The Atlas was the United States' first successful ICBM. It was named for the Greek mythological Atlas.
Project MX-1593 (Project Atlas) began 16 January 1951. Convair became the prime contractor in May 1956. The first test (a failure) took place at Edwards Air Force Base 21 June 1956. A successful test firing occurred the following day.
The first test flight took place at Cape Canaveral 11 June 1957. A fuel system failure necessitated detonation by command at 10,000 feet. The first successful flight came on the third attempt 17 December 1957.
The Atlas D ICBM became operational at Vandenberg Air Force Base 1 September 1959. Operational readiness ended in 1965, but the Atlas and its' descendents live on. The current Atlas family includes the Atlas II, Atlas III, and Atlas V.
The Atlas was used during Project Mercury for a number of
flights, both manned and unmanned. The major flights were:
- Mercury-Atlas 1, first flight of a Mercury spacecraft.
- Mercury-Atlas 2, another test of the Mercury spacecraft.
- Mercury-Atlas 3, continuing testing of the Mercury spacecraft.
- Mercury-Atlas 4, yet another Mercury spacecraft test.
- Mercury-Atlas 5, the flight of Enos the chimpanzee.
- Friendship 7, the flight of John Glenn.
- Aurora 7, the flight of Scott Carpenter.
- Sigma 7, the flight of Wally Schirra.
- Faith 7, the flight of Gordon Cooper.
Mercury Atlas 9 (Faith 7)
The Atlas was also used in Project Gemini to launch the Agena Target Vehicles. Other past uses were the launch of the Mariner space probes to Mercury, Venus, and Mars. The Atlas was the core of the proposed Outpost space station in 1958.
Length: 82.5 feet (25.15 m)
Diameter: 10 feet (3.05 m)
Weight: 267,136 lbs (121,171 kg) fueled, 18,104 lbs (8212 kg) empty
Fuel: RP-1 (Kerosene)
Oxidizer: LOX (Liquid Oxygen)
Range: 6,400 - 9,000 miles (10,300 - 14,484 km)
Propulsion: 2 booster engines, 1 sustainer engine, 2 small Vernier engines, generating a combined thrust of 357,400 pounds
Guidance: Radio-inertial (A-D models), all inertial (E,F models)
The Atlas was referred to as a stage-and-a-half because only the booster engines were jettisoned at staging. The construction of the Atlas was of a very thin stainless steel and was actually supported by the pressurized fuel. Without that pressurization, the Atlas would have collapsed under its' own weight.
Propulsion: Rocketdyne Division, North American Aviation
Guidance: Radar by General Electric, computer by Burroughs (A-D models); American Bosch Arma (E,F models)
(click to enlarge)
MA-5 engines firing
United States History - Atlas ICBM
Encyclopedia Astronautica - Atlas
Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles