The scientific tourist #298 — the Redstone missile

Here you see a Redstone on static display outside the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A direct descendant of (and engineered by many of the creators of) the V-2 missile, the Redstone missile was the U.S.’ first large ballistic missile.  A short range surface-to-surface beast, it had a useful range of 57.5 miles (92.5 km) to 201 miles (323 km), and was the first missile to carry a live nuclear warhead in flight (in tests in the Pacific Ocean in 1958).


Working from lessons learned from their V-2 experiences, the Redstone’s designers built the missile to split in two in flight — the front section carrying the warhead was separated from the main body carrying the propellant tanks and rocket engine in order to improve both accuracy and range.  You can see this separation plane just behind the small fins about 1/3 of the missile’s length behind its nose.

Redstone -- the business end

Should you be in any doubt of this bird’s parentage, all you need to do is take a look at its tail section.  The control surfaces at the edge of its fins, and the control vanes in its engine’s exhaust plume, are both direct copies from their V-2 forebears.  And the engine (although built by North American Aviation, originally for the Navaho cruise missile) ran on Liquid Oxygen (LOX) and a water / alcohol mix — just as the V-2 did.

Jupiter C vs Jupiter IRBM

The development of the Redstone started in 1951, and Redstone missiles were fielded by the U.S. Army from 1955 through 1964.  But that role in the Cold War was hardly the high-water-mark for the design, as derivatives of it would go on to make history.  On January 31, 1958, a Jupiter C rocket lifted Explorer 1 (the U.S.’ first satellite) into orbit.  And just three years later, on May 5, 1961, a further modified Redstone rocket lifted Alan B. Shepard, Jr. into suborbital flight — beginning the U.S.’ human spaceflight program.

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