White Sands Rocket Tests - first US rocket to enter space is launched, acheiving the highest altitude ever reached by a human-made object and kicking off the Space Age
On February 24, 1949, the first U.S. rocket to reach what can be regarded as "outer space" is launched from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
The rocket, a modified German V-2 ballistic missile, attained the unprecedented altitude of 244 miles, putting it well above the more-or-less arbitrary Kármán line later established by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale as the dividing line between the edge of the Earth's atmosphere and geospace. The Kármán line is 100 kilometers [62 miles] high.
Most of the U.S. ballistic missile and rocket booster programs spouted from the V-2 — developed during World War II and christened Vergeltungswaffe Zwei, or Vengeance Weapon 2, by the Germans.
Late in the war, the Germans used the V-2 to attack long-distance targets, especially London. The rocket's trajectory took it close to the edge of space, and one was reported to reach 189 kilometers in early 1942. As the American armies advanced into a collapsing Nazi Germany, scores of V-2 rockets fell into their hands. Following Germany's surrender, these rockets were shipped back to the United States and eventually wound up at White Sands, where the nation's first ballistic testing ground was established.
With the rockets came a number of the German specialists who had developed them, and they helped form the nucleus of America's nascent ballistic-missile program. Among them was the biggest catch of all, Wernher von Braun.
The rockets did not arrive intact but rather as component parts, which were then assembled and modified as needed — under von Braun's supervision — for various experiments. The White Sands project stood second only to atomic research on the nation's defense-priority list.
The V-2 stands as the direct ancestor to every early American rocket, including the Redstone, Nike and Atlas. The first White Sands V-2 was static-fired in March 1946, and a full launch followed a month later. By the end of June 1951, 67 V-2 rockets had been launched at White Sands. Among them, the rocket sent up Feb. 24, 1949, stands out for its milestone achievement.
Monkey in Space - a V2 rocket carries Albert II, a rhesus monkey, into space, at an altitude of 83 miles.
During the early years of the Space Age the US launched several V2 rockets into space with a mission to test various equipment in a space environment. They also carried an early version of a space capsule that could fit a small monkey. Testing with live animals proved to be of great interest in calculating whether or not human space flight was possible.
Very little was known about the physiological effects of spaceflight back in those days, with some scientists postulating that astronauts' cardiovascular systems would fail in the microgravity environment, causing near-instant death. So researchers wanted to blast some relatively large animals into space to see how they fared.
Albert II was small rhesus monkey and the first one that was successfully sent into space on June 14, 1949. He was launched on a V2 rocket to the altitude of 83 miles (134km) with a mission to safely bring him back to Earth (a previous flight with Albert I was unsuccessful when his air supply malfunctioned, and the rocket never reached a high altitude). During Albert II's flight scientists monitored his condition, especially focusing on effects that space radiation might have on living cells. Unfortunately on re-entering the Earth' atmosphere his parachute ejecting system failed and Albert II died on impact.
The first monkey to survive landing was Albert IV in 1951, but he died just two hours later while waiting for the rescue crew to arrive to his capsule. The first monkeys who lived after the landing were Able and Miss Baker in 1959. The use of animals in space research improved knowledge of outer space conditions and minimized human loss of life.