle Atlantis main wheel stop. (NASA)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 July 1965

14 July 1965: At 8:00:57 a.m., EST, 7 months, 14 days after its launch from the Kennedy Space Center, the space probe Mariner 4 made its closest approach to Mars. It came within 6,080 miles (9,846 kilometers) of the surface and took 21 full digital images and a portion of a 22nd. These images were stored on magnetic tape and later transmitted to Earth. 5.6 million bits of data were received.

Mariner 4 was a 574 pound (260.68 kilogram) interplanetary spacecraft, controlled by radio signals from Earth. It was launched 28 November 1964 from Launch Complex 12 at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida. The launch vehicle was a three-stage liquid-fueled Atlas D/Agena rocket. Mariner 4 continued to perform experiments and send signals back to Earth until 21 December 1967. It was 192,100,000 miles (309,154,982.4 kilometers) from home. Today, it is in orbit around the sun.

Mariner 4 digital image of Mars surface, 14 July 1965. (NASA)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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5 May 1961, 13:34:13.48 UTC, T plus 00:00:00.48

Mercury-Redstone 3 launches from LC-5, 09:34:13 EST, 5 May 1961. (NASA)
Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr., astronaut. (NASA)
Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr., Astronaut. (NASA)

At 09:34:13.48 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, 5 May 1961, Mercury-Redstone 3 lifted off from Launch Complex 5 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida. On board was NASA Astronaut, Commander Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr., United States Navy. Shepard had named his spacecraft Freedom 7.

This was the very first time that an American had been carried into space aboard a rocket and came 23 days after Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin had completed one orbit of the Earth.

During the launch, acceleration reached 6.3 gs. The Redstone’s engine shut down at T+02:22, with the rocket having reached a velocity of 6,414 feet per second (1,955 meters per second). 10 seconds later, the Mercury spacecraft separated from the Redstone booster. The spacecraft’s maximum speed was 5,134 miles per hour (8,262.4 kilometers per hour). For the next 5 minutes, 4 seconds, Alan Shepard was “weightless.” Freedom 7 reached a peak altitude of 101.2 nautical miles (187.4 kilometers), 0.9 nautical miles (1.7 kilometers) higher than planned.

Alan B. Shepard, Jr., seated in the cockpit of Freedom 7 before launch, 5 May 1961. (NASA)

Alan Shepard’s flight was suborbital. The rocket launched the capsule on a ballistic trajectory. During the flight, Shepard demonstrated the use of manually controlled thrusters to orient the Mercury capsule in three axes.

Freedom 7 began reentry to the atmosphere at T+07:38. Deceleration forces reached 11.0 gs. Shepard manually controlled the vehicle’s attitude, and once correctly oriented for reentry, reverted to automatic control. With the blunt (bottom) end of the spacecraft forward, aerodynamic drag slowed the capsule. A spherical-segment ablative heat shield protected the space ship and its passenger.

On reaching the lower atmosphere, the capsule’s speed was reduced by a 63-foot (19.2 meter) diameter ring-sail parachute, and a “landing bag” deployed from the base of the spacecraft to provide an impact cushion. The landing, or “splash down,” took place in the Atlantic Ocean, 263.1 nautical miles (487.3 kilometers) down range, 6.8 nautical miles (12.6 kilometers) farther than planned. (N. 75° 53′, W. 27° 13.7′)

The total duration of Alan Shepard’s flight was 15 minutes, 28 seconds.

Alan B. Shepard, Jr., being hoisted aboard the Sikorsky HUS-1 helicopter, N. 75° 53′, W. 27° 13.7′, in the Atlantic Ocean, 5 May 1961. (NASA)

Eleven minutes after splash down, Commander Shepard was hoisted from the capsule to a hovering U.S. Marine Corps HUS-1 Sea Horse (Sikorsky S-58) helicopter of Marine Helicopter Transport Squadron (Light) 262 (HMR(L)-262). The helicopter then lifted the Mercury capsule and flew to the nearby U.S. Navy Ticonderoga-class anti-submarine aircraft carrier, USS Lake Champlain (CVS-39). The Mercury capsule returned to Cape Canaveral for inspection and found to be in excellent condition.

U.S. Marine Corps HUS-1 Sea Horse (Sikorsky S-58) of HMR(L)-262 hovers while hoisting Alan Shepard from the Freedom 7 after his sub-orbital flight, 5 May 1961. The Mercury capsule will also be lifted from the ocean by the helicopter and carried to USS Lake Champlain (CVS-39). (NASA)
USS Lake Champlain (CVS-39), 1 July 1960. (U.S. Navy)

Freedom 7 was the seventh of twenty Mercury capsules built by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation at St. Louis, Missouri, which would also build the follow-on, two-place Gemini spacecraft. It was delivered to Cape Canaveral 9 December 1960. The space capsule was truncated cone with sides angled 20° from the longitudinal axis. It was 6 feet, 10 inches (2.083 meters) long and had a maximum diameter of 6 feet, 2.50 inches (1.892 meters). The total height of the spacecraft, from the tip of the aero spike to the booster adapter, was 26 feet, 1.26 inches (7.957 meters). At launch, Mercury 7 weighed 4,040.28 pounds (1,832.64 kilograms).

Project Mercury spacecraft under construction at McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri. (NASA)

During flight outside the atmosphere, the Mercury spacecraft could be controlled in its pitch, roll and yaw axes by hydrogen peroxide-fueled reaction control thrusters. Both manual and automatic attitude control were available. It could not accelerate or decelerate (except for reentry) so it could not change its orbit.

The spacecraft cabin was pressurized to 5.5 psi with 100% oxygen. The pilot wore a B.F. Goodrich Mark IV Model 3 Type I full-pressure suit and flight helmet for protection in the event that cabin pressure was lost.

The Redstone MRLV rocket was a redesigned, “man rated” version of the Chrysler-built, United States Army M8 medium-range nuclear-armed ballistic missile. It was lengthened to provide greater fuel capacity, a pressurized instrumentation section was added, the control systems were simplified for greater reliability, and an inflight abort sensing system was installed. The rocket fuel was changed from hydrazine to ethyl alcohol. The cylindrical booster was  59.00 feet (17.983 meters) long and 5 feet, 10 inches (1.778 meters) in diameter. The rocket had four guidance fins with rudders mounted at the tail section. (Interestingly, the Redstone stood freely on the launch pad. No hold-downs were used. The guidance fins supported the entire weight of the vehicle.)

Compare the U.S. Army M8 Redstone medium-range ballistic missile in this photograph to the Mercury-Redstone launch vehicle in the photograph above. This rocket, CC-1002, was the first Block 1 tactical rocket, photographed at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, 16 May 1958. (NASA)

The Redstone MRLV was powered by a single NAA 75-110-A7 liquid-fueled engine built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation, Inc., at Canoga Park, California. The A7 produced 78,000 pounds of thrust (346.96 kilonewtons) at Sea Level, and 89,000 pounds (395.89 kilonewtons) in vacuum, burning ethyl alcohol with liquid oxygen.

The total vehicle height of Mercury-Redstone 3, including the booster, adapter, capsule and escape tower, was 83.38 feet (25.414 meters). The total vehicle launch weight was 65,987 pounds (29,931.2 kilograms).

Alan B. Shepard, Jr. is credited with two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World records for this flight:

FAI Record File Num #9519 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – current record
Region: World
Class: K (Space records)
Sub-Class: K-1 (Suborbital missions)
Category: Spacecraft with one astronaut
Group: General category
Type of record: Altitude
Performance: 186.307 km
Date: 1961-05-05
Course/Location: Cape Canaveral, FL (USA)
Claimant Alan B. Shepard, Jr (USA)
Spacecraft: NASA Mercury Redstone MR-7 / Capsule Mercury Spacecraft n°7

FAI Record File Num #9520 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – current record
Region: World
Class: K (Space records)
Sub-Class: K-1 (Suborbital missions)
Category: Spacecraft with one astronaut
Group: General category
Type of record: Greatest mass lifted to altitude
Performance: 1 832.51 kg
Date: 1961-05-05
Course/Location: Cape Canaveral, FL (USA)
Claimant Alan B. Shepard, Jr (USA)
Spacecraft: NASA Mercury Redstone MR-7 / Capsule Mercury Spacecraft n°7

The flight of Freedom 7 was the first manned spaceflight in the 50-year history of the NASA program.¹ Alan Shepard would later command Apollo 14, the third successful manned lunar landing mission, in 1971.

Alan Shepard’s Mercury spacecraft, Freedom 7, is on display at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, Massachusetts.

Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 on display at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, Massachusetts.

¹  From liftoff of Mercury-Redstone 3 until wheel stop of Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-135), the era of NASA’s Manned Spaceflight Programs lasted 50 years, 2 months, 15 days, 20 hours, 23 minutes, 41 seconds.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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