May 1957 Radio & TV News
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early
electronics. See articles from
Radio & Television News, published 1919-1959. All copyrights hereby
"The fact that every part of this ship was built by the lowest bidder." That,
according to Gene
Kranz (NASA Flight Director during the Gemini and Apollo missions), was
Alan Shepard's reply when asked what he thought about as he sat
atop the Mercury Redstone rocket*, waiting for liftoff. Shepard knew the
boost vehicle, the "Redstone," was originally designed as an expendable ballistic
missile and not for safely launching humans into space might have had something
to do with it, too. This 1957 vintage article (5 years prior to Shepard's flight),
describes some the electronics systems that were used in the program both onboard
for stabilization and on the ground for guidance. "A new type computer can solve
in five minutes a ballistic trajectory problem which would require a man more than
a year to complete." Today, a cellphone app can do it in less than a second.
*See my Estes model of the
Electronics at Redstone Arsenal
The "Redstone" medium range ballistic missile is fired from a vertical position
and tilts into a ballistic trajectory during the early stages of its ascent. This
69-foot weapon is under advance development at the Army Ballistic Missile Agency,.
This Alabama center for some of Army's "wonder weapons" relies heavily on
electronics in research and development.
Redstone Arsenal which has given its name to the medium range ballistics missile
shown on this month's cover being fired from the Air Force Missile Test Center at
Patrick AFB in Florida, has been to the Army's rocket and guided missile program
what Detroit is to the nation's automobile industry.
Located in Huntsville, Alabama, the 40,000-acre installation is the control center
of all Army activities in the new field of "wonder weapons." Redstone is charged,
not only with research and development, but with industrial procurement, storage,
and repair of the entire group of Army Ordnance missiles, plus the training of maintenance
From efforts largely centered here have come such weapons as the "Nike," "Honest
John," "Corporal," "Redstone," and other missiles which comprise one of our first-line
Guiding and controlling these complex units require intricate electronic, gyroscopic,
and other systems made of thousands of separate parts. The "brain" of the rocket
can be based on many systems, including response to light, temperature, time, direction,
radar, radio, magnetism, heat, speed, or the density of the outside air. Instruments
can be provided to handle these signals. To devise parts of the control so that
they will respond invariably and promptly to the signals, under the extreme conditions
imposed on the rocket in flight, is the real task. The missile is in the air for
a short time only. Variations that occur in its flight must be sensed and instantaneously
These achievements would not have been possible were it not for the recent introduction
of almost fantastic electronic equipment which forms the backbone of guided missile
Naturally, the complex weapons systems rely heavily on electronics during their
actual operation. But just as important is the role of electronics during the designing
and testing stages.
Early flight tests of a hypothetical missile could provide much valuable information
to the scientist and engineer. But the cost of assembling and firing a completely
untried missile or rocket is prohibitive. And thus the need arises for extensive
static testing and simulated firings - all of this in preparation for the coming
Static testing of missiles is accomplished at the Agency's 15-story test stand.
A giant crane is used to place the "Redstone" missile in place in steel vises which
will hold weapon in place during subsequent testing procedures.
When a missile is statically test fired, a lot of things begin to happen - and
fast. The length of most static tests is measured in seconds. When 50 or more variables
are to be recorded in a single test, it is easy to see why nerveless, lightning-fast
instruments are relied upon to "freeze" the all-important data, so that comparatively
slow-speed human beings can study the results at leisure.
Hundreds of indispensable electronic recording and calculating instruments daily
compile accurate data of importance to research and development that would be practically
unobtainable without their aid. These electronic instruments save unknown thousands
of valuable scientific man hours by relieving engineers and technicians of time-consuming,
repetitious tasks of data collecting and routine computation.
For example, a new type computer can solve in five minutes a ballistic trajectory
problem which would require a man more than a year to complete. The computer's solution
would also be double-checked at the same time.
Thus the frontiers of science are being pushed ahead at an unprecedented rate
- giving us a truly modern Army ready to provide a formidable defense arm for the
Posted February 22, 2022
(updated from original post on 11/12/2014)