29 May 1947: At 1930 hours, Mountain Daylight Time, a Hermes II two-stage, liquid-fueled rocket was launched from Launch Complex 33 at southern end of the White Sands Proving Grounds, east of Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Earlier in the day, a launch attempt failed when the first stage engine failed to produce thrust. Repairs were made and the second attempt succeeded—sort of. . .
The plan was for the rocket to arc toward the north, heading for the far end of the proving grounds. Instead, the Hermes II arced to the SOUTH.
The Range Safety Officer was prevented from sending a DESTRUCT signal when a program scientist physically restrained him. The rocket peaked at 35 nautical miles (65 kilometers), passed over Fort Bliss and El Paso, and after about five minutes of flight, hit the ground about one-half mile from the Buena Vista Airport in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.
At impact, the rocket dug a crater 50 feet (15.2 meters) across and 24 feet (7.3 meters) deep. The explosion shook buildings in El Paso and 25 miles (40 kilometers) away in Fabens, Texas. The rocket barely missed a powder magazine where mining companies were storing dynamite and other explosives.
Fortunately, there were no injuries, and property damage was minor.
Hermes II was the world’s first multi-stage rocket. Developed from the German V-2 rocket (Vergeltungswaffen 2), it was intended to serve as a test bed for ramjet testing. The span of the fins were increased to improve stability. The upper stage had a broad wing the flight tests with the ramjet. (For this launch the ramjet was not operational.)
The Hermes II was 51.50 feet (15.70 meters) tall. The tail fins had a span of 17.75 feet (5.41 meters), and the second stage wing span was 15.26 feet (4.65 meters). The rocket had a gross weight of 31,750 Pounds (14,400 kilograms). The liquid oxygen/alcohol-fueled engine produced 60,000 pounds of thrust (267 kilonewtons).
In 1948, the Hermes II was redesignated RTV-G-3 by the U.S. Army.
15 April 1970, 01:09:40 UTC: T plus 077:56:40.0: The Apollo 13 Saturn S-IVB-508 third stage impacted the surface of The Moon north of Mare Cognitum. (S. 2° 33′ 00″, W. 27° 52′ 48″)The S-IVB hit the lunar surface at a velocity of 2.58 kilometers per second (5,771 miles per hour). The impact energy was 4.63 x 1017 ergs (1.04 kiloton).
The impact was detected by seismometers placed on the Moon by Apollo 12 astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean. This was part of the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package, or ALSEP.
The Apollo 12 seismometer was located 135 kilometers (83.9 miles) from the Apollo 13 third stage impact. The signals were used to calibrate the instrument package, which was in service from 1969 to 1977.
The Saturn V third stage was designated Saturn S-IVB. It was built by Douglas Aircraft Company at Huntington Beach, California. The S-IVB was 58 feet, 7 inches (17.86 meters) tall with a diameter of 21 feet, 8 inches (6.604 meters). It had a dry weight of 23,000 pounds (10,000 kilograms) and fully fueled weighed 262,000 pounds (118,841 kilograms). The third stage had one Rocketdyne J-2 engine which used liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for propellant. Itproduced 232,250 pounds of thrust (1,033.10 kilonewtons). The S-IVB would place the Command and Service Module into Low Earth Orbit, then, when all was ready, the J-2 would be restarted for the Trans Lunar Injection.
28 March 1935: Near Roswell, New Mexico, Robert H. Goddard successfully launched the first gyroscopically-stabilized liquid-fueled rocket. In a 20-second flight, the A Series rocket, number A-5, reached an altitude of 4,800 feet (1,463 meters) and traveled 13,000 feet (3,962 meters) down range. Its speed was 550 miles per hour (885 kilometers per hour).
The A Series rockets were of varying lengths and mass. The representative A-series rocket displayed at the National Air and Space Museum is 15 feet, 4½ inches (468.63 centimeters) long with a diameter of 9 inches (22.86 centimeters). The span across the fins is 1 foot, 9½ inches (54.61 centimeters). It weighs 78.5 pounds (35.6 kilograms). The rocket was fueled with gasoline and liquid oxygen, pressurized with nitrogen.
A gyroscope controlled vanes placed in the engine’s exhaust, providing stabilization during powered flight.
The National Air and Space Museum describes the rocket’s construction: “Aluminum skin, thin gauge, a long tail section from bottom of fins to bottom of mid-section. Aluminum skin also on parachute section and nosecone wholly of spun aluminum except for steel attachment screw. Steel skin (for greater strength and insulation) below nosecone, over mid-section (over propellant tanks), and around small section above fins. One steel tube or pipe on each side of rocket, along propellant section; one smaller diameter copper tube on one side. Steel nozzle and other interior components. Fabric parachute.”
Goddard is the “Father of Modern Rocketry.” Many of his developments were copied by German engineers as they developed the V2 rocket of World War II. And this led to America’s own post-War rocket developments, including the mighty Saturn V moon rocket.
23 March 1912: Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun, rocket engineer, was born at Wyrzysk, Province of Posen, in the German Empire, in what is now Poland. He was the second of three children of Magnus Alexander Maximillian von Braun, head of the Posen provincial government, and Emmy Melitta Cécile von Quistorp.
Wernher von Braun originally wanted to be a musician and composer, having learned to play the cello and piano at an early age. After reading a speculative book on space flight, though, his interests shifted.
In 1929, the 17-year-old von Braun joined Verein für Raumshiffahrt, the German rocketry association. He worked with Hermann Oberth in testing liquid-fueled rockets, based on successful rockets designed by Dr. Robert H. Goddard in the United States.
Von Braun graduated from Technische Hochschule Berlin in 1932, with a degree in mechanical engineering (Diplom-Ingenieur). Two years later, he received a doctorate in physics (Dr. phil.) at Friederich-Wilhelm University of Berlin. He also studied at ETH Zürich.
In Germany before World War II, Dr.-Ing. von Braun worked on the problems of liquid-fueled rockets and developed the Aggregat series of rockets, including the A4, which would become known as the V-2 (Vegeltungswaffe 2) military rocket. The German Army’s Ordnance Department gave von Braun a grant to further study liquid-fueled rockets, which he pursued at an artillery range at Kummersdorf, just south of Berlin. As rocketry work expanded, the tests were eventually moved to the Peenemünde Military Test Site on the island of Usedom on the Baltic coast, where von Braun was technical director under Colonel Dr. Ing. Walter R. Dornberger.
The first successful launch of the A4 took place 3 October 1942. By the end of World War II, Nazi Germany had launched more than 3,200 V-2 rockets against Belgium, England, France and The Netherlands.
As World War II in Europe came to a close and the collapse of Nazi Germany was imminent, von Braun had to choose between being captured by the Soviet Red Army or by the Allies. He surrendered to the 324th Infantry Regiment, 44th Infantry Division, United States Army in the Bavarian Alps, 2 May 1945.
Under Operation Paperclip, Wernher von Braun and many other scientists, engineers and technicians were brought to the United States to work with the U.S. Army’s ballistic missile program at Fort Bliss, Texas, White Sands Proving Grounds, New Mexico, and the Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama.
Sufficient parts and materiel and been transferred from Germany to construct more than one hundred V-2 rockets for testing at White Sands. Over a five year period, there were 67 successful launches, but it is considered that as much knowledge was gained from failures as successes.
In 1950, von Braun and his team were sent to Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama, where they worked on more advanced rockets. The first production rocket was the short-range ballistic missile, the SSM-A-14 Redstone, which was later designated PGM-11. This rocket was capable of carrying a 3.8 megaton W39 warhead approximately 200 miles (322 kilometers) The first Redstone was launched at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, 20 August 1953.
Modified Redstone MRLV rockets were used to launch the first Mercury spacecraft with NASA astronauts Alan Shepherd and Gus Grissom. Von Braun later worked on the U.S. Army’s Jupiter-A intermediate range ballistic missile. A modified Jupiter-C was used to launch Explorer 1, the United States’ first satellite.
Wernher von Braun traveled to Germany in 1947 to marry his cousin, Maria Irmengard Emmy Luise Gisela von Quistorp, and then returned to the United States. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States of America in 1955.
In 1960 von Braun and hist team were transferred from the Army Ballistic Missile Agency to NASA’s new Marshall Space Flight Center at Redstone Arsenal. He was now able to pursue his original interest, manned flight into space. Work proceeded on the Saturn rocket series, which were intended to lift heavy payloads into Earth orbit. This resulted in the Saturn A, Saturn B and the Saturn C series, ultimately becoming the Saturn V moon rocket.
With the Apollo Program coming to an end, Dr. von Braun left NASA in 1972. A year later, he was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Wernher von Braun died of pancreatic cancer, 17 June 1977 at the age of 65 years.
16 March 1926: At 2:30 in the afternoon, Robert Hutchings Goddard, Ph.D., a professor in physics at Clark University, launched the first successful liquid-fueled rocket from his Aunt Effie’s farm (the Asa Ward Farm) at Auburn, Massachussetts.
In his diary, Dr. Goddard wrote:
“March 16. Went to Auburn with S [Henry Sachs] in am. E[Esther Christine Kisk Goddard] and Mr. Roope [Percy M. Roope, Ph.D.] came out at 1 p.m. Tried rocket at 2:30. It rose 41 feet & went 184 feet in 2.5 secs., after the lower half of the nozzle burned off. . . .”
The following day, he described the rocket flight in greater detail:
“”The first flight with a rocket using liquid propellants was made yesterday at Aunt Effie’s farm in Auburn. The day was clear and comparatively quiet. The anemometer on the Physics lab was turning leisurely when Mr. Sachs and I left in the morning, and was turning as leisurely when we returned at 5:30 pm. Even though the release was pulled, the rocket did not rise at first, but the flame came out, and there was a steady roar. After a number of seconds it rose, slowly until it cleared the frame, and then at express train speed, curving over to the left, and striking the ice and snow, still going at a rapid rate. It looked almost magical as it rose, without any appreciably greater noise or flame, as if it said ‘I’ve been here long enough; I think I’ll be going somewhere else, if you don’t mind.’ Esther said that it looked like a fairy or an aesthetic dancer, as it started off. The sky was clear, for the most part, with large shadowy white clouds, but late in the afternoon there was a large pink cloud in the west, over which the sun shone. One of the surprising (the rest of this sentence is from the next image) things was the absence of smoke, the lack of very loud roar, and the smallness of the flame.”
The rocket, called Nell,¹ was fueled by gasoline and liquid oxygen. It was 11 feet, 3 inches (3.429 meters) tall and weighed approximately 10.4 pounds (4.7 kilograms) when fueled. The engine produced an estimated 9 pounds (40 newtons) of thrust.
¹ Nell was a reference to the title character, “Salvation Nell,” from a 1908 play by Edward Brewster Sheldon. The character was portrayed by a leading actress of the time, Minnie Maddern Fiske, née Maria Augusta Davey, and popularly known simply as “Mrs. Fiske.”