Back in the 19th century, Jules Verne, a visionary French writer, made Florida the origin of his fictional journey to the Moon -- a brilliant prediction of the future role the United States would play in the history of space exploration. Jules Verne's predictions started coming true in March 1926, when America's own visionary -- Robert Goddard -- launched the world's first rocket powered by liquid propellant. As often in history, Goddard's pioneering feat was met with ridicule or indifference, leaving rocket development in the United States a low key and low budget affair.

It was the bloodshed of war and the threat of nuclear annihilation, rather than the dream of space flight that brought rocketry to the forefront of history. Deadly exposure to the Germany's "wonder weapons" at the end of World War II forced its winners to pay attention to the military applications of rocketry. The United States became the main keeper of the German rocket legacy and the new home for many of its German creators. As the Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union escalated in the post-war decades, missiles eventually became the weapon of choice for both sides in the a nuclear standoff between "superpowers."


Overview of US military rockets and missiles:

Name
Status
Notes
Experimental rockets
A 1926 Goddard rocket
Flew in 1926
World's first liquid-propellant rocket, rose to 12.5 meters
A-series rockets
Flight tested in the summer of 1935
Dr. Goddard test program to develop a stabilization system, reached 2,130 meters and a speed 1,130 km/h; (217)
A-4 (V-2)
Flew from White Sands, NM, after WWII
German rocket captured by US forces
Aerobee, H1
-
Could fly up to 120.6 kilometers (217)
ARCAS
-
Research rocket could reach 64 km (217)
Convair MX-774
Flew in 1948
Precursor to Atlas ICBM
Iris
-
Navy project for a solid-propellant research rocket
Farside
Flew in 1957
A four-stage rocket air-launched from a balloon, could fly as high as 6,400 km (217)
GAPA
Developed since 1945 Flew in 1953
Antiaircraft research
Hermes
Developed around 1950
Research rocket
Lockheed X-17
Flew around 1957
Three-stage solid-propellant research missile for warhead reentry tests
Nike-Cajum
Flew in 1957-58
Research rocket, could reach up to 120 kilometers
Viking
-
Reached 254 km
WAC Corporal
First launched in 1944
Developed at JPL; reached 72.4 km; then flew as the second stage of A-4 (V-2) during 1948-1950
Surface to surface cruise missiles (short/medium range)
GLCM
-
Ground-launched cruise missile deployed by Air Force
Loon (JB-2) (V-1)
-
Army
Mace A
-
Air Force, tactical, air-breathing, mobile;
Mace B
-
Air Force, tactical, air-breathing, "coffin"-based;
Matador A
-
Air Force, canceled to make way to Atlas
Matador C
-
Air Force, canceled to make way to Atlas
Regulus I
-
Navy cruise missile
Regulus II
-
Navy cruise missile
Tomahawk
-
Cruise missile
Surface to surface cruise missiles (intercontinental)
Navaho
Developed from about July 1946, canceled in 1957
Air Force, intercontinental, supersonic cruise missile. Equivalent of the Soviet Burya project;
Snark
-
Air Force, intercontinental range , canceled as too low and slow;
Surface to surface guided ballistic missiles (short/medium)) range)
Corporal
-
Army
Jupiter
-
Air Force, medium range;
Lance
-
Army, battlefield, nuclear or conventional warhead;
Pershing I
-
Army
Pershing II
-
Army
Redstone
-
Army missile with about 200 mile range;
Sergeant
-
Army tactical missile with about 50-mile range;
Thor
-
Air Force, medium range;
Surface to surface (intercontinental)
Atlas
First launch on June 11, 1957
Air Force ICBM
Atlas-B
First flew July 9, 1958
Air Force ICBM
Atlas-C
First flew in March 1959
Air Force ICBM
Atlas-D
First flew in July 1959
Air Force ICBM
Atlas-E
First flew in October 1960
Air Force ICBM
Atlas-F
First flew in August 1961
Air Force ICBM
Minuteman IA
First prototype launch in September 1959 (236)
Boeing-built, first solid-propellant ICBM for Air Force
Minuteman IB
-
ICBM, Air Force
Minuteman II
First launch Sept. 24, 1964
ICBM, Air Force
Minuteman III
-
ICBM, Air Force
Minuteman IV
-
ICBM, Air Force
MX Peacekeeper
First launch on June 18, 1983
Air Force, ICBM
SICBM
First prototype launch on Oct. 22, 1987
Air Force, ICBM
Titan I
First flew in December 1958
Air Force ICBM, used cryogenic propellant
Titan II
First flew on March 16, 1962
Air Force ICBM, used storable propellant
Submarine-based ballistic missiles
ASROC
-
Anti-submarine ballistic missile
Polaris A-1
-
Navy
Polaris A-2
-
Navy
Polaris A-3
-
Navy
Poseidon C-3
-
Navy
SUBROC
-
Anti-submarine ballistic missile
Trident I C-4
-
Navy
Trident II D-5
-
Navy
Antiaircraft/Antimissile missiles
AADS-70
Proposed for deployment in 1970
Antiaircraft and antimissile system project
Bomarc A
Originated around June 1949
-
Bomarc B
-
Nuclear-tipped antiaircraft missile
Hawk
-
Used against low-flying targets
Mauler
-
Army, mobile
Nike-Ajax
-
1954
Nike-Hercules
Developed since 1953
-
Nike-Zeus
Flew around 1960
Developed with antimissile capabilities
Nike-X
-
Antimissile system project
Redeye
-
Army, shoulder-fired
Standard Missile 1
-
Navy antiaircraft missile
Standard Missile 2
-
Navy antiaircraft, long-range missile
Spartan
-
Antimissile system
Sprint
-
Low-altitude antimissile system
Talos
-
Ramjet-powered Navy missile
Typhon
-
Navy, antimissile capabilities
Terrier I
-
Navy
Terrier II
-
Navy
Tartar
-
Navy
Rocket-powered aircraft
D-558-II Sky Rocket
-
-
X-1 , 1A, 1B, 1E
-
Air Force
X-2
-
Air Force
X-3
-
-
X-4
-
-
X-5
-
-
X-15
-
-
Jet-Assisted Takeoff Units (JATO)
25ALD1000
WWII period
A liquid-propellant system used on B-24, B-25, C-40 and P-38 aircraft; (217)
M17G
WWII period
A prototype system by Reaction Motors, Inc. for PBM flying boats; (217)
M19G
WWII period
A prototype system by Reaction Motors, Inc. (217)
Target missiles
MQM-39A Cardinal
-
Beech Mach 0.52
MQM-39A Cardinal advanced
-
Beech Mach 0.65 using turbojet engine
Beech Mach 3 AQM-37A (KD2B-1)
-
Solid-propellant?
Beech Mach 5 AQM-37A (KD2B-1)
-
Advanced design solid-propellant and ramjet engines
Beech Mach 7 missile
-
Proposed for US Navy reportedly combined rocket and ramjet engines

Writer and illustrator: Anatoly Zak; last update: October 5, 2009

Editor: Alain Chabot; last edit: February 22, 2008

All rights reserved

 

 

 


PICTURE GALLERY

"Hoopskirt": Replica of the world's first liquid-propellant rocket launched by Robert Goddard on March 16, 1926. His achievements, however, were sometimes referred to as a "crock pot dream." Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak


It IS rocket science: One of the most advanced rockets developed by Robert Goddard around 1940-41 sported turbopumps, which forced propellant into a high-pressure combustion chamber -- a must have feature for its successors. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2002 Anatoly Zak


David and Goliath: The WAC Corporal research rocket is displayed next to the A-4 rocket, for which it served as a second stage. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak


Nuclear armageddon: The submarine-launched Regulus cruise missile, which became one of the earliest means of delivery for nuclear weapons. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2006 Anatoly Zak


Doomsday room: Missile checkout and launch control center onboard a US Navy submarine, carrying the Regulus cruise missile. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2006 Anatoly Zak


Rockets next door: The Nike-Ajax antiaircraft missiles were widely deployed, including in suburban New York and in New Jersey, where they would guard the metropolitan area of New York City against long-range Soviet bombers. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2006 Anatoly Zak


Salute to the flag: The Nike-Hercules antiaircraft missile (center), designed to carry a nuclear warhead, stands as a monument in Sandy Hook, New Jersey. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2006 Anatoly Zak


In one's own backyard: The Talos (top: click to enlarge) and Terrier (bottom: click to enlarge) sea-based antiaircraft missiles at the Navy museum in Hackensack, New Jersey. Copyright © 2006 Anatoly Zak


Standard Missile-1. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2006 Anatoly Zak


The Tomahawk cruise missile. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2006 Anatoly Zak


The Patriot system originated as antiaircraft missile, but was later upgraded for a limited antimissile role. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2006 Anatoly Zak


The Harpoon missile. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2006 Anatoly Zak


The Soviet Pioneer missile (left) next to its US contemporary -- the Pershing II. Both are medium-range missiles. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak