The Navy Sails into White Sands
On June 14, 1946 the Navy sailed into White Sands to participate in the V-2 program. They have remained onboard since. The Navy Research Lab was a major contributor in putting payloads on V-2s. In fact, they fabricated many of the specialized nosecones necessary to accommodate some of the experiments.
When the V-2 program started to flicker, the Navy sought its own sounding rocket for conducting continued research. Today the Port Hueneme Division Naval Surface Warfare Center Detachment – White Sands continues to conduct space research. They support customer requirements by launching various research rockets. The division has launched some 1,100 rockets. Customers have included NASA, the Naval Research Laboratory, the Air Force Geophysics Laboratory, the Defense Nuclear Agency, Strategic Defense Initiative Organization and various universities. Launch of commercial payloads began in March 1989.
Little Joe When President Kennedy committed the U.S. to a moon landing by the end of the 1960s, White Sands played a role with many key tests. For the Apollo program, NASA developed an escape system for the crew if there was a failure during launch. From 1963 to 1966 a series of tests was conducted using a Little Joe II rocket to simulate the Saturn rocket. It was capable of carrying the boilerplate Apollo capsule to an altitude of 31,000 feet at speeds similar to an actual launch. When the escape system was triggered, the capsule was released from the Little Joe and rockets mounted on top of the capsule pulled it away from trouble. The capsule would then parachute safely to the ground. In 1966 and 1967, White Sands acquired its “flying saucer” now on display in Missile Park. The “spacecraft” was designed by NASA to test parachute capabilities for slowing down a vehicle landing in the thin atmosphere of Mars. A series of five tests was successfully conducted. The saucer-shaped UFO, about 15 feet in diameter, was equipped with a series of small rocket motors on the bottom. A Voyager balloon carried the reentry vehicle aloft from Roswell, N.M., to an altitude of 130,000 feet. Once at launch altitude, the vehicle was released and the rocket motors were used to propel it in a high arching trajectory over White Sands attaining an altitude of 140,000 feet. The parachutes would then be deployed for the test.
Space Shuttle Support
The White Sands involvement in the Space Shuttle program became very visible when Columbia landed there after just the third shuttle flight on March 30, 1982. However, the missile range’s connection with the shuttle program is older. Beginning in May 1970, a series of drop tests using a