Sunday, November 17, 2013

Wallops Island Rocket Garden

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Outside the of NASA's Wallops Island visitor center are a few old rockets on display. It's nothing on the scale of the rocket garden at Kennedy Space Center, but the displays were kind of interesting so I took a few photos. And thanks to the magic of the interwebs, I can tell you a little more about some of them.

The (relatively) big rocket out front is a Little Joe, which was used in 1959-1960 to test the launch escape system for NASA's Mercury capsule. After some early hiccups, these test launches were conducted here at Wallops Island (including a couple with monkeys on board), before the Mercury program moved to Cape Canaveral for "real" launches. Apparently this is one of only two or three surviving examples of the rocket, since very few were built in the first place. The odd name for the rocket refers to a particular dice combination in craps, supposedly because the rocket engine arrangement reminded someone of it. I doubt you could get away with a name like that in 2013, but I imagine gambling references seemed quite applicable to rockets in 1959. Anyway, here's a documentary about the Little Joe program:

Little Joe: Mercury's First Steps from James Duffy on Vimeo.

The other rockets on the grounds are smaller sounding rockets, used for suborbital research into space or the upper atmosphere. There's an Aerobee 150, which was used from 1946 thru 1985. A vintage Air Force film details an Aerobee test flight at White Sands, NM, studying the effects of zero gravity on mice and monkeys:

Nearby is an Astrobee F, a solid-fueled successor to the Aerobee 150, which was used 1972-1983. Elsewhere on the grounds are a Nike-Cajun sounding rocket, and something the signs just call a "Four Stage Reentry Vehicle". Based on a little googling, this might be a Trailblazer II rocket, which was used to study the physics of objects reentering the atmosphere at high speed.

I think I may have missed a rocket or two on the grounds. A 1994 Usenet thread in rec.models.rocketry mentions a Scout D rocket here. The Scout was a solid-fueled rocket used to launch satellites from Wallops Island and elsewhere from 1960 thru 1994. I'm pretty sure they don't have one of those now; It's much taller than even the Little Joe rocket and I'm fairly sure I would have noticed it. In any event, here's a two-part documentary about the Scout program, made around the time the program was starting to wind down:

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