Jets and Moon Rockets: 1957-1970

The Douglas Aircraft Co. ... On the Threshold of Space

For the race to the moon, Douglas build the third stage of the Saturn V launch vehicle. However, the Douglas Aircraft Co. commitment to the space program started during the 1950s when the company became deeply involved in missile systems and the ensuing, rapidly evolving space technologies.

The Douglas Roc series of missiles in the late 1940s were followed by an air-to-air missile, the Sparrow I in the early 1950s. Douglas also built thousands of the MB-1 (later AIR-2) Genie rockets, which first appeared in 1957 and equipped both American and Canadian interceptor forces into the 1980s.

The Nike series of missiles, first delivered in July 1956, were built in a new Douglas plant at Charlotte, N.C. By 1959, Douglas also was prime contractor for the Skybolt missile system. Used by both the U.S. Air Force and the Royal Air Force, Skybolts were designed to be carried on B-52 and RAF Vulcan bombers.

The Douglas Thor, called "the DC-3 of the Space Age," was the first intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) deployed since the German V-2. Because of Cold War tensions in 1956, the Thor missile was designed in eight months and rushed off the Santa Monica, Calif., assembly line. Thor also was used as the first-stage rocket to launch NASA's first (America's fifth) satellite into space Oct. 11, 1958, and continued to be used as a launch vehicle until 1981. Augmented by solid-fuel boosters, it led to the Delta family of launch vehicles, serving U.S. space and satellite programs since 1960.

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