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Bumper: The Story Behind the First Launches From the Cape
 
Before the webcast space enthusiasts from all over the world submitted questions for our program guests, Stan Starr, Liz Bain and Norris Gray. The questions were answered during the show. In case you missed the webcast, or would like to review each of the questions and answers, we have provided the Bumper: The Story behind the first launches from the Cape Q&A in its entirety below.

Harold from Boston
Was there a lot out at Cape Canaveral during the launch of Bumper
During the launch itself, all of the civilians were removed temporarily from the Cape and there was about 150 primarily service people and then civilians that were supporting the launch effort, and those were the only people out at the Cape. We've addressed that there were just a handful of houses and a hotel, and a pier.
Carl from Columbus, OH
Was Cape Canaveral used mostly as a missile testing site in the 1950's?
In 1950 it was used strictly as a testing site for the first 10 years, and then when we went into Vanguard, that's when we tried to put a satellite into orbit, and it failed, and it was still a testing site as far as I'm concerned for the first fifty years.
Jim from Ft. Worth
Was Bumper top secret? If it was NOT classified, did the public know it was going on, or was it just a little-known military program?
It was not classified as secret, but there were certain aspects of it that were secret, mainly how the WAC was fitted into the nose of the V-2. It was considered a confidential program.

Expert 2: The thing of it is, is that you saw it in all the papers what was going on, but the ones of us who worked on it, we were absolutely sworn to secrecy about anything that was going on about it. So, as a result, no one knew in our group that were weren't supposed to talk about it.
Bill from Cocoa (For Norris Gray)
What was one of your more "unusual duties" that you performed in support of a Bumper launch?
One of the most unusual duties that I ever had was strictly out of range of anything. We had one elderly woman on the site, and she refused to move out of the safety zone area for launch. So I, as a civilian, in the uniform I had at that time, was selected to entice her off of the site. Well, there wasn't very much enticing going on, and I had to kind of get her support, and I said, "You got to move it." She says, "I'm staying right here." I finally had to pick her up, push her up over my shoulder, and take off. Just before this, she had threatened some people with a shotgun. This included a federal judge. I knew the shotgun was plugged because I had inspected it one day, it's not going to hurt, so I was the only brave one who walked up to her to put the shotgun away, the rest of them was all headed to the woods, and that's how we got her off the base.
Sarah from Melbourne, FL
Just how close were you to the Bumper as it launched? Did you have to wear special headphones to protect your hearing?
I was about 25 feet from where they were working on this. When it was launched, all of us took off in this little truck to about 50 yards away from there, and we didn't have any special headgear or anything to protect us. The only thing we had was get in the truck and go into the woods.

Host: What were you actually doing before the launch?

My headphones were used to monitor all of the frequencies that were going on. If a truck came by and did not have the shield that would protect it from emitting different frequencies that would interfere with the Bumper we would have to cancel it and tell them to go back. So there were many of them that we would not permit any trucks on the launching site.

Host: What would happen if they were emitting too much?

Expert: If they were emitting too much they weren't permitted to come. We were afraid it would blow the whole thing up.
Jode from Wasilla
What was the primary fuel of the rocket, and were you concerned about it blowing up?
The V-2 used oxygen and alcohol, that's the main liquid there. Add the sodium manganate with it, which turned the propellers for the engine, and analyn, a red fueling nitrate. If you got them together like you were supposed to, it was one of the best fuels you could ever get. But, otherwise, if you got them together, unknowingly in another way, you get what is called a hypergolic reaction.

Host: That means they ignite on contact.

Expert: On contact. All over the place. Another thing, when we were fueling, we had to make sure everybody was upwind.
Jon from Ames
What was the most spectacular mishap of the Bumper program?
Actually, the bumpers went pretty good except for Bumper 7, and Bumper 7 was going to be our first launch. Brought it up, and that was the first missile I ever owned, because they turned around to me and said. "It's all yours if it misfires." We had to go out on the launch pad and safe it at that time. We didn't have any remote conditions to safe it. So myself and two other individuals went out there and made sure the igniters were safed and all that and we turned a couple of valves off so it would depressurize.
Kaylee from Rose Bud
What is the bumper project?
The main purpose of the Bumper project was to extend the range of guided missiles. It had some secondary requirements also that is primarily to fire a missile at a greater range. It was really about multistage rockets; being able to launch a rocket from another rocket in flight. We just call that multistage rockets today but back then it was quite a feat of technology to be able to accomplish the Bumper missions.
James from Vancouver, WA
When visiting the KSC lighthouse recently, I don't remember a launch stand nearby. Where exactly was Bumper launched from?
Bumper was launched on a pad that was about a mile from the lighthouse. There was just no way in-between that, as far as I'm concerned. It was quite a distance to walk, I know that.

Host: As you saw in the films, there's really nothing there today except a concrete slab to let you know that it was launched there. As Norris pointed out, the shadow of the V-2, and that kind of verified for everyone else that was the spot that the Bumper launched from. There's really no other evidence.

Actually what it was, the spotting in the concrete, you could tell where the launch table sat for the two V-2 launches.
Steve from New Orleans
Was Goddard's experiments with rockets helpful for the Bumper program?
Dr. Robert Goddard really started the entire liquid fuel rocket program, all programs, owe their heritage to Dr. Goddard. He developed the concept of multistage rockets but he didn't actually work on any two or three stage rockets themselves. So, while he did all the fundamental work, it was the later generations that really did the work on the Bumper programs. Everything we do today can ultimately be tracked back to Robert Goddard.
David from Bethesda VA
What altitudes did the Bumper 8 reach? Did it have multiple stages? What was the payload?
The altitude reached by Bumper 8 was about 60,000 feet, it was meant to fly much higher, as we mentioned in the film it was a two-stage rocket and the payload was really a radio transmitter and a Teflon nose cone for trying to protect the nose cone from the aerodynamic heating. That was the only payload.
Cletus from Mims
What was the biggest challenge (technical or personnel-related) encountered during the Bumper program?
The biggest challenge there was safety of all personnel, especially with the type of fuels we were using. Too many people weren't conditioned to the fuel we were using at that time. It was strictly a launch site, testing for range to see what we could get out of the two missiles that were joined together. The name Bumper comes from the V-2 with the WAC corporal on the nose, as the missiles got up it bumped the WAC corporal up and that's where the Bumper name comes from. We wanted to call it Bumper Booster, but it ended up with Bumper. And there is a road named Bumper over on Cape Canaveral today.

Our biggest problem was actually getting people to come to work here. My job was not in personnel but in an operating section, where we were writing the job descriptions of engineers, "Please come to Patrick," and we were trying everything we could think about, writing these job descriptions. People would show up, but because of looking around and seeing what we didn’t have here they decided they wouldn’t come. It was very difficult to get it started and so as a result it was very slow in getting manned like we needed to have. One of the reasons I ended up being at the Cape at the time was because they just couldn’t get people to work.
Claus from Huntsville
If it was the Army that launched Bumper, why is NASA claiming this as their work?
NASA's not claiming it as their work, of course, Bumper preceded NASA by quite a few years. Really, if you look at the entire heritage of launching activity and launch technology in the United States, NASA owes everything we're doing today and accomplishing today to the pioneering work that was done by Robert Goddard, the German engineers, by General Electric, by the Air Force, by the Navy; we’re really honoring the Bumper launch. It was a tremendous accomplishment and it was the first launch here in the Cape Canaveral Spaceport.
Gundolf from Dusseldorf
Were German engineers involved in the Bumper program and if yes what were their responsibilities?
We've actually done a lot of work to try and figure out if there were German engineers from Dr. Von Braun's group, especially Dr. Kurt Debus, involved in the launches. The only thing that we can find that they really contributed to were some of the initial studies on how to mate the WAC corporal to the V-2. The launches here at the Cape took place during a time when Von Braun and his team were moving to Huntsville and setting up the Redstone arsenal. So we believe they were basically too busy and were not here at the time.
Gabrielle from Orlando, FL
For Mrs. Bain, were there many women involved in the Bumper program?
The only two people that I know that were actually involved in it were Mary Taggard and Bea Sylvester who were in a van that was quite a distance from where the launch pad was. They were monitoring and taking caring of different things that they had to do, but their van was not on the launch pad. It was over close to the ocean. So, their support was given to the Bumper project but not actually at the launch pad.
Bob from Atlanta
When you participated in the first Bumper launch, did you think then that the rocket & space program would develop into what we have today?
I didn’t think it'd ever go that far. I knew the Bumper program was the embryo of the space industry, the way we were looking at it then. I didn't think anything would ever come up like going to the Moon and safely returning, I never thought it would end up with that. I've been very fortunate to follow it all the way through.
 
 
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center