Analysis and Conclusions
The development of missiles and rockets for DoD needs arguably contributed to national defense and, through deterrence, kept the
cold war from becoming hotter than it actually got in Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan, among other places. For the purposes of this book, however, the importance of the missiles and rockets discussed in this chapter lay in the technology that could transfer to launch – vehicle uses. In many cases, actual missiles, with some adaptations, became either launch vehicles or stages in larger combinations of rockets used to place satellites or spacecraft on their trajectories. Without the perceived urgency created by cold-war concerns and without the heterogeneous engineering of missile proponents, it conceivably would have taken much longer for launch vehicles to develop, although many satellites themselves were high on the DoD’s priority lists.
Quite apart from their contributions to launch-vehicle technology, the missiles and rockets discussed in this chapter also illustrate many of the themes that will be further explored in subsequent chapters. Missiles such as the Titan II and Minuteman showed the ways in which technology for earlier missiles contributed to their successors. Although this chapter provides only an overview of missile development, it shows several examples of trial-and-error engineering that was necessary to overcome often unforeseen problems. Clearly, the missiles discussed here required a wide range of talents and a huge number of different organizations to design and develop them. Also important was a considerable sharing of information, even between competing organizations and firms. Finally, management systems such as the one Schriever adopted at WDD (and a similar system called Program Evaluation and Review Technique [PERT] adopted by Raborn for the Polaris program) enabled very complicated missiles and launch vehicles to be developed reasonably on time and in such a way that all component systems (such as propulsion, structures, guidance and control) worked together effectively.
LAUNCH VEHICLES FREQUENTLY USED MISsiles as first stages, but these required many modifications, particularly when they had to boost humans into space. Even for satellite and spacecraft launches, technology for the booster stages frequently represented modification of technologies missiles needed for their ballistic paths from one part of Earth to another. Thus, the history of the Thor-Delta, Atlas, Scout, Saturn, Titan, and Space Shuttle launch vehicles differed from, but remained
dependent on, the earlier development of the missiles discussed in chapter 1. Missiles and launch vehicles represented a continuum, with many of the same people contributing to both. But they remained different enough from one another to require separate treatment in this chapter.
Despite the differences, launch-vehicle development exhibited many of the same themes that characterized missiles. It featured the same engineering culture that relied heavily on extensive testing on the ground. But this did not always succeed in revealing all problems that occurred in flight. When unexpected problems occurred, it was not always possible for engineers to understand the exact causes. But they were able to arrive at fixes that worked. There continued to be a wide range of organizations and disciplines that contributed to launch-vehicle development, including the solution of unanticipated problems. Also characteristic of launch vehicles was a competitive environment that nevertheless featured sharing of information among organizations involved in development. In part, this sharing occurred through the movement of knowledgeable engineers from one organization to another. More often, the information sharing (plus its recording and validation) occurred through professional societies, papers delivered at their meetings, and publication of reports in professional journals.1 Finally, missiles and launch vehicles shared the use of management systems that tracked development of components to ensure that all of them occurred on schedule and that they all worked together effectively.