The 6555th: Missile and Space Launches Through 1970


To the Bound Edition

When I assumed the duties of Chief, ESMC History Office in January 1986, I was completely unaware of the 6555th's contributions to America's missile and space efforts in the 1950s and 1960s. Like most Americans -- indeed, like most people the world over -- I assumed that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration dominated most aspects of the United States space effort after 1958. Within a few months, however, my review of official histories and other government documents in the ESMC archives presented a much different picture of the U.S. space program. I was struck by the appalling "invisibility" of the 6555th. The unit played a pivotal role in the development of missiles and space launch vehicles in the 1950s and 1960s, but, apart from semi-annual historical reports submitted by the 6555th, not one monograph or professional historical study had been written about the 6555th or its efforts at Cape Canaveral. A brief pamphlet entitled "The Story of the 6555th Aerospace Test Wing" was published by the 6555th in 1967, but it hardly did justice to the Wing's many accomplishments up to that time. After I attended to more pressing matters in the office (e.g., the annual history backlog, reorganization of the archives and the establishment of a video documentary library), I studied the unclassified and declassified documents, the histories and the special studies on which this monograph is based. Sadly, many of the semi-annual historical reports had not been looked at since their declassification in the early 1970s.

The present work is a mosaic of the 6555th's history over the first two decades of its existence. It covers the golden age of Air Force missile and space launch vehicle flight tests at Cape Canaveral, and it ends shortly after the 6555th closed out its last ballistic missile flight test program (the MINUTEMAN III) in 1970. (The 6555th was redesignated a Group for the final time in April 1970, which is another reason to consider the year a watershed in the unit's history.) The 6555th's accomplishments since 1970 certainly deserve treatment as well, but their inclusion would have delayed the present monograph's publication by at least a year. Since the future of the 6555th over the next few years is uncertain, we decided in favor of early publication to give the 6555th more time to savor its history before its operations cease.

This monograph could never have been written without the conscientious efforts of Mr. Marven R. Whipple, the Air Force Missile Test Center history staff, and the dozens of officers, airmen and civilians who contributed six-month historical reports on the 6555th's various offices, branches and divisions. Ms. Jan E. Crespino deserves special thanks for the initial formatting and handling the administrative details of publication. I also want to thank Major Richard W. Sirmons for formating the work, assisting with printing, and researching publication alternatives.

November 1991