- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2005

An Air Force Titan IV rocket is scheduled for launch today from California, marking the end of the spacecraft’s 50-year legacy.

It will be the 368th Titan launch, and its payload is thought to be a camera spy satellite.

The Titan program was started in 1955 when the Air Force awarded the Martin Co. a contract to develop the Titan intercontinental ballistic missile. More than 100 Titan II ICBMs eventually sat in silos across the nation with nuclear-tipped missiles aimed at strategic targets in the Soviet Union and China.

Those missiles were retired in 1987. Thirteen of them were converted into satellite-launch vehicles.

“The Titan has launched all kinds of payloads over the last 50 years, astronauts on Gemini, communications, weather, and missile warning and scientific satellites, along with a number of classified satellites,” said Air Force Col. Patrick Smith, Titan program manager.

NASA used the Titan II to launch 10 Gemini spacecraft. All three Apollo 11 astronauts — Neil Armstrong, Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. and Michael Collins — made their first spaceflights on Titan rockets.

NASA used later versions of the Titan to launch the Voyager spacecraft to explore the outer planets, Viking missions to Mars, the failed Mars Observer spacecraft, and Cassini mission to Saturn.

“We’re sort of the truck. It’s really about the satellites that are getting launched on any given day,” Col. Smith said. “But without us, they don’t get there to do their job. [The Titan IV] has been the heavy-lift capability for the United States.”

The Titan IV was developed in the 1980s as a backup to the space shuttle for military satellites. After the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986, the Air Force removed most of its satellites from the shuttle and launched them on Titans instead.

The Titan IV-B version started flying in 1997.

The rocket costs taxpayers $411 million plus the price of the classified satellite. It weighs 2.1 million pounds at launch. The rocket stands as tall as a 16-story building and consists of a two-stage rocket plus two large solid-fueled boosters.

Future large satellites will be launched on the Delta IV and Atlas V vehicles, which are less expensive and use fuel that is more environmentally benign.

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