America's Manned Space Vehicles - Part 1 - CBS 3 Springfield - WSHM

America's Manned Space Vehicles - Part 1

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On May 5, 1961, the U.S.' first manned spaceflight, Mercury-Redstone 3 is launched from Cape Canaveral, FL, on a sub-orbital mission. Astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr. was the pilot of the Mercury spacecraft, designated Freedom. (Source: NASA) On May 5, 1961, the U.S.' first manned spaceflight, Mercury-Redstone 3 is launched from Cape Canaveral, FL, on a sub-orbital mission. Astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr. was the pilot of the Mercury spacecraft, designated Freedom. (Source: NASA)
With astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. aboard, the Friendship 7/Mercury Atlas 6 spacecraft lifts off from Cape Canaveral, FL, on Feb. 20, 1962. (Source: NASA) With astronaut John H. Glenn Jr. aboard, the Friendship 7/Mercury Atlas 6 spacecraft lifts off from Cape Canaveral, FL, on Feb. 20, 1962. (Source: NASA)
The Titan II missile was converted to the Gemini-Titan spacecraft and used for all of Project Gemini's 10 missions. (Source: NASA) The Titan II missile was converted to the Gemini-Titan spacecraft and used for all of Project Gemini's 10 missions. (Source: NASA)
U.S. Senator George Smathers, D-FL, and President John F. Kennedy look over the Saturn I at Pad B, Complex 37, Cape Canaveral. (Source: The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library)) U.S. Senator George Smathers, D-FL, and President John F. Kennedy look over the Saturn I at Pad B, Complex 37, Cape Canaveral. (Source: The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library))
The Mercury-Atlas (front), laid on its side, is joined by various other rockets, including the Mercury-Redstone (with the red eject tower) and the Saturn IB (furthest back). (Source: J. Sebe Dale IV) The Mercury-Atlas (front), laid on its side, is joined by various other rockets, including the Mercury-Redstone (with the red eject tower) and the Saturn IB (furthest back). (Source: J. Sebe Dale IV)

(RNN) - With the retirement of America's last space shuttle just days away, we await the announcement of its replacement.

From capsules strapped to expendable rockets to the renewable space shuttle, NASA has developed and used many launching vehicles in its 50-year history to hurl men and women into space.

Missiles: The First Manned Rockets

The space race was born from an arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The country that could show military superiority in the ability to launch their nuclear arsenals at any desired target worldwide would determine the winner of this race.

With aid from a team of German scientists brought to America at the end of WWII, the U.S. Army began developing intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs. The team was led by Wernher von Braun, the developer of the world's first successful long-range ballistic missile, the V-2.

[Click here to see a slideshow of NASA's early rockets]

In its infancy, the U.S. space agency naturally looked to the Army's missile program for a vehicle with the booster power needed to send men to the stars.

The Redstone was the U.S. Army's first successful ICBMs designed to send explosive payloads on a sub-orbital path across the Atlantic.

For the first two American-manned flights during project Mercury, this single engine rocket was modified and topped with a man rather than a bomb.

America's first two astronauts, Alan B. Shepard Jr. and Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom were crammed inside the Mercury Spacecraft, also known as a capsule, and sent on a 15-minute sub-orbital flight before landing 300 miles away in the Atlantic Ocean.

While the Redstone rocket entered the U.S. in the space race, a more powerful vehicle was needed to put a man into orbit around the Earth and keep him there. Again, an American military missile program had an answer.

The Army's Atlas rocket became the first U.S. missile capable of Earth orbit, also making it capable of hitting any target around the world.

Larger than the Army's Redstone missile, the Air Force's Atlas was considered a 1 1/2 stage rocket. Two of its three engines served as boosters that would burn out during launch while the third engine continued to fire.

For the remainder of Project Mercury's missions, modified Atlas missiles were used to send the Mercury Spacecraft into lower Earth orbit.

Spanning 1964 through 1966, Project Gemini, with two-man capsules, was the last time the U.S. space agency would send humans to space using missiles designed strictly for weapon payloads.

A modified version of the U.S. Air Force's two-stage ICBM, the Titan II, was used next to send all 10 two-man crews to space in preparation for the upcoming Apollo missions.

Saturn: The original space launch vehicle

After the Soviet Union's successful launch of the first satellite, Sputnik, in 1957, the U.S. was left facing the reality that they had nothing that could send a payload of its size into orbit.

Realizing how far behind America was in the space race, the Department of Defense responded to a proposal made by the Army Ballistic Missile Agency, or ABMA, to develop an unprecedented booster capable of 1.5 million pounds of thrust.

In order to achieve this unprecedented force, von Braun, who was then-director of the ABMA's Development Operations Division in Huntsville, AL, suggested clustering eight rocket engines each capable of producing nearly twice as much thrust as the Redstone's engine. Braun's beast became the base of the Saturn rocket.

The Army handed over the Saturn program to the newly formed NASA at the close of 1958.

The following year von Braun was appointed director of the new Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, placed in charge of developing and testing these new rockets.

The first version of this "monster" was the three-staged Saturn I, first launched October of 1961.

Five years later, the first Saturn to carry a crew, the Saturn IB was launched. This second version of the monster rocket was used for Apollo 7 and Skylab missions after Apollo.

In the book, "Moon Shot," astronauts Deke Slayton and Alan B. Shepard recalled John Glenn's observations of the Saturn Rocket.

The Army had turned "Wernher lose on some monster rocket they called Saturn. Eight engines. Something over a million pounds of thrust for liftoff. We could put up a Mack Truck with that thing."

But if Glenn thought the first two rockets of the Saturn family were monster rockets, words can't describe what came next.

[Click here for Part II of the story]

Copyright 2011 the Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

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  • America's Manned Space Vehicles - Part 1

    America's Manned Space Vehicles - Part 1

    (RNN) - With the retirement of America's last space shuttle just days away, we await the announcement of its replacement. From capsules strapped to expendable rockets to the renewable space shuttle, NASAMore >>
    From capsules strapped to expendable rockets to the renewable space shuttle, NASA has developed and used many launching vehicles in their 50-year history to hurl men and women into space.More >>
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