Monday, November 24, 2008

ATK Rocket Display in Utah

Unimaginable! When people assembled for the Golden Spike Ceremony in 1869, they celebrated the completion of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad. Years before, the idea of creating a railroad to span the vast distance across the US seemed impossible at first. But, technology, human ingenuity, and manpower converged to the join the rails of the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific Railroads- the unimaginable- came true.

I doubt anyone in the crowd at Promontory Summit would have dreamed that a over a century later, not far from there, the same elements of technology, ingenuity and manpower would conquer another vast distance – the distance beyond the land and mountains into the earth’s atmosphere and outer space.

The ATK rocket display on State Route 83 in Promontory, Utah is not a National Historic Site like the nearby Golden Spike. It may take another century for the National Park Service to conceive this idea. Still the ATK rocket display is free and open to the public on the grounds in front of the ATK corporate manufacturing complex.

ATK is a premier aerospace and defense company. It manufactures rocket propulsion systems and strategic missiles – the unimaginable in 1869, reality today. According to Wikipedia, in Utah’s Promontory Mountains, ATK manufactures the solid rocket booster (SBR) for the Space Shuttle. And, after the SBRs are retrieved from the ocean following a launch, they are transported to ATK (formerly Thiokol) for refurbishing. Though the plant and surrounding land is noticeably a secure area, the rocket display is easily accessible.

On display is a Space Shuttle Booster Separation Motor which can travel through the atmosphere at more than 3,000 miles per hour and altitudes of 24 nautical miles. Visitors can also see the TX-486 Patriot, noted as the US Army’s most advanced surface-to-surface defense system. Its engineering began in 1972 and it moved into production in 1981. More historic are the TX-14 Big B, known as “The Klunker” – designed in 1950 for the US Army Ballistic Missile Agency as a test vehicle for high performance propellants and insulated materials – and the TX-10, the 1950s prototype solid propellant rocket motor for the US Army’s surface-to-surface Lacrosse missile that was developed for use against tanks and bunkers.

The rockets make a striking contrast to the trains at Golden Spike. Could there have been a hint of the next transportation frontier back in the 1869? Maybe the unimaginable, the impossible was pondered because one of the locomotives at the Summit on that historic day the Golden Spike Ceremony was named The Jupiter.

November 23, 2008

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