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A Road Trip for a Rocket

A rocket sits horizontally on a flatbed tractor trailer outside front gate.
An Atlas missile arrives at Plum Brook Station on July 31, 1963 for dynamics testing in E Stand.

General Dynamics delivered one of its Atlas rockets to Plum Brook Station (today, Armstrong Test Facility) on July 31, 1963 for a series of structural tests in the Dynamics Stand. The company created a special 64-foot long trailer to transport the missile from its plant in San Diego to Ohio.

The journey required a police escort and additional drivers on the trailer itself. Tight turns were impossible, and most bridges, underpasses, and urban areas had to be avoided.  In October 1963, NASA engineers subjected the vehicle to the maximum force it would encounter during a launch. The testing lifted the flight restraint for the first successful Atlas-Centaur launch on November 27, 1963.

Atlas-Centaurs went on to send seven Surveyor spacecraft to the Moon and probes to Venus, Mars, and Jupiter; launch a series of space observatories; and orbit dozens of satellites. The vehicle remains in use today as an Atlas V rocket launched the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover into deep space on July 29.

Robert S. Arrighi
NASA Glenn Research Center