Nike Ajax with Launcher

Nike Ajax with Launcher

The New Mexico Museum of Space History, located in Alamogordo, New Mexico, is not too far from the Holloman Air Force Base and the White Sands Missile Range. On July 16, 1945 the Trinity Site, sixty miles north of Alamogordo, was the location for the first explosion of an atom bomb. Its name was derived from the sand that turned into a green substance called trinitite. Earlier, from 1930-1941, Dr. Robert Goddard, who is considered the father of modern rocketry, located his research facilities in Roswell, New Mexico. He advocated “The ideal location for this work…should combine…year-round outdoor working conditions, few cloudy or hazy days…level terrain, low vegetation, [and]  adequate transportation facilities…” The early history of the U.S. Air Force space program at White Sands Missile Range (formerly the Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range) included ground-launched missiles, air-launched missiles, rocket sleds, balloons, parachutes, biomedical experiments, and automobile crash tests. On July 20, 1969 my Forest Service supervisor invited me and another fire fighter to his home to watch on his black-and-white television the Apollo 11 landing on the moon. Little did we know then that this program would end in 1972. The walls of the museum are decorated with pictures of inductees to the International Space Hall of Fame. One exhibit being updated, we learned, thought to have been a mock-up of a guidance system was indeed the real thing and was used in four or five expeditions. It contains rare earth metals that would have normally been scrapped. Outside the museum, the Stapp Air and Space Park displays several items important in the history of the space program. The Nike Ajax was the world’s first operational air defense guided missile. It was tested at the White Sands Proving Ground in 1951 and used from 1953-1964. The solid fueled Little Joe 2 was used to test the Apollo launch escape system. The X-37 was used in the deployment and retrieval of satellites in orbit. Our museum admission included an IMAX movie, “Tornado Alley.” The State of New Mexico can be proud of its important role in space history.

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