The 6555th, Chapter IV, Section 2

Taking the High Ground: The 6555th's Role in Space through 1970

ATLAS, THOR, and BLUE SCOUT Space Operations

Following the establishment of Air Force Systems Command, the 6555th's Test Directorate and Operations Directorate were transformed into the Space Programs Office and the Ballistic Missiles Office on 17 April 1961. Under that reorganization, the old ATLAS Project Office's resources were divided roughly in half to create an ATLAS Booster Branch and an ATLAS Weapons Branch. The ATLAS Booster Branch was placed under the Space Programs Office. The old ATLAS Operations Division became the new ATLAS Weapons Branch's Operations Section, and the new ATLAS Weapons Branch was placed under the Ballistic Missiles Office. The Space Projects Division became the Space Projects Branch under the Space Programs Office on April 17th, and its THOR Booster Branch (created on 17 March 1961) was removed and set up as a separate branch under the Space Programs Office. The TS 609A Project Division and TS 609A Operations Division were combined to form the BLUE SCOUT Branch, which was also placed under the Space Programs Office. The TITAN, MINUTEMAN and MACE Operations Divisions became the TITAN, MINUTEMAN, and MACE Weapons Branches, and they were placed under the Ballistic Missiles Office. Though the Space Programs Office and the Ballistic Missiles Office were renamed on 25 September 1961, the separation of operations into 1) space projects and 2) ballistic missile test operations continued even after the 6555th's branches were upgraded to divisions in the summer of 1962. The 6555th's Technical Support Office managed the Wing's budget and supplies and monitored its facilities and technical requirements.8

14 December 1959

14 December 1959

Under Lieutenant Colonel Harold A. Myers, the 6555th's Space Projects Branch focused its attention on satellites and spacecraft being prepared by contractors at Missile Assembly Hangar AA for the TRANSIT, ANNA, RANGER, SAINT and VELA HOTEL projects. Space boosters were monitored by the Space Program Office's other three branches until 25 September 1961, when the THOR Boosters Branch and the Space Projects Branch were recombined to form the THOR/TITAN Space Branch. Thereafter, the Deputy for Space Systems accomplished his space mission through the THOR/TITAN Space Branch, the ATLAS Space Branch and the BLUE SCOUT Branch.9

26 February 1960

By any standards, 1961 proved to be a very busy year for the 6555th and its space launch contractors. Following its first two unmanned MERCURY capsule launches for NASA in September 1959 and July 1960, Convair launched ATLAS boosters on three successful (and one unsuccessful) MERCURY flights from Complex 14 in 1961. The Douglas Aircraft Company launched three TRANSIT navigation satellite missions from Pad 17B for the U.S. Navy, and it provided booster support for two EXPLORER missions and one TIROS mission that were launched from Pad 17A in 1961. Aeroneutronic and the BLUE SCOUT Branch's Operations Section launched a total of six space vehicles from pads 18A and 18B in 1961. NASA Associate Administrator Robert C. Seamans, Jr. signed a joint NASA/ARDC agreement on 30 January 1961 concerning the Air Force's participation in the AGENA B Launch Vehicle Program, and the 6555th's participation in the CENTAUR program was settled with NASA under a joint memorandum of agreement in April 1961. Both agreements were enormously important to the 6555th's role in the U.S. space program, and they set the tone for the Wing's space operations in the 1960s.10

9 September 1959


Under the AGENA B Launch Vehicle Program agreement, NASA confirmed that it was pursuing the AGENA program through "established USAF Satellite System channels" to take advantage of Air Force capabilities and procedures. In effect, while NASA's Office of Launch Vehicle Programs retained overall management authority for AGENA, its Assistant Project Director for AGENA coordinated AGENA B requirements through the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division and its contractors. The Air Force Ballistic Missile Division procured the ATLAS boosters required by the program, and it provided operational, administrative and technical support for those launch vehicles. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Goddard Space Flight Center provided the spacecraft. The Launch Operations Directorate's Test Support Office acted as NASA's formal point of contact for all agencies involved in the AGENA B program on the Eastern Test Range, but the 6555th was responsible for supervising the Air Force contractors who provided the boosters for the AGENA B. While many tests were observed jointly by NASA and Air Force representatives, NASA was responsible for the spacecraft, Lockheed was responsible for the AGENA B, Convair was responsible for the ATLAS booster, and the 6555th was responsible for the readiness of the entire launch vehicle. Ultimately, NASA's Operations and Test Director had overall responsibility for the countdown, but he received direct inputs from the 6555th's Test Controller concerning the vehicle's status on launch day. The 6555th and the Air Force's contractors were thus very close to the center of the entire operation.11

Because the CENTAUR was conceived by ARDC and sponsored by the Air Force before ARPA adopted it as a DOD-wide project, Air Force Systems Command took a keen interest in the CENTAUR's development as an upper stage rocket. The project was eventually transferred to NASA, but the Air Force continued to follow the CENTAUR' development closely, and it loaned some officers to NASA to help manage the project. The Air Force also earmarked some of its test facilities on Cape Canaveral for the ATLAS/CENTAUR effort. While the CENTAUR agreement signed in April 1961 acknowledged NASA's authority to exercise launch responsibility for all 10 CENTAUR R&D test vehicles and all CENTAURs used on NASA's operational missions, it also confirmed that the 6555th Test Wing would exercise similar launch responsibilities for CENTAURs used on operational DOD missions. The 6555th was also allowed to assign Air Force supervisors to Convair's processing teams while they were working on ATLAS "D" boosters for the ATLAS/CENTAUR R&D test flights. In instances where NASA's Launch Operations Directorate wanted procedures added to Convair's ATLAS checklists, the 6555th integrated those items. NASA also agreed to coordinate CENTAUR test documentation with the 6555th. To avoid duplication of effort, NASA and the Air Force agreed to share "a large number of facilities" (e.g., Complex 36 and hangars H, J and K) for the CENTAUR, AGENA B and MERCURY efforts. Since NASA planned to use the CENTAUR's facilities first, the Air Force secured a promise from NASA to coordinate its CENTAUR facility and equipment modifications with the 6555th before the changes were made. The 6555th agreed to make an officer available as a consultant to NASA's Launch Director during ATLAS/CENTAUR launch operations.12

As Chief of the ATLAS Booster Branch, Lieutenant Colonel Robert R. Hull handled most of the 6555th's AGENA B, CENTAUR and Project MERCURY responsibilities with a staff consisting of an ATLAS Systems Section Chief, two civilian secretaries and six project officers. Within a few months, however, it became clear that the 6555th's space activities needed to be reorganized: the ATLAS Booster Branch was renamed the ATLAS Space Branch on 15 August 1961, and Lieutenant Colonel Hull picked up five additional officers and two secretaries from the Space Projects Branch as part of that branch's transformation into the THOR/TITAN Space Branch in late September 1961. Management of Complex 36A was transferred from the 6555th to NASA in the fall of 1961, but the Air Force retained ownership of the facility, and Colonel Wignall reaffirmed the 6555th's right to approve any modifications to Complex 36 before NASA carried them out. Though the ATLAS Space Branch acted only as a technical consultant for NASA's CENTAUR development program, it supported NASA's ATLAS booster requirements in accordance with the Seamans/Schriever agreement. The Branch also retained jurisdiction over military missions involving the ATLAS "D" and AGENA B upper stage as space boosters.13

In 1962, Air Force contractors and the ATLAS Space Branch supported three RANGER and two MARINER missions from Complex 12, and they supported the first three manned orbital ATLAS/MERCURY missions, which were launched from Complex 14. All those NASA missions were launched by contractors, but the Air Force implemented plans in the last half of 1962 to establish an ATLAS/AGENA "blue suit" launch capability. In September, the 6555th started negotiations with Air Training Command and the Air Force's contractors to establish an ATLAS/AGENA military launch team. One hundred and thirty-six enlisted positions were approved for the effort, and six airmen were assigned to the SLV-III Division (formerly the ATLAS Space Branch) by the end of 1962. Though the SLV-III Division gained 151 additional men (including 11 veterans from the ATLAS Weapons Division) over the next six months, the Air Force suddenly dropped the plan and terminated the ATLAS/AGENA blue suit program on 1 January 1964. The SLV-III Division's strength was reduced to approximately two dozen officers, airmen and civilians by the middle of 1964, and it remained near that level for the balance of the 1960s. The Division's MERCURY support mission ended following the last MERCURY flight in May 1963, but the unit still supported DOD operations on Complex 13. It picked up ATLAS/AGENA Target Vehicle operations for Project GEMINI shortly thereafter.14

January 1960

Under Major (and later, Lieutenant Colonel) LeDewey E. Allen, Jr., the SLV-III Division supported three DOD satellite missions from Complex 13 in October 1963, July 1964 and July 1965. The Division also supported seven ATLAS/AGENA target vehicle missions launched from Complex 14 between 25 October 1965 and 12 November 1966. The Division's radio guidance station provided services for many NASA missions during the 1960s, and the Guidance Branch was the only SLV-III element involved in launch operations in 1967. Under Lieutenant Colonel Earl B. Essing, the SLV-III Division rallied in 1968 to support four classified DOD launches from Complex 13 between 6 August 1968 and 31 August 1970. The SLV-III Division became the ATLAS Systems Division in 1970, but this redesignation had little, if any, affect on the mission. Lieutenant Colonel Essing's people continued their work as 300 contractor personnel prepared for more DOD missions from Complex 13 in the 1970s.15

January 1961

Though a blue suit launch capability for ATLAS space vehicles was never developed at Cape Canaveral, the 6555th retained a limited military launch capability for "guided" BLUE SCOUT and "unguided" BLUE SCOUT JUNIOR space vehicles during the first half of the 1960s. Airmen assisted on several BLUE SCOUT launches in 1961, and the first all-military BLUE SCOUT processing operation was completed in April 1962, shortly after Lieutenant Colonel Millard E. Griffith succeeded Lieutenant Colonel Jesse G. Henry as BLUE SCOUT Branch Chief. The Branch had more than a hundred people assigned to its activities before the BLUE SCOUT program was deleted in favor of the BLUE SCOUT JUNIOR program in July 1962. (The unit managed to hold on to 7 officers, 68 airmen and 7 civilians for the BLUE SCOUT JUNIOR program after the Branch became the SLV-IV Division on 1 August 1962.) Under Lieutenant Colonel John B. Adams, the Division's Combined Systems Test Building and Assembly and Checkout Building were accepted on 13 March 1963, and BLUE SCOUT JUNIOR modifications to Pad 18A were completed in June 1963. Factory and on-the-job training was underway by the spring of 1963, and the first all-military launch of a BLUE SCOUT JUNIOR was completed successfully on 30 July 1963. Under Lieutenant Colonel Warren L. Foss, the Division launched another BLUE SCOUT JUNIOR on 13 March 1964, but a fourth stage failure marred the flight, and very little data was obtained on the mission. Late deliveries and component flaws handicapped the Division's best efforts, but the program's last five space vehicles were launched (with mixed results) between 28 January and 10 June 1965. Its mission completed, the SLV-IB Division disbanded in the last half of 1965, and its personnel were transferred to other agencies under the Wing.16


23 April 1962

20 July 1965

16 March 1966

Through September 1966

21 September 1960

19 May 1961

9 May 1961

30 July 1963

As we noted earlier, the THOR Booster Branch was dissolved on 25 September 1961, and its resources were absorbed by the THOR/TITAN Space Branch. In addition to satellite missions, the new 15-member THOR/TITAN Space Branch became involved in the DYNA SOAR, GEMINI, and TITAN III programs. The Branch was reorganized under Lieutenant Colonel Jesse G. Henry, and complexes 19 and 20 were added to the Branch's holdings during the first half of 1962 for TITAN II space operations. On 10 September 1962, the Wing established the SLV-V Division to handle the TITAN III program separately, and it transferred TITAN III personnel from the THOR/TITAN Branch to the new division before renaming it the SLV-V/X-20 Division on 1 October 1962. The THOR/TITAN Branch became the SLV II/IV Division under Lieutenant Colonel Robert R. Hull on 1 October 1962, but it was split up to form two new divisions -- the SLV II Division (for THOR) and the GEMINI Launch Vehicle Division (for TITAN II) -- on 20 May 1963. By the end of June 1963, Major Carl B. Ausfahl was in charge of the GEMINI Launch Vehicle Division, a staff of eight people, Complex 19 and parts of hangars T, U and G. During the same period, Major Robert B. Gallman was in charge of ten officers, two airmen and seven civilians at the SLV-V/X-20 Division's offices in Hangar G. Rounding out the reorganization, Major Richard W. Marshall was in charge of Complex 17, other THOR facilities, four officers and three civilians at the SLV-II Division at the end of June 1963. (Marshall was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel shortly thereafter, and the SLV-II Division's strength grew to nine officers, three airmen and five civilians by the end of the year.) In the midst of the 6555th's organizational changes, Air Force contractors launched three Navy satellite flights and supported eleven NASA space missions from Complex 17 in 1962. Air Force contractors also provided space booster support for seven NASA THOR/DELTA missions, and they launched the first THOR/ASSET experimental reentry vehicle on a successful mission in 1963.17


Though Complex 17 supported seven other NASA missions in 1964 and 1965, the two-part ASSET (Aerothermodynamic/Elastic Structural Systems Environmental Tests) program quickly became the SLV-II Division's principal interest after the first ASSET launch on 18 September 1963. Under one part of the ASSET flight test program at the Cape, the second, third, and sixth hypervelocity vehicles were launched from Pad 17B on 24 March 1964, 22 July 1964 and 23 February 1965. Those flights were designed to gather data on the ability of materials and structures to handle the pressures and temperatures of atmospheric reentry. Though the flight on March 24th failed to meet its test objectives due to a malfunction in the THOR's upper stage, the other two flights were successful, and the vehicle launched on July 22nd was recovered. Under the other part of the ASSET flight testing, two non-recoverable delta wing glide vehicles were launched from Pad 17B on 27 October and 8 December 1964. Both missions were designed to obtain data on "panel flutter" under high heating conditions and information of the vehicles' "unsteady aerodynamics" over a broad range of hypersonic speeds. Both flights were successful, and the final ASSET flight on 23 February 1965 completed the ASSET program.18

28 August 1963

The Air Force had no further use for THOR facilities at Cape Canaveral after the ASSET program was completed, so the Space Systems Division directed the 6555th to turn over its SLV-II facilities to NASA for the civilian agency's THOR/DELTA program. In accordance with Air Force Eastern Test Range procedures, the 6555th returned the facilities to the Range in April 1965, and the Air Force Eastern Test Range transferred them to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in May 1965. The 6555th retained jurisdiction over other facilities that supported several programs in addition to THOR (e.g., Building 1381, the Hangar AA storage area and the Western Electric Guidance Facility), and it reassigned most of the SLV-II Division's personnel to the Eastern Test Range or to other duties in the Wing. Two of the Division's officers were reassigned to other Air Force bases, and Lieutenant Colonel Marshall went on retirement leave in May 1965. Once the administrative details of those actions were completed, the SLV-II Division was phased out in June 1965.19

23 February 1965

The 6555th: Missile and Space Launches Through 1970
by Mark C. Cleary, Chief Historian
45 Space Wing Office of History
1201 Minuteman Ave, Patrick AFB, FL 32925