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The Story of SCO X1: Days and Rockets in the White Sands




"I must admit that my main motivation for pressing forward was a deep seated faith in the boundless resourcefulness of nature, which so often leaves the most daring imagination of man far behind."
-Bruno Rossi


Five or six precious minutes. That's all the observing time you got in the "olden days". You fired a 50 ft. bullet (better known as an Aerobee sounding rocket) into the sky, fueled with Red Fuming Nitric Acid, and Analine. This stuff really didn't get cooking until about 5 seconds after the launch, so you stuck on an 8 ft. solid fuel booster underneath; quite a large firecracker indeed.

The payload preparation has taken years. Months ago, it had been placed on the "shake table" at NASA, where the stresses of launch were simulated. Geiger counters that would function in much the same way that film does in an ordinary camera, had been painstakingly calibrated and checked in the laboratory. Finally you mate this X-ray camera with the Aerobee. To check all the systems, you do a "horizontal test". The countdown is simulated, and you make sure that all systems are operating properly. The only thing you can never really check is the engine system; the vehicle stays empty until it is fueled in the tower on the day of launch.


horizontal test at WSMR
Final prelaunch tests


Then, a few days later, comes "vertical". The rocket and payload are placed into the tower, and the launch sequence is simulated once more. All systems are go!...Finally, launch day arrives.

There is a frenzied excitement in the air. The energy is high. The rocket is fueled. (If it is a hot day, the poor people who do this in heavy, everything-proof rubber will lose 20-30 pounds of weight in the process). The countdown begins...

Next: Launch!

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