Rockets and Missiles

In the 1920s, visionaries in the United States, Germany, the Soviet Union, and elsewhere began developing liquid-fuel rockets with an eye toward space travel. Up to that point, the rocket had not changed much since its invention in China around the year 1000: a small artillery or fireworks device using gunpowder as a fuel.

Within a couple of decades, rockets and missiles had begun to alter the course of the 20th century. With the emergence of new liquid-fuel and solid-fuel rocket motors, jet engines, and complex guidance systems, nations built long-range weapons to threaten each other and weapons to defend against those threats. But rocketry also began to turn the dreams of its visionaries into reality, as nations used launch vehicles to send satellites, telescopes, robotic spacecraft, and human explorers and pioneers into space.


Highlights:

Loon Missile

Loon Missile
The Loon, also called the JB-2 or KUW-1, was an American copy of the German pulsejet-powered V-1 or "Buzz Bomb" of World War II. It was designed to carry a 2,200-pound high explosive warhead to a range of 150 miles and could be launched from the ground, ships, or aircraft. The air-breathing pulsejet motor is the long tube at the rear.

The development of the Loon came too late for use in World War II, and it was not used in combat. However, it provided invaluable experience to U.S. Navy and Army Air Force (and later, Air Force) personnel in the handling of missiles. The Loon was cancelled in 1950. This object was donated to the Smithsonian in 1965 by the U.S. Naval Supply Center.

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Goddard 1935 A-Series Rocket at the Udvar-Hazy Center

Goddard 1935 A-Series Rocket
This is probably the liquid-fuel rocket Robert H. Goddard tried to launch on September 23, 1935, at Roswell, New Mexico, in an attempt to demonstrate its capabilities to supporters Charles Lindbergh and Harry Guggenheim. The Guggenheim Foundation for the Promotion of Aeronautics funded Goddard's experiments in New Mexico.

A technical problem prevented the flight. But because earlier A-series rocket launches had succeeded, Lindbergh and Guggenheim felt Goddard was on the right track. Lindbergh thus persuaded Goddard to donate a complete A-series rocket to the Smithsonian, which he did in November 1935. This rocket became the first liquid-fuel rocket in the Smithsonian collections.

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Hs 293 A-1 Missile at the Udvar-Hazy Center

Hs 293 A-1 Missile
Germany developed the Hs 293 air-launched missile in World War II for use against ships or ground targets. It was basically a glide bomb assisted by a liquid-fuel rocket that fired for 10 seconds. The Hs 293 was carried under the wings or in the bomb bay of an He 111, He 177, Fw 200, or Do 217 aircraft. Its warhead was a modified SC 500 bomb containing Trialene 105 high explosive. A bombardier guided the missile by means of a joy stick and radio control.

Beginning in mid-1943, Hs 293s sank several Allied ships, mostly in the Mediterranean theater. Although Germany developed many experimental versions, only the Hs 293 A-1 was produced in quantity.

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Redstone Missile at the Udvar-Hazy Center

Redstone Missile
This is the Redstone, one of the most historically important developments in U.S. rocket technology. It was the U.S.'s first large-scale operational liquid-propellant missile and was modified as the Jupiter-C that placed the U.S.'s first artificial satellite, Explorer 1, into orbit in 1958. In 1961 the Mercury-Redstone rocket launched the first American into space, Alan B. Shepard.

As a missile, the Redstone had a range of 200-250 miles and carried either a conventional or nuclear warhead. The Redstone made its first successful flight in 1953 and became operational in 1958. It was replaced by the all-solid-fuel Pershing missile in 1964. This missile was donated to the Smithsonian in 1978 by the U.S. Army.

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