Between 1993 and 1996, test flights of an experimental, reusable, single-stage-to-orbit, vertical-takeoff-and landing rocket were conducted at White Sands Missile Range. The following excerpt from "Eyewitness to Flight---DC-X" was published in the Summer 1994 issue of The Journal of Practical Applications in Space." In it, a reporter describes the fifth test flight of the first version, the DC-X1. [This excerpt appeared in two monthly installments.]

The actual DC-X test site is three miles from the control trailers [and the viewing stands]. The theory is that even in the worst possible case, pieces won't fly that far, and the practice is that nobody but nobody gets closer than that when the bird [rocket] is flying, not even the pad crew, who spend tests watching form alongside the cars and service trucks lined up by the road, ready to race down to the pad the moment DC-X lands. This isn't like to Good Old Days, when they'd fly V-2s with gaggles of spectators within shouting distance of the launch stand. But then, they had some close calls in the olds days' now they prefer to err on the side of caution....

Right around 8:30 [a.m.], a few people really perked up as we heard "five.. four.. three.. two.. mark!" over the PA, but it was only the control trailer synchronizing clocks with the range....

At T minus three [seconds], the engines were started; there was what looked from that distance like the usual burst of flame from vented pre-cool hydrogen burning off. The first hint of anything unusual was a series of rapid pops over the PA. I really didn't think about it, though; I had a rocket to track, and sure enough, a couple of seconds later there it was in the [camcorder] view finder, a gray blob rising out of the launch smoke. It was at about that point that I started hearing people in the crowd saying something about pieces falling off.

Then we heard and felt a sharp double crack from the direction of the launch stand, and it was obvious something was wrong. I kept tracking the bird, listening to more talk of pieces falling off and not being able to see a thing. Then it seemed that I was tracking downwards sooner than I expected, and the bird was descending into a larger than normal smoke cloud, and the engines cut off, and then as the smoke and dust cleared we heard on the PA "the bird ... the bird is vertical!" as if this were a surprise. Sure enough it was upright---but on open ground, not on its paved landing pad. They had not planned to test the open desert landing capability that day....

Pete Conrad [a former Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab astronaut] came out [of the control room] first; he confirmed that there had been an explosion with considerable damage to the aeroshell, and told us that the vehicle had nevertheless shown as all systems healthy throughout the flight---he didn't hit the autoland to abort the flight until someone told him there's a hole in the side and we need to land!

Lt. Col. Sponable, the project manager, came up next and pointed out that this day's flight had been a success, it just wasn't the success they had planned for today. They hadn't planned to test the autoland routine or the open-ground landing capability anytime soon, but both had worked fine. He also pointed out that there had been another unexpected bonus: Now they knew they had a rocket that could land despite battle damage.
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This month's excerpt is from American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race by Douglas Brinkley. It refers to post-World War II rocket development in the United States, particularly relating to New Mexico. Note that Robert Goddard had spent the last ten years of his liquid-fuel rocket work in Roswell, New Mexico.

Created by Baltimore's Glenn L. Martin Company (later part of Lockheed Martin) in conjunction with the US Naval Research Laboratory, the Viking was built on the basis of the V-2 but was a distinctly American effort, even incorporating some ideas by the late Robert Goddard. "The US Navy wanted no part of the haughty Germans, no matter how talented they were," wrote historian and NASA veteran Doran Baker. The Viking was developed principally to gather upper atmospheric and ionospheric data that would help predict weather and would communicate via satellites. It would prove a  huge boon to America's military and commercial aviation industries in the coming decades. At the White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico, test launches of the Viking were able to carry research instruments to altitudes of up to 158 miles.

The US Army was continuing its own missile work, relying heavily on German technology and expertise from Fort Bliss. When the Dora-Mittelbau war crimes trial ensued in 1947 at Dachau, the US Army Ordnance Corps made it clear that the von Braun team (the Peenemunders) had eluded any charges. Unscathed by the Dachau trial, in the fall of 1948 von Braun's team began contemplating the development of Earth-orbiting satellites.... Documents from 1949 show that the RAND Corporation had convinced the Pentagon of the satellite's potential for surveillance, reconnaissance, communications, and intimidation, suggesting that the "mere presence in the sky of an artificial satellite would have a strong psychological effect on the potential enemy."
---
This excerpt is from History of Rocketry & Space Travel (Revised Edition) by Wernher von Braun and Frederick I. Ordway III. It refers to Operation Paperclip, in which German rocket scientists and engineers were brought to America after the fall of Nazi Germany in World War II. A large portion of them were based at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, while they conducted their rocket research with Americans at White Sands Proving Ground in southern New Mexico.

The main body of Germans began arriving at Fort Bliss in December 1945, and by February 1946 over a hundred were on hand. They were quartered in converted hospital buildings that gradually became more homelike....

To support the V-2 flights, Army Ordnance contracted for the services of the General Electric Company in what became known as the Hermes program. While the components of the missiles flown in 1946 were completely of German origin, increasing modifications were made from 1947 onward, primarily to accommodate larger and more complex payloads. By 1950 the V-2 rocket had been lengthened by 5 feet, increasing its payload capacity from 16 to 80 cubic feet.

The V-2 program, in addition to giving Americans experience in launching large vehicles, gave valuable information on every aspect of rocket flights and added considerably to information about the upper atmosphere. Most of the rockets were flown from White Sands, carrying instruments that measured atmospheric characteristics and the ionosphere. A V-2 carrying atmospheric sounding gear and a biological payload reached an altitude of 116 miles on 17 December 1946. The highest altitude attained was achieved on 22 August 1952, when vehicle TF-1, with no scientific instrumentation, flew to 133 miles above the New Mexico desert.
---
This excerpt is from "Port of Entry: An in-depth look at the history of White Sands Space Harbor," by Wayne Mattson. It was published in the March 2002 issue of New Mexico Space Journal. This portion discusses some of the reasons the airstrip (originally known as Northrup Strip) at White Sands Missile Range was chosen as a back-up landing strip and training facility for space shuttle missions.

Although it had not been chosen for primary [landing site] suty, Northrup Strip did become the site for shuttle pilot training for simulated approaches and landings. The excellent weather of southern New Mexico combined with the military control of surrounding air space (thus preventing potential collisions with civilian aircraft) were irresistable to the NASA planners. But, perhaps the most convincing factor to train at Northrup Strip was the lack of birds in the area. Birds are among the greatest hazards to aircraft. At Cape Canaveral in Florida sea birds are a constant concern, but the White Sands Missile Range lies in the arid Tularosa Basin where the number of birds are limited.
---
These quotes from Wernher von Braun are taken from the Golden Proverbs website. Von Braun worked in New Mexico from 1946 until 1950, improving liquid-fuel rocket development at White Sands Proving Ground.

We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming.

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing.

I have learned to use the word impossible with the greatest caution.

There is just one thing I can promise you about the outer-space program - your tax-dollar will go further.

Man is the best computer we can put aboard a spacecraft, and the only one that can be mass produced with unskilled labor.
        
It would be an error to overlook the possibility that the universe was planned rather than happening by chance
.
New Mexico's
Space Voices Archives

New Mexico's Space Voices Archives
2020 Voices entries will be archived here each month.

2020 Voices entries will be archived here each month.
Between 1993 and 1996, test flights of an experimental, reusable, single-stage-to-orbit, vertical-takeoff-and landing rocket were conducted at White Sands Missile Range. The following excerpt from "Eyewitness to Flight---DC-X" was published in the Summer 1994 issue of The Journal of Practical Applications in Space." In it, a reporter describes the fifth test flight of the first version, the DC-X1.

The actual DC-X test site is three miles from the control trailers [and the viewing stands]. The theory is that even in the worst possible case, pieces won't fly that far, and the practice is that nobody but nobody gets closer than that when the bird [rocket] is flying, not even the pad crew, who spend tests watching form alongside the cars and service trucks lined up by the road, ready to race down to the pad the moment DC-X lands. This isn't like to Good Old Days, when they'd fly V-2s with gaggles of spectators within shouting distance of the launch stand. But then, they had some close calls in the olds days' now they prefer to err on the side of caution....

Right around 8:30 [a.m.], a few people really perked up as we heard "five.. four.. three.. two.. mark!" over the PA, but it was only the control trailer synchronizing clocks with the range....

At T minus three [seconds], the engines were started; there was what looked from that distance like the usual burst of flame from vented pre-cool hydrogen burning off. The first hint of anything unusual was a series of rapid pops over the PA. I really didn't think about it, though; I had a rocket to track, and sure enough, a couple of seconds later there it was in the [camcorder] view finder, a gray blob rising out of the launch smoke. It was at about that point that I started hearing people in the crowd saying something about pieces falling off.

Then we heard and felt a sharp double crack from the direction of the launch stand, and it was obvious something was wrong. I kept tracking the bird, listening to more talk of pieces falling off and not being able to see a thing. Then it seemed that I was tracking downwards sooner than I expected, and the bird was descending into a larger than normal smoke cloud, and the engines cut off, and then as the smoke and dust cleared we heard on the PA "the bird ... the bird is vertical!" as if this were a surprise. Sure enough it was upright---but on open ground, not on its paved landing pad. They had not planned to test the open desert landing capability that day....

Pete Conrad [a former Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab astronaut] came out [of the control room] first; he confirmed that there had been an explosion with considerable damage to the aeroshell, and told us that the vehicle had nevertheless shown as all systems healthy throughout the flight---he didn't hit the autoland to abort the flight until someone told him there's a hole in the side and we need to land!

Lt. Col. Sponable, the project manager, came up next and pointed out that this day's flight had been a success, it just wasn't the success they had planned for today. They hadn't planned to test the autoland routine or the open-ground landing capability anytime soon, but both had worked fine. He also pointed out that there had been another unexpected bonus: Now they knew they had a rocket that could land despite battle damage.

---
This month's excerpt is from American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race by Douglas Brinkley. It refers to post-World War II rocket development in the United States, particularly relating to New Mexico. Note that Robert Goddard had spent the last ten years of his liquid-fuel rocket work in Roswell, New Mexico.

Created by Baltimore's Glenn L. Martin Company (later part of Lockheed Martin) in conjunction with the US Naval Research Laboratory, the Viking was built on the basis of the V-2 but was a distinctly American effort, even incorporating some ideas by the late Robert Goddard. "The US Navy wanted no part of the haughty Germans, no matter how talented they were," wrote historian and NASA veteran Doran Baker. The Viking was developed principally to gather upper atmospheric and ionospheric data that would help predict weather and would communicate via satellites. It would prove a  huge boon to America's military and commercial aviation industries in the coming decades. At the White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico, test launches of the Viking were able to carry research instruments to altitudes of up to 158 miles.

The US Army was continuing its own missile work, relying heavily on German technology and expertise from Fort Bliss. When the Dora-Mittelbau war crimes trial ensued in 1947 at Dachau, the US Army Ordnance Corps made it clear that the von Braun team (the Peenemunders) had eluded any charges. Unscathed by the Dachau trial, in the fall of 1948 von Braun's team began contemplating the development of Earth-orbiting satellites.... Documents from 1949 show that the RAND Corporation had convinced the Pentagon of the satellite's potential for surveillance, reconnaissance, communications, and intimidation, suggesting that the "mere presence in the sky of an artificial satellite would have a strong psychological effect on the potential enemy."

---
This excerpt is from History of Rocketry & Space Travel (Revised Edition) by Wernher von Braun and Frederick I. Ordway III. It refers to Operation Paperclip, in which German rocket scientists and engineers were brought to America after the fall of Nazi Germany in World War II. A large portion of them were based at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, while they conducted their rocket research with Americans at White Sands Proving Ground in southern New Mexico.

The main body of Germans began arriving at Fort Bliss in December 1945, and by February 1946 over a hundred were on hand. They were quartered in converted hospital buildings that gradually became more homelike....

To support the V-2 flights, Army Ordnance contracted for the services of the General Electric Company in what became known as the Hermes program. While the components of the missiles flown in 1946 were completely of German origin, increasing modifications were made from 1947 onward, primarily to accommodate larger and more complex payloads. By 1950 the V-2 rocket had been lengthened by 5 feet, increasing its payload capacity from 16 to 80 cubic feet.

The V-2 program, in addition to giving Americans experience in launching large vehicles, gave valuable information on every aspect of rocket flights and added considerably to infromation about the upper atmosphere. Most of the rockets were flown from White Sands, carrying instruments that measured atmospheric characteristics and the ionosphere. A V-2 carrying atmospheric sounding gear and a biological payload reached an altitude of 116 miles on 17 December 1946. The highest altitude attained was achieved on 22 August 1952, when vehicle TF-1, with no scientific instrumentation, flew to 133 miles above the New Mexico desert.

---
This excerpt is from "Port of Entry: An in-depth look at the history of White Sands Space Harbor," by Wayne Mattson. It was published in the March 2002 issue of New Mexico Space Journal. This portion discusses some of the reasons the airstrip (originally known as Northrup Strip) at White Sands Missile Range was chosen as a back-up landing strip and training facility for space shuttle missions.

Although it had not been chosen for primary [landing site] suty, Northrup Strip did become the site for shuttle pilot training for simulated approaches and landings. The excellent weather of southern New Mexico combined with the military control of surrounding air space (thus preventing potential collisions with civilian aircraft) were irresistable to the NASA planners. But, perhaps the most convincing factor to train at Northrup Strip was the lack of birds in the area. Birds are among the greatest hazards to aircraft. At Cape Canaveral in Florida sea birds are a constant concern, but the White Sands Missile Range lies in the arid Tularosa Basin where the number of birds are limited.

---
These quotes from Wernher von Braun are taken from the Golden Proverbs website. Von Braun worked in New Mexico from 1946 until 1950, improving liquid-fuel rocket development at White Sands Proving Ground.

We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming.

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing.

I have learned to use the word impossible with the greatest caution.

There is just one thing I can promise you about the outer-space program - your tax-dollar will go further.

Man is the best computer we can put aboard a spacecraft, and the only one that can be mass produced with unskilled labor.

        
It would be an error to overlook the possibility that the universe was planned rather than happening by chance.
 Home

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Photo Credits
Robert Goddard towing one of his rockets to the launch site near Roswell about 1931, courtesy of NASA.

WhiteKnightTwo carrying SpaceShipTwo at Spaceport America runway dedication flyover, photo by Loretta Hall.
Unless otherwise credited, all material on this site is © Loretta Hall 2010-2020.