US Hi 70, Missile Trail

The Missile Trail: From Roswell to White Sands Missile Range

Goddard Collection at Roswell Museum                                                                                                    New Mexico Museum of Space History at Alamogordo                                                                            White Sands Missile Range Museum at White Sands

"It has often proved true that the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.”                             Robert Goddard, high school graduation key note address, June of 1904

Introduction to Rockets. When Americans sing the Star Spangled Banner, “…the rockets red glare..”, are they aware that as early as the 11th century the fire arrow was born and the idea of rocketry began?  These early rockets, similar to today’s firework rockets, were powered by gunpowder. The concept of a projectile flying by itself opened up a new world of possibilities. Science fiction writer and science teacher H. G. Wells sparked the imagination of millions with his ideas of rockets and space travel. Writing about rockets is one thing, but making functional rockets is another.

The difference between a rocket and a cannon ball is that one is self propelled and one isn’t.  Putting more gun powder into the cannon makes the cannon ball travel farther because the explosion is bigger. More gun powder placed into a tube does not make the rocket travel farther. To travel farther the rocket needs thrust or push caused from a continuous and controlled burning of the fuel. In simple talk, the rocket needs a designed system, not more fuel to travel farther. Aiming a cannon can accurately predict where the cannon ball will fall. Aiming a firework rocket does not accurately predict where it will land. To accurately predict where a rocket will land requires a guidance system.

A simple equation, the ideal rocket equation, gives insight on how a rocket works. Think of a rocket as a thin strong metal tube capped on one end. When the tube is filled with fuel it has the weight of the tube plus its fuel. When the fuel burns it produces an exhaust gas. This exhaust gas needs to be expelled at a high speed. To achieve this, a nozzle is needed to restrict the release of the gas which causes an increase in both the pressure and speed of the released gases. A simple analogy is the garden hose. Once the water in turned on there is a constant release of water, but using a nozzle or putting your thumb over the opening will cause the water to squirt out farther and with more speed. The greater the speed of the expelled water from the hose, the greater the thrust of the water. The greater the velocity of the exhaust gas in a rocket, the greater the thrust of the rocket.

With a correct nozzle in place the fueled rocket is ready to be ignited. A physics principal called the conservation of momentum takes over the process once the ignition has begun. In simple talk, the rocket with fuel wants to stay on the ground because gravity is holding it in place. To overcome this staying in place force, the burning of the fuel would need to exert an opposite force greater than the force holding the rocket in order to fly. As the fuel is burning the rocket is getting lighter. The lighter rocket requires less force to make it fly. When the fuel releases a steady exhaust force, then the lighter rocket will travel faster and faster. The key to rocketry is the speed and force of the expelled gases from the burning of the fuel.

Dr. Robert H. Goddard, America’s First Rocket Scientist. Many folks had ideas about rockets, but very few did the extensive research needed to make rockets work correctly. Dr. Robert Goddard, PhD in physics, realized that rockets needed a better engine, better fuel, and more than one stage to be effective. He recognized that solid fuels when burned produced a lower exhaust velocity than liquid fuels. In 1914 he received two U.S. patents - one for a multi stage rocket and the other for a liquid fuel powered rocket. In the beginning Robert Goddard paid for the rocket research out of his own pocket because others thought building rockets was folly and a waste of money. In 1920 the Smithsonian published “A Method for Reaching Extreme Altitudes” by Robert Goddard which discussed rockets and the possibility of sending rockets to the moon. The New York Times wrote an editorial mocking the Smithsonian article and ridiculing Goddard personally.

In 1926 Professor Robert Goddard made an advancement in rocketry that would change the world. He launched the first liquid rocket in Massachusetts. The rocket powered by a liquid fuel required a revolutionary new rocket engine which he named Nell, and was powered by an oxygen-gasoline engine. This engine had the ability to be fine tuned and produce much more force (thrust) from the expelled gas. On its second launch, Goddard’s rocket carried a barometer and camera. The second launch was successful and the first picture from a rocket was taken. Below is the rocket and the picture taken from the rocket.


The State Fire Marshall of Massachusetts forbid any more rocket firings and Goddard was forced to either move or give up rocketry. He began the search for a place that was remote, void of trees, and did not have extreme weather. The high plains of east central New Mexico were perfect, and in 1930 Goddard moved his research facility to Roswell, New Mexico. Our trail will begin there.

Beginning the Journey in Roswell New Mexico at the Dr. Robert Goddard Collection. The Dr. Robert Goddard Collection is found in the Roswell Museum and Art Center. The Center also has a wing that houses the Goddard Planetarium.The museum is located at 100 W 11th Street, at the corner of 11th and Main Street. The museum’s phone number is (575) 624-6744. The Roswell Museum is free (donations are welcome) and open year around except holidays. Call ahead to double check hours of operations.     web site:

Author’s Note. When viewing the videos located in the Goddard collection, which is a replication of his workshop and includes an actual rocket, one begins to realize the shear genius and determination of Dr. Robert Goddard. His rockets worked without any electronics, electric switches, or servos. Goddard designed revolutionary parts and control systems for a technology that did not exist anywhere in the world. His workman had to machine these new parts and construct the rockets from scratch in his small shop. I sincerely feel Dr. Robert Goddard is the most unsung science pioneer in American history.

Charles Lindbergh, the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, was an admirer of Goddard’s work and found a financial backer, Daniel Guggenheim, for the rocketry research. This allowed Robert Goddard to quit teaching physics and focus on his rocket research.

World War II German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun stated, “Until 1936 Goddard was ahead of us all”, referring to rocket science. Von Braun had a research team and the financial backing from Hitler’s Army. Goddard lacked these advantages of man power and funding. And, the German rocket research team even used detailed copies of Goddard’s patents: rocket engine design, gyroscopic control,  steering by means of vanes in jet stream of the rocket motor, thrust vectoring (movable exhaust mountings), power drive pumping system for liquid fuel, liquid fuel pressure equalizer system and other innovations. The German rocket engineers, working for the German military, contacted Goddard directly with technical questions and he shared his knowledge with the only other scientists who seemed to care about rocketry.

Dr. Robert Goddard was not a stranger to the U.S. military. During the end of World War I, Goddard developed a prototype, “Rocket-Powered Recoilless Weapon”, later perfected and commonly called the bazooka. Goddard continued to work on secret projects with the military until 1923.

However, the focus of the United States military in the late 1920’s and 1930’s was on securing and protecting the home front and not on advanced weapons or modernization except for the Army Air Corp (pre US Air Force). Securing the home front translated to the military protecting U.S.’s seaports. A program was established to create and upgrade the fortifications of 18 seaports with more and larger caliber artillery guns. In the mid 1930’s approximately one-third of the Army’s manpower was used in security of the United States seaports. Dr. Goddard’s expertise was no longer needed.

In 1941 Dr. Goddard launched his last rocket as war loomed on the horizon. Because of his communications with the German rocket scientists, Dr Goddard had a grasp of the rocket capacity and future of the German military rocket program. He tried to convey his warnings to the U.S. military. He even contacted and offered his expertise to the military along with a detailed proposal for building long range large rockets. But, the Army rejected his ideas. The Navy did ask for his help in developing Assisted-Take-Off for sea planes and other aircraft. During the testing process of the assisted-take-off program, the prop was removed from one of the test planes and six small rockets were added under the wings. With no propellers, the plane took off, flew, and landed, becoming the first American rocket powered plane!

In 1944 the first V-2 , German long range rocket, hit London, and then the powerful destructive nature of the long range large rockets was realized by all militaries and civilians. After the war Dr. Goddard had an opportunity to examine V-2 parts and components. He discovered that much of his work had been copied. The European Theater of World War II ended in May 1945.

Dr. Robert Goddard died August 10, 1945. At the time of his death he held 214 patents on rocketry. In 1959 the 86th Congress awarded a Congressional Gold Medal of Honor for his work. In 1961, exactly 35 years to the day of the launch of Dr. Goddard’s first rocket, his wife, Ester Goddard, was present at the formal dedication of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. 

On Oct. 5, 1964 the US Post office issued a commemorative stamp honoring Dr. Robert H. Goddard.

The Goddard estate and the Guggenheim Foundation, which had backed his research, were the owners of Goddard’s rocket patents. Before World War II Robert Goddard tried to give away all his research and patents to the U.S. government, but they refused his offer. The German military used Goddard’s work and copied his patented inventions without his permission or compensation. When the U.S. government used parts from the German V-2 to create the American V-2 rockets, they too did so without permission nor gave compensation for the use of Goddard’s patented rocket inventions. In 1960 the government settled this patent infringement law suit with a $1,000,000 payment to Robert Goddard’s wife and his rocket sponsor the Guggenheim Foundation.  ($1,000,000 in 1960 is equal to the same buying power as $8,000,000 today.)

On July 17, 1969, after the Apollo crew began their journey to the moon, the New York Times wrote an apology to Dr. Goddard. The Times printed as follows: A Correction. On Jan. 13, 1920, "Topics of the Times," an editorial-page feature of the The New York Times, dismissed the notion that a rocket could function in a vacuum and commented on the ideas of Robert H. Goddard, the rocket pioneer, as follows:  “That Professor Goddard, with his 'chair' in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution, does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react - to say that would be absurd. Of course he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.” Further investigation and experimentation have confirmed the findings of Isaac Newton in the 17th Century and it is now definitely established that a rocket can function in a vacuum as well as in an atmosphere. The Times regrets the error.

Authors Note: I find it extremely sad that the Times only said: “The Times regrets the error” as an apology. Robert Goddard’s rocket discoveries have changed the world and the Times “regrets the error”!

The original 1936 footage from a film showing a flight of one of Goddard’s guided missiles is available on youtube. This film was shown to the military in 1941 as part of the evidence that rocket flight was achievable.  Youtube video titled "Robert Goddard - Development of High Altitude Rockets"

New Mexico Museum of Space History, Alamogordo - 118 miles west on US Hwy 70

Mental Detour. Roswell Army Air Field (RAAF) was later changed to Walker Air Base when the Air Force became a separate branch of the U.S. military. Roswell Army Air Base was the home of the 509th Bomb Wing which had only one mission - to drop the atomic bombs in WW II. This group and base was the beginning of the Strategic Air Command. At one time Walker Air force Base (AFB) was the command and control center for the nuclear warheads located at the base.

A UFO question: “Was a UFO spying on the nuclear warheads at the Roswell base before it crashed?” Some UFO people believe that this is why the UFO’s were sighted in the area of Roswell before the “Roswell Incident”.

Nike-Ajax was the world’s first surface-to-air missile (SAM). The defense surface-to-air missile system was designed to destroy incoming enemy bomber aircraft with a missile. A Nike-Ajax battery was attached to protect the Walker Air Force Base. In the 1960’s, 12 Atlas missile silos were located around Roswell. The Atlas was an intercontinental missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads to another continent. When leaving the plains and entering the mountain range of Ruidoso, the open doors of one of these remaining decommissioned silos can been seen at mile marker 311. The Atlas missile silos were 174 feet deep and 52 feet in diameter with a connected two story underground control center. More about these missiles can be found on the web site hosted by former crew members of the Atlas missile silos. The 579 SMS (Strategic Missile Squadron) web site:

In an unrelated high altitude event in 2012 over Roswell, a sky diver (Felix Baumgarter) was held by a harness attached to a huge 400 foot tall helium balloon. It took two and a half hours for the balloon to climb higher and higher into “near space”.  The space suited man with his parachute was released from the balloon’s harness at an altitude of more than 25 miles or 132,000 feet and his fall to earth began. At one time he was falling at a speed of over 800 mph, breaking the sound barrier. The sky diver became the first human to break the sound barrier without an engine. This Roswell skydiving event occurred 65 years to the day after Chuck Yeager piloted the first plane to break the sound barrier. Chuck Yeager’s plane, the Bell X-1, was rocket powered. It took the sky diver over ten minutes to safely reach the ground.

 Detour trip to Ruidoso: Playground of the Southwest - 74 miles west on US 70

This old west mountain mining and logging town transformed itself into a major resort destination. With seven golf courses, two disk golf courses, three casinos, horse race track, southern most ski area, snow tubing area, hiking trails, horse back riding, fishing, broadway shows, elk hunting, shopping, great places to eat, and so much more, it is a great place to stop and play. The cool pine covered mountain resort of Ruidoso is definitely worth a stop, visit, and stay. With so many things to do and see, options become numerous.  Below are sites to help in deciding “What to Do?” .

Ruidoso Chamber:                                                                                                                           Inn of Mountains Resort and casino:                                                                            Ruidoso Downs Racetrack and casino:                                                                                 Ruidoso Travel site:                                                                                                             Ruidoso News Paper:                                                                                                         Ruidoso Travel site:

Continuing from Ruidoso on US 70 heading west

Background on the German Rocket Program of World War II. The German Nazi military in the 1930’s had an advanced weapons and rocket research center, but it was not until WW II that rockets became a focal point for research and development. Scientists and engineers were transferred from combat roles to work on advanced weapons and rocket development. The rocket research, testing, and assembly area was located in the very north of Germany on the Baltic coast by the remote small town of Peenemunde. Aeronautical research in jet-propelled planes, airborne jet-powered torpedoes (V-1) and large heavy rockets (V-2) was conducted in this area. Winston Churchill, during the early part of the war, received this report from General Ismay: ”…The Chief-of-Staff feels that you should be made aware of reports of German experiments with long range rockets…” More information about Hitler’s secret weapons began to arrive at Allied Headquarters and the decision was made to conduct a bombing raid on Peenemunde. About 600 Allied bombers took part in a successful raid that destroyed labs, shops, and assembly areas. Numerous rocket scientists, technicians, and other workers were also killed.

The German military moved their rocket operation inside the inactive mining complex in the Harz Mountains next to Poland to prevent being destroyed from another bombing raid. The inactive mine had been expanded to become the largest oil storage facility in Germany. The underground facility was further modified and expanded into a rocket assembly complex. The underground complex consisted of two parallel tunnels, each twenty feet high and thirty feet wide. The two main tunnels were five hundred feet apart and had 46 cross galleries connecting the tunnels. Each main tunnel was over one mile long. One tunnel was mainly used to bring in material and man power while the other was used to remove assembled rockets. At the height of the V-2 production, over 15,000 people worked in the underground complex.

The pilotless jet powered bomb with wings was launched from ramps facing Britain located along the coast of occupied countries. These “buzz-bombs” or V-1s were 25 feet long, had a wing span of 16 feet, and carried 2,000 pounds of explosives. Once the engine stopped, the bomb fell to Earth. Approximately 20,000 V-1’ s were used against London and surrounding parts of Britain. The V-1’s flew at about 340 mph at an altitude of two to three thousand feet. The British and American fighter planes were faster and could climb higher and could successfully attack the V-1’s before they came ashore in England. The V-1’s were launched across the English channel in Europe over a hundred miles away from their target. At times, hundreds of V-1’s were launched at the same time making it impossible to shoot most of the V-1’s down with either fighter planes or ground anti-aircraft fire. The success of the V-1’s and the test failures of the larger V-2 rocket actually delayed the development of the V-2. A few top German military personnel thought the larger V-2 rocket was “merely an artillery shell with a longer range that cost too much”.

General Eisenhower later wrote:”…It seems likely that if the Germans had succeeded in perfecting and using these new weapons (V-1 and V-2) earlier than they did, our invasion of Europe would have proven exceedingly difficult, perhaps impossible…” The fate of the war might have been decided by rockets. 

The V-1 or buzz-bomb made a sound as it was flying which provided a warning of an attack. When the sound stopped the V-1 would begin to fall and hopefully everyone within sound of the V-1 was in a bomb shelter. The V-2 however, gave no warning sound. The V-2 was a rocket 46 feet long, 5.5 feet in diameter, with a total weight of over 27,000 pounds when fueled, and carried a 2,000 pound warhead. The rocket traveled up to an altitude of 55 miles and when it fell back to earth it impacted at a speed of approximately 1,800 mph. The impact energy from the big rocket hitting the ground at 1,800 mph, along with the ignition of the 2,000 pounds of explosives, ushered in the destructive age of large guided missiles.

Up t 3,000 English men, women, and children lost their lives to the destructive power of the V-2. The allied air force aggressively attacked the mobil V-2 launching sites, V-2 transportation corridors (roads and rail lines), storage areas, and areas adjoining the rocket assembly center. An estimated 9,000 German military and civilians plus 12,000 concentration camp prisoners died in the production of the 3,000+ V-2 rockets. The last Nazi SS concentration camp, Mittelbauw-Dora, located near the underground complex, was established to create a slave labor work force for the production of weapons. The maximum population of the camp was over 60,000 prisoners. Up to 10,000 slave laborers from the camp lived and worked in the underground complex. The Mittelbauw-Dora prisoner living and working conditions were some of the worst in any of the Nazi concentration camps. Later it was ruled that the use of slave labor was a war crime.

As WWII was ending, the spoils of the war were four key items: the V-2 manufacturing facility, the documents and plans on how to build a V-2, the rocket scientists who knew how to build a V-2, and finally a fully built unused V-2. The Russians took possession of the V-2 manufacturing facility after the Americans removed 14 tons of documents which filled six big Army two-and-a-half ton trucks and enough parts to build an estimated 200 V-2 rockets. Dr. Wernher von Braun, technical project leader for the development and production of the V-2, along with over 100 key rocket scientists, surrendered to the American forces. 

Continuing Hwy 70 - Tularosa - 36 miles from Ruidoso

Tularosa was named for the red or rose colored reeds that grew in the river marsh area. This oasis in the desert attracted families from Las Cruces who settled the village.  In 1863 the village was divided into seven blocks by seven blocks - 1400 acres of area with water that was diverted from the river. The ditch irrigation system called an “acequia” is still in use today and provides water for trees, private gardens, and landscaping which creates a green jewel in the desert.

Because of the abundance of water, pecan orchards were planted and can be easily seen from the highway. The unique climate of the area also is great for growing pistachios and grapes. To the south of Tularosa are the two largest pistachio operations in the state. There are four vineyards in the area and all have tasting rooms. The world’s “Largest Pistachio” can be found at McGinn’s Pistachio Land south of Tularosa on US Hwy 70.

Websites for these operations.

Heart of the Desert pistachios & wines:                                                                    McGinn’s pistachios & wines:                                                                                            Tularosa Vineyards:                                                                                                              Dos Viejos wines:

The family owned and operated Tularosa Pecan Company has 11,000 pecan trees on 2132 acres of its operation. Their products can be purchased at their store, the Tularosa Travel Center, located at the south end of the town on US 70. Their travel center is divided into three operations - a restaurant, a pecan store, and a convenience store. Their website is full of information and many folks love their recipes for tasty pecan treats. The pecan gift shop sells pecan goodies along with bags of shelled pecans and a variety of local wines. website:

Continuing Hwy 70 - Alamogordo - 13 miles 

New Mexico Museum of Space History, Alamogordo. The New Mexico Museum of Space History is located in Alamogordo, New Mexico, at 3198 State Rte 2001 (behind New Mexico State University on Scenic Drive). The phone number is (575) 437-2840. The space museum is an Affiliate of the Smithsonian and hosts a wide variety of Space artifacts. 

White Sands is the birthplace of the United States space program. The museum chronicles America’s space history from the arrival of the V-2 rockets to the development of rockets for our space program,. Exhibits include information about practice NASA space shuttle landings, an actual NASA space shuttle landing, moon exploration, and much more . The Space Museum is one of a kind and definitely worth a visit.  For more info visit

White Sands Missile Range Museum 70 - 56 miles on US 70

We drive this stretch of Hi 70 at least once a month, so in the past 18 years we have had many talks about what we see, what we think we see, the history of what we see, and often wonder about what we don’t see! Please excuse a somewhat lengthy account of what we think is a fascinating drive where the "dream of yesterday can become the future of tomorrow".

Mental Detour - Holloman Air Force Base - 6 miles west from Alamogordo on US 70

Before the United States was formally involved in World War II, the British government hoped Americans would train to become pilots for the Royal Air Force (RAF). This was called the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan or (BCATP). In June of 1942, Alamogordo Army Air Field was established. The runway pattern of the base is unique because it was patterned after Royal Air Force bases. On December 6, 1942, everything  changed when the Japanese Imperial forces attacked Pear Harbor. The base became a major air training facility for American bombers and fighter planes crews.

After World War II, Holloman became an Air Force Base with a major role in supporting the development of the newly formed White Sands Proving Range. Holloman has worked with many aspects of the missile and space program. 

The air space around the base has been populated with a variety of  US fighter planes and bombers and even foreign fighter planes. The German Air Force has had a unit stationed at Holloman AFB since 1958.

Detour to White Sands National Monument - 15 miles from Alamogordo on US 70

Question: What is the white dot on the earth that is visible from space? Answer: White Sands National Monument. It is used to align satellites in space and a wonderful place to visit on the ground. White Sands is the largest (275 square miles) white gypsum sand deposit in the world.

Sliding down a dunes by disk or sled, strolling in the dunes, participating in a special presentation by a park ranger or just enjoying this “wonder of the natural world” makes for a great visit to White Sands National Monument. The monument has many special programs. Check their site for availability. One unique program is the full moon program. When the gypsum sand is exposed to moonlight, it is illuminated and bright but very black when not exposed. On a clear full moon night White Sands is transformed into a surreal black and white world. Seeing is believing. For more information visit:

Authors Note: In my personal opinion, White Sands Missile Range has not received the credit it deserves for its scientific and engineering achievements. What others only dreamed about, they built. Following is only a scratch on the surface of their history, numerous discoveries, pioneering innovations ,and scientific breakthroughs. 

The Beginning of the United States Rocket Program at White Sands. One of the most secret movements of men and equipment occurred just after World War II. Scientists, engineers, and technicians from Nazi Germany were brought to the White Sands area to work with rocketry. Three hundred train loads of equipment were transported to the soon to become White Sands Proving Grounds. A large train load of rocket parts and related material arrived each day for a month in Las Cruces, and all available trucks in the area were used to move the material from the rail yard to the camp site. Strangely this did not provoke much suspension or curiosity from the locals.

No retrieved V-2 missile was intact. General Electric was given the task of understanding, assembling, improving, and launching the V-2 rockets. The team leader for the new American rocket project was the German V-2 project technical leader, Dr. Werhner von Braun. As with so many military operations, this one had a name, “Operation Paperclip”.

The Navy and the Army both were partners with civilian corporations at the White Sands Range. The WAC Corporal, a Navy rocket designed and built by Douglas Aircraft company and Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory, was the first rocket launched at the White Sands Range, giving First Launch Honors to the Navy against the Army. Military rivalry and bragging rights even extend into rocketry! The WAC Corporal rocket was so large that it required a Tiny Tim booster rocket.

Even though the Navy felt rocket and missile research was needed, they conducted limited rocket research during World War II and did not produce a usable weapon system. Some in the Navy felt if the rocket research would have been given a higher priority then the effectiveness of the Kamikaze (suicide Japanese planes with a bomb) against the Pacific fleet would have been greatly lessened. By 1947 a useable air-to-air missile was workable and successfully tested at White sands.

An assembled V-2 at White Sands Missile Range

Rockets and Missiles defined. Rockets come in many sizes for the particular task they serve. For this discussion the word rocket will be used to denote a vehicle designed to travel in high altitudes. The word missile will be used to denote a vehicle designed to hit a target. These definitions are not common in most dictionaries but they are common definitions within the military. Missiles can be ground-to-ground (V-1 and V-2), ground-to-air (air defense systems), air-to-air (aircraft firing a missile at an air target) or air-to-ground (aircraft firing a missile to ground target). Each task involves creating a special missile to fulfill that task. White Sands Missile Range has and does test all types of rockets, missiles, and other technology.

White Sands Proving Ground. The White Sands Proving Ground was established on July 9, 1945. The installation controlled a 3,200 square mile area to be used for building a rocket testing center and a place to test other secret military projects. One week after being established, the first atomic bomb was exploded in the northern portion of the White Sands Proving Ground at a place labeled the Trinity site. The White Sands facility is the largest military installation in the nation. The mountains surrounding the basin provide areas for tracking the rockets being tested. The task of establishing a rocket test center in a barren desert was monumental in its scope.

Rocket engine testing facilities needed to be designed and built for various sizes of rockets. Massive concrete facilities were constructed to hold big rocket engines which could produce up to 500,000 pounds of thrust. (A pound of thrust is the force needed to lift one pound of material from the surface of the earth. 500,000 pounds of thrust is approximately the amount of force needed to lift 38 city buses stacked on top of each other off the surface of the earth). The only accurate method to determine if a rocket engine would perform correctly was to bolt it down on the ground and fire it up. Building a facility to hold a rocket engine and monitor its performance was not a simple task. Rocket assembly areas, machine shops, launch pads, control towers, and the entire community of White Sands also needed to be built.

After the rocket engine had been throughly tested on the ground, scientists and engineers needed to see how it performed in the sky. The markings on the V-2 in the previous picture are not for decoration. These designs were created to help analysize the flight characteristics of the rocket. Job one was to create a way to constantly view the rocket as it flew. Tracking an object longer than a four story building and traveling faster than a bullet was not a simple task in 1946. 

Telemetry stations were built to record and monitor flight data and special systems were built to record and view rocket flights. The tracking system needed to track a rocket up to 100 miles and film the flight with special high speed cameras. A magazine article in Popular Science, Jan. 1948, page 128, gives a wonderful look at the workings of these early tracking cameras.  The article is found at Google Books - search Popular Science Jan. 1948.

High altitude atmospheric conditions needed to be monitored. A small rocket was designed to send sensors into the high altitudes and parachute back down while recording the atmospheric data. High Altitude Research, HARP,  was born because of a need to understand what is up high in the atmosphere and how it works.

As rockets evolved, new ideas opened doors for more and varied applications which created even more new projects and ideas. The “spinning off” of projects caused the White Sands Proving Grounds to expand and change its name to White Sands Missile Range or WSMR. In some respects, the phrase “missile range” is not accurate in describing what this installation does. White Sands Advanced Research Facility might be a better name. 

Not all Tests went well. May 1947 was not a good month for the American V-2 program at White Sands Proving Ground. The improved V-2 rockets fired at White Sands flew higher, faster, and with more payload than their World War II predecessors But not all flights were perfect. On May 16 a V-2 climbed 80 miles up, fell down, and impacted within four miles of Alamogordo. No one was injured but more than a few were scared. On May 29 an American V-2 rocket went off course and smashed to earth one and a half miles south of Juarez, Mexico, narrowly missing a dynamite storage facility for a mining operation. The errors were blamed on the German made gyroscope guidance system. The V-2 rocket hitting Mexico only carried scientific equipment, but left an impact crater fifty feet across and twenty-five feet deep. The 9,000 pound rocket was traveling at about 720 mph when it hit the ground, traveling faster than a 45 caliber pistol round which travels about 600 mph. 

High Speed Test Track. As rocket research expanded, the need for a variety of testing facilities also expanded. There was a need for a rocket testing facility on the ground and the Holloman High Speed Test Trac, HHSTT,  was born. The idea was simple: build a railroad track, place a big cart on the track with a rocket strapped on it, and shoot it down the track. The engineering problems for building the high speed track were complex. The track was not an ordinary railroad track. The test track is now the straightest large object in the world. It holds the world’s land speed record with a speed just under Mach 10 which is about two miles a second or about 6,500 mph (maintaining this speed it would only take 25 minutes to cross this country). The track began service in 1950 and has completed about 13,000 tests to date. Before the space shuttle was launched there was concern that the heat tiles would be shaken and blown off upon reentry to the earth’s atmosphere. Without the heat tiles’ protection the shuttle and its crew would burn up. How to test this concern? Build a special rocket sled, place a replica of the space shuttle with tiles on it, tilt the shuttle at the same angle as reentry, and fire it down the test track at the same speed of reentry. The use of special high speed cameras recorded the event and answered the question. How do you know if an ejection seat will work on a fighter plane when it is traveling faster than a bullet and twisted to one side? Recreate this situation on the test track and film it to find the answer. Does the war head of a bunker buster really bust through a concrete bunker? Build huge concrete steel reinforced slab targets many feet thick, stack them several feet apart, place a warhead on a rocket sled, fire it along the track at the speed of the missile, use exploding bolts, release the warhead, and record the damage to the targets. Ever held your hand out the car window and felt the impact from the rain at highway speed? How does rain, either light or heavy, affect weapon systems in subsonic or hypersonic flight? To answer this question a 6,000 foot rain field was created to duplicate any rain condition that was needed. Firing a sled through the rain field at the necessary speed and recording the event answers the question. 

Simulation is what the high speed track does; it recreates high speed situations with data collection to answer critical questions.  High Speed Test Track youtube presentation

Tracking and Telemetry Data. Tracking a rocket in flight is no easy task and generates a tremendous amount of data. Many advances in Doppler radar were made in order to track the speed of a rocket in feet per second and the exact position of the rocket when its speed was registered. For handling the flight data of the V-2 and others in the late 1940’s, a ENIAC, Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer, computer was used. White Sands Proving Grounds was one of the very first facilities to enter the computer and digital age. Computers in those early days did not even have an operating system, so everything it did had to be programmed from scratch. For tracking the flight of a rocket, White Sands made improvements in, redesigns in, or invented the following: long-range steady moveable optic systems, high speed low light cameras, Doppler radar tracking, computer programing, digital simulations and data mining techniques. Rocket science made great leaps and bounds at White Sands which in turn caused major advancements to be made in other fields of science and engineering. This is American rocket science in action.

Mental detour - Finding Scattered Missile Parts in the Desert

Most of the time when a rocket returns to earth it is not intact but scattered about and blasted into the sandy desert. Rocket scientists want to examine key parts of a rocket after it is fired. How did they find scattered rocket parts in the desert in the 1960’s? They used shark liver oil which is orderless to humans but not to dogs. The critical rocket parts were sprayed with this oil before firing. The radar tracking stations would indicate an area where the rocket had landed. The dogs and their handlers would be transported to the site and the dogs would find the parts. Ingenious solutions to problems are a hallmark of WSMR.

Missile Testing. Title 10, Section 2366 of the U.S. Code is a law that states: a missile system must undergo lethality testing before it can enter full-scale production. The word lethality does not mean a person is harmed but a active aerial target is destroyed. Targets flying on a cable stretched across a canyon are good for practice and basic research at WSMR but not for critical lethality testing. The targets needed to be live or active and also not put a human in danger. The answer was remote controlling. In 1973 the Vega Target Control System controlled decommissioned fighter planes that had been modified for remote controlling.  The area within White Sands Missile Range is covered with radar installations and these provided a link between the plane and the controllers. Retired F-86, F-100, F-102 and F-106 (F is the notation for Fighter planes) were modified to continue service as aerial targets. These planes had the capacity to attempt to evade being shot down and even used defensive counter measures. The simulations were realistic and kept the pilots out of harms way while properly testing the capacity of the missile system. This system echoes the unsung innovation that was and is present at the White Sands Missile Range.


Vega Target Control System and a Modified F-106 relabeled QF-106.                                                                                 The unmanned aircraft had their tail and wing tips painted orange. The Vega system flew over 1,000  missions

Mental Detour - Oregon Mountain Range - Victorio Peak

The mountain range to the west of White Sands held gold or at least a great story of gold. Rumors of lost treasures abound in New Mexico because the Spanish mined gold in Colorado which traveled through New Mexico on its journey to Mexico City and eventually to Spain often never reached its destination. From 1700 to 1859 the Spanish mined approximately 3,750,000 pounds of gold. The gold treasure rumors in New Mexico are all generally the same. They begin with caravans containing carts filled with gold being attacked by the Indians. The stolen gold was always hidden in a secret cave. The Indians who knew the location of the cave were later killed and the location of the secret cave was lost.

Doc Noss claimed in November 1937 that he found an opening to a cave while seeking shelter from a bad rain storm. He returned a few days later to explore the cave. Inside the mountain cave were passageways connecting several large rooms. He claims to have explored these rooms and found twenty-seven skeletons, bags of coins, crates of jewels, and artifacts. He also claimed that he removed some of the treasure except for the gold. In 1934 Congress passed the Gold Act which made it illegal for Americans to own or trade gold anywhere in the world except for gold jewelry. In 1939 Doc Noss wanted to enlarge the cave opening to make it easier to remove the treasure. Ignition of eight dynamite sticks later, the entire area around the entrance to the treasure cave was blown up. The cave opening was now buried under tons of rock. At the time Doc’s wife, Ova, tried to file claim on the land where the cave was located. As war clouds gathered, part of the basin and surrounding mountains containing the treasure cave would soon become the Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range. The military wanted and took the land which ranchers and others owned. The land acquisition by the military crated a legal battle including Ova Noss's claim to the land. White Sands Proving Ground was formed after the war and the treasure cave area was now on government property and permits to use the land were granted including prospecting. People occasionally searched the mountains but no cave entrance was ever found.

In 1949 Doc Noss tried to exchange gold bars for cash from a Texas oil man. The Texas oil man felt he was being swindled when he was asked for the money first without any gold bars present. A fight erupted and Doc Noss was killed. In November 1951 a Public Land Order was issued revoking all land use permits and reserving the White Sands Proving Grounds for military purposes only. Shares of gold mining stock for the treasure gold in the mountain cave were still being sold by Ova Noss after 1951 when she had no claim to the land or any gold on the land.

In 1961 an airman stationed at Holloman AFB claimed that in 1958 he found a different entrance into Doc Noss's treasure cave. He said he saw the gold bars but did not take any. In 1961 the commander of WSMR received a request by the commander of Holloman AFB to search for the gold cave. The U.S. Treasury Department, Army, Air Force and even the Secret Service became involved in the search for the treasure cave. In 1962 the Gaddis Mining company and the New Mexico Museum were granted access to explore the area. After much drilling and exploration, nothing was found.

However, the story does not end, for the famous attorney F. Lee Bailey entered the picture in 1973. He claimed to represent a consortium of investors which wanted to gain access to the area of the treasure cave. Before he agreed to represent these clients, he was given a small gold bar and was told that thousands more were in the cave. The gold bar was analyzed by Los Alamos labs and it was determined that it contained ring or 14K gold not pure 24K gold. F. Lee Bailey persisted and brokered a deal with the State of New Mexico and not the military. The military and the state egaged in a war of words, letters, and memos. Others jumped on their own gold band wagon to attempt to find the treasure and this became a media “gold rush” extravaganza.

Finally in 1974 the U.S. Army activated “Operation Goldfinger” which allowed a two week time period to search for the gold. The gold rush was on and this time local and national television stations set up shop to cover the action and discovery of the treasure. However, nothing was ever found.

On the Road heading toward White Sands Missile Range Museum

North on Hwy 70 you may notice a sign “HELSTF” above a guarded gated entrance to WSMR. “HELSTF” is the High Energy Laser Test Facility, or in much simpler talk, “Star Wars Test Site”.  In 1983 President Reagan proposed a “Star Wars” missile defense system. The system would involve lasers, particle beams and projectile beams. HELSTF was born and the laser work continues today.

Up to date information is not released but some old information is available. Northrop Grumman developed and tested a system for the US and Israeli governments. The THEL (Tactical High Energy Laser) system performed very well against salvos and surprise attack simulations. 38 missiles, 5 artillery projectiles, and 10 mortars were destroyed. The testing of this system ended in 2004. This is old information in the field of weapon research. What is present now or in development can only be surmised.

In July 2114 about 4,600 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel and the defense system “Iron Dome” and “Iron Beam” systems intercepted 90% of the projectiles deemed threatening. The “Iron Dome” is a missile-to-projectile system similar to our Patriot missile defense system. The “Iron Beam” is a laser-to-projectile defense system. No reports were found that claimed these systems were tested at WSMR, but one can speculate. White Sands is perfect for testing these types of defense systems because of the dust storms. Dust storms interrupt normal radar systems, reduce operational capacity of most air defense systems, and provide perfect cover for a surprise missile attack in a desert area. Testing defense systems in real dust storms provide much needed data in evaluating the effective of an air defense system operating in the desert. Who would guess that laser engineers and scientists at the High Energy Laser Test Facility were happy when a sand storm was forecasted and materialized?

US Hwy 70 from Alamogordo to Las Cruces is designated Bataan Memorial Highway

The New Mexico Territory volunteer Militia became an Army unit after statehood in 1912. The military designation for the New Mexico unit was changed several times and became the 200th unit of the Army before World War II. In January 1941, New Mexico members of the 200th unit of the Army were activated and shipped to the Philippines. The unit was to provide air defense for Clark Air Field with anti-aircraft machine guns. The Japanese attacked Peal Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The next day 300+ Japanese fighter and bomber planes attacked Clark Air Field. The 200th anti-aircraft guns were no match for the massive Japanese air assault.

Soon after the attack, the Japanese landed troops and equipment on the island and an intense battle began. The Japanese ground forces were well equipped with more men and equipment arriving daily. The 200th unit and the other Army units were ill equipped and stranded. The US forces on the island did not get resupplied nor reenforced and eventually surrendered in April of 1942. Upon surrendering, the 200th and others opposing the Japanese invasion began their infamous “Bataan Death March” to the Japanese Prisoner of War Camp. Approximately 12,000 American prisoners began the march. The forced march was through the jungle without any significant amount of food or water given to the prisoners. Prisoners were subjected to great brutality. Many were killed by shooting, beheadings, bayoneting or just left to die beside the road. The prisoners were not allowed to help the weaker or injured on the death march. Over 40% of the prisoners died on the march. After the war, General Masaharu Homma, commander of the Japanese troops in the Philippines, was charged, tried, and convicted of war crimes.  He was executed by a firing squad on April 1946, four years after the surrender of the prisoners at Bataan. 

Each Spring, White Sands Missile Range opens part of the range for a march honoring these brave soldiers. Two routes are available, a 26.2 mile green route and a 14 mile blue route. For more and detailed information visit

 A Ship in the Desert. The US Navy was one of the original partners in the development of White Sands Proving Ground and has continued their missile work at White Sands ever since. The Navy’s Launch Complex 35W, also known as “USS Desert Ship”, is a concrete blockhouse test facility with several out buildings used to field test the Navy’s missile systems. The US Navy has at its access a wide variety of missiles and their various ships often carry special missiles for specific missions. Missiles on ships are needed to attack enemy ships, submarines, aircraft, other missiles, and land targets. 

Missile fire control systems are also tested and evaluated at Desert Ship. In the age of missile warfare, speed is critical. A need for a high speed integrated system to evaluate targets and respond appropriately is a matter of life or death. Consider the simple case of one enemy ship firing a missile at a US Navy ship. The incoming missile would need to be destroyed and the enemy vessel located and neutralized. Ships are constantly moving and are often a great distance from each other. A variety of problems and challenges need to be solved instantly by the fire control system to ensure the safety of the ship and its crew. The work at USS Desert Ship is not only solving today’s but tomorrow’s navel warfare challenges. 

White Sands Missile Range Museum. Admission is free and is open 8am to 4pm, Monday-Friday, and 10am to 3pm on Saturday. Closed on Sundays and holidays. 

Over 60 items are yours to view on the outside missile park next door to the museum. Go to the museum’s web site and click on the missile park button to open a 60+ alphabetical title board of objects outside the museum. Pick a name and discover something about a Hound Dog, Honest John or even a Loki. The museum web site is: 

This is one of our favorite museums because it tells a story of things we never knew existed. WSMR has achieved so much in its history. I had never even considered an artillery fired missile, but they make sense and we were able to view one. They have a model of the facility that duplicates an atomic blast to test materials.The two football-fields long facility is the Large Blast-Thermal Simulator. Who knew that such a facility existed? I have spent hours of enjoyment in this small museum. Also the V-2 exhibit is definitely worth seeing.

Mental detour - When Leaving. 

After you passed White Sands National Monument, a Border Patrol Station was located on the South side of the highway. When you passed the station you also drove past an array of instruments. Your vehicle was monitored.

The United States Border Patrol has inspection stations located from 25 to 75 miles from the border of Mexico. The primary purpose of the inspection point is to check for illegal immigrants and smuggling activities.  Before stopping at the check point, an array of cameras and lights takes pictures of the people in the vehicle. On a lower stand is an Automatic License Plate Reader or ALPR. Most checkpoints have these number plate and vehicle occupant cameras on both sides of the road.  A white van is usually parked by an array of cameras. This van is a “Z Backscatter Van or Z Van” which uses x-ray backscatter imagery to allow the Border Patrol agents to see inside the vehicle. The “Z Backscatter Van” also holds much more high tech minoring equipment. The company making the “Z Van” is now producing a battery powered hand held unit (mini Z) with similar see-through-the-door or Superman x-ray vision capacities.

The Oct 25, 2013 issue of Popular Mechanics has an excellent article on the capacities and tools used at these checkpoint stations.

Questions Not Answered:  Hopefully in some future time the museum will have displays to explain odds things seen while driving to the museum. I know that there is a purpose for these things but I have no clue, only a few far-out guesses that may sound quite silly.

Below are some of my questions and my guess as to the answer.

1.  How many of the instruments at the border checkpoint previously mentioned had their birthplace at WSMR? High speed recording, optics, and high tech is definitely the signature of WSMR, but I have no specific information. 1948 technology was used to capture images of a rocket in flight. Capturing images of a license plate number and vehicle occupants at highway speed should be so very easy today. 

2.  Why are four utility poles hooked together? This could be some type of antenna to either broadcast or receive a certain type of signal. As we were driving to the White Sands Museum I was in the passenger seat looking at my phone. Suddenly it went from three bars of signal to none in an area where I had a signal before. This caused me to wonder if WSMR could shut down cell phone signals. Disrupting communications has always been a tool of warfare. 

3.  Why are roads and utility poles going to large piles of dirt? These dirt piles do not look naturally made. Could the dirt pile be the left over dirt from digging an underground facility? If a large pile of dirt by power lines equals an underground facility then much of WSMR is underground?

4.  Why are black and white painted plates that look similar to targets on top of otherwise barren utility poles? No clue, so your guess is as good as mine.

5.  Why are blimps sometimes off in the distance by the hills to the South? Blimps seem so low tech, so I am sure they do something very special.

6.  Close to the turn off to the museum is a sign proclaiming Nancy Site. What is a Nancy Site?

7.  Looking on Google Maps at the area, there are roads going everywhere. Often these paved roads appear to just stop. What is or was at the end of a paved road that just appears to stop?

UFOs & White Sands Missile Range. A New Mexico trip would be complete without at last one UFO story. Trivia side note, Roswell has become one of the most recognizable towns in the world. Think about how many movies, TV shows and books have featured or mentioned Roswell and the UFO crash. Weather the UFO crash in 1947 is fact or fiction, Roswell and New Mexico are known for UFOs.

In 1971 three disk shaped crafts were flying over WSMR and began to hover over Holloman AFB. Fighter planes were scrambled and the base went on high alert status. One of the crafts descended and landed while the other two abruptly and quickly left the area. After a short time a door on the disk opened and three creatures exited. The creatures were humanoid in appearance but shorter than an average American male. The creatures wore apparel resembling tight jump suits. The UFO occupants had two striking differences from human appearance. The UFO occupants had gray-blue skin and a very large odd shaped pronounced nose. These UFO aliens walked toward and met with base officials and others. The meeting lasted some time. The three aliens returned to their craft and flew away. It has been rumored this encounter was filmed by government personnel. A dramatization of the Holloman event can be seen in the last five minutedsof the 1974 Rod Serling UFO Documentary. The documentary can be seen on youtube. 

An actual UFO event does occurs each July when Roswell hosts its annual UFO festival. The festival site is: . The street lights on Main Street have alien eyes painted on them. Retail shops have alien mannequins, the local McDonalds has a saucer, and many stores have alien specials. Parades and special events highlight the Roswell UFO festival.

The Roswell Incident has its origins with a newspaper article. The public information officer Walter Haut issued a press release from Roswell Army Air  Field (RAAF) to the local newspaper. Here is a picture of the front page of the local newspaper on July 8, 1947.

 RAAF base personnel were sent to recover the fragments of the crash from the ranch. From this point on the story becomes very blurred with twists and turns in every directions. 

Fact or fiction, New Mexico has many UFO stories and even a popular locally brewed Roswell Alien beer. The beer is quite good by the way!

US 70 Missile Trail PDF

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