The Museum Of Science and Technology recently announced that their iconic rocket displayed on the grounds of the museum is slated to be destroyed after more than forty years. The museum stated “For safety reasons related to their deterioration, the Atlas rocket and the oil pumpjack that have for many years graced the lawns of Technology Park in front of the Canada Science and Technology Museum (CSTM) will be removed.” according to a recent article in the Ottawa Citizen. (read complete article here)
The museum has already been forced to close due to air quality concerns, so this recent announcement comes as a second blow for the cash-strapped facility that houses some of this country’s most historic artifacts. The rocket is on loan from the USAF who says they don’t want it back, but rather ask it be “cut down into tiny pieces so that no one could possibly figure out how to reassemble them.”
The destruction of our beloved and popular landmark will occur over the course of the next few weeks, but before that happens, let’s take a closer look at our famous rocket before it is sadly gone forever.
Our rocket is an Atlas 5A (Serial #56-6742) and it is the only surviving Atlas in the original A-series configuration. The first Atlas flown was the Atlas A in 1957–1958. Our rocket was built in 1956 used as a test and research article, later displayed throughout the 1960s at the former location of the Air Force Museum, at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.
The Atlas-class rocket was used to put Lt. Col. John Glenn in space becoming the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962 and was also the first intercontinental ballistic missile. (ICBM) . Nuclear ICBM launch silos were built across the US during the cold war to facilitate nuclear armed Atlas rockets. The Atlas was retired from service in 1965.
One such missile silo exists just south east of Ottawa in Upper New York state, Here is a Google pic of the abandoned Atlas ICBM silo located just a two hour drive from Ottawa.
After more than forty years outside in the harsh elements, the rocket has now deteriorated to the point, that according to the article it “has not been air tight for many years, and a compressor coupled to a generator (has) been required to maintain its internal pressure to prevent it from collapsing upon itself,”
Pressure in the tanks provides the structural rigidity and an Atlas rocket would collapse under its own weight if not kept pressurized with 5 psi of nitrogen in the tank even when not fuelled. The compound WD-40 was invented in 1953 by Dr. Norm Larsen, founder of the Rocket Chemical Company and first used by Convair to protect the outer skin of the rocket, more importantly, the paper-thin balloon tanks of the Atlas missile from rust and corrosion. These stainless steel fuel tanks were so thin that, when empty, they had to be kept inflated with the nitrogen gas to prevent their collapse.
The museum sates that “As its deterioration advances and becomes more severe, practical solutions to maintain the required internal pressure to prevent it from crumpling and potentially injuring visitors to Technology Park are running out.”
A sad end to a rocket that launched the imaginations of thousands of kids over the last four decades. You’d think we’d be able to find an alternative way save this valuable piece of world history. Does anyone have the Smithsonian’s number?
UPDATE FEBRUARY 22 2015
After recently contacting the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum about the doomed rocket, they put me in touch with Discovery Park Museum in Tennessee. There is a slim chance the rocket may have a new home and avoid being cut up.
FULL update in the Ottawa Citizen here:
Ottawa Citizen, February 10 2015 http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/science-and-tech-museum-will-lose-rocket-pumpjack