There is a technology holds a path to both our planet’s total annihilation and a path toward freeing us from it. This technology is rocketry. A tremendous tool for both exploration and potential destruction.

The rocket which put the first two Mercury astronauts into space was the same system that launched the United State’s first satelitte and the first rocket-mounted nuclear weapon. My reading up until now1 hasn’t made this connection explicit, though I have been looking not at histories of rocket technology but histories of the most charismatic usage to which rocket technology has been put: crewed spaceflight.

What follows is a superficial summary of the earliest successful rocket program undertaken by the United States of America. I’ve not really past the goal I’ve set for myself in these essays to surpass much of Wikipedia’s depth or overcome its skittishness on taking a position on things.

it was a product largely built from components proven in earlier research and because its builders’ knowledge of missile technology was acquired, to a great extent, through earlier projects, the Redstone’s story began with the establishment of the Department of the Army’s missile research and development program.2

Bullard is of course writing on behalf of the Army Missle Command, which is based at Redstone Arsenal, AL the place which gives its name to the family of rockets. We expect that Bullard will trace a direct line from War-time missile systems to the Redstone system. Other reading on Wikipedia suggests that the U.S.’s wartime missle programs were almost completely perfunctory, though that the seperatly developed Atlas rocket was responsible for the majority of the Mercury flights, I’m unsure how that claim holds water. Surely rocket programs during the war were perfunctory as reading on the Manhattan Project suggests that it was that program which skimmed the cream of science & engineering talent during the war. It is perhaps important to see the distance between Operation Paperclip when VonBraun and his team arrived here and when the first test flights began.

Comparison of Redstone-derived vehicles

The redstone, in its various incarnations was the launch vehicle on several ground-breaking launches:

  • Mercury Redstone 3 & 4: Shpard & Grissom.
  • Operations Hardtack Teak & Orange.
  • Explorer 1.

There is more here I haven’t gotten to about the development & use of this particular system but this post has been sitting too long in my drafts folder unpublished & unpolished. Still also kicking the tires in jekyll and figuring out how things all hook up & how I want things to be organized both for myself and for the site itself. I’ve got the site under version control, so that should make pushing updates easier.

  1. A fairly minimal, unstructured reading: lots of wikipedia articles, Wolfe’s The Right Stuff

  2. John W. Bullard, “History of the Redstone Missile System.” I’m hosting a copy of the PDF here. The Redstone Armory’s copy is here. Bullard’s history is cited in Chapter 1, Section 5 of This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury, which has a number of other interesting details about the Mercury-Redstone platform’s history.