Air Force Bases

Titan 1950s to Today

The 1950s

The first effort to study the potential use of rockets to deliver atomic weapons was initiated in 1945. Could these unmanned, rockets carry a bombardment device 5,000 miles and accurately place it on target? Could they be counted on to be as reliable as the existing manned bombers of the time? Early studies by industry concluded that such a weapon could be developed, but formidable technical challenges would need to be solved.

These early efforts ultimately led to our nation's first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Atlas. By 1953, design of the low-weight, high-yield, thermonuclear warhead became a reality. Technological advancements suggested the possibility of an improved, two-stage rocket that would permit a missile to be segmented for transport and allow the second-stage engine to operate initially at high altitudes where the power output of the system could be greatly increased. Under the leadership of General Bernard Shriever, the United States embarked on a course to develop an alternative ICBM to achieve these improvements. Competition for this new system led to a 1955 selection of the Glenn L. Martin Company for design and production of the two-stage airframe and the Aerojet Corporation for new liquid rocket engines. Titan I was born.

The task to build the required production, test and launch facilities and deliver Titan I rockets for test launches was daunting. The first members of the Titan team met this challenge with dedication and skill. The first Titan I vehicle was delivered to Cape Canaveral for its maiden launch in 1959. The 50-year history of Titan was underway.

The 1960s

The Titan I ballistic missile weapon system became operational in the 1960s. However, even as the six Titan I missile squadrons were completed and as other missiles were being deployed, it became clear the new system was vulnerable to attack. Before firing, the missiles had to be lifted to the surface from underground silos and fueled with cryogenic propellants, a process that took a minimum of 15 minutes. The policy of the United States was to launch nuclear missiles only in retaliation for an attack by another nation. The 15 minutes it took the Titan I to launch was too long for it to be an effective deterrent.

Our national strategic policy demanded a more advanced and responsive ballistic missile. The new system would be stored and launched from protected silos underground. Cryogenic propellants would be replaced by hypergolic fuel and oxidizer combinations that could remain loaded in the rocket's tanks at all times at room temperature. Launch could occur within a few minutes. Inertial guidance would enable the rocket to guide itself to the target with no need for an active radio link during flight. These requirements led to the development of the most advanced new rocket produced at that time - the Titan II. This advanced weapon system began testing in 1962 and was fully deployed as the nation's most formidable strategic weapon by January 1964.

As the new Titan II demonstrated significant improvements in rocket science, NASA was embarking on a brave new mission to put American astronauts on the moon before the end of the decade. While the Apollo program was in development, NASA initiated the Gemini program to demonstrate rendezvous and docking of spacecraft, extra vehicular activities, long duration manned spaceflight, and precise reentry and landing techniques. NASA selected the new Titan II rocket as the launch vehicle for Gemini. Twelve Titan II boosters were human-rated for project Gemini. Two test flights and 10 manned launches occurred between 1964 and 1966. All were 100% successful.

The United States Air Force was also evolving concepts for military applications in space during the early 1960s. New larger spacecraft would require a larger heavy-lift launch system. The two-stage Titan II rocket would be stretched to allow for more propellants. Large segmented solid rocket boosters would be attached to provide initial liftoff and acceleration of the rocket, and new upper stage systems would be developed. A new modular space launch system was created. Named Titan III, it would continue to serve national military and civil space launch requirements until it was retired in the early 1990s.

The 1970s

By 1970, Titan III had established itself as the nation's primary launch system for military payloads. Throughout the decade, with all Titan III configurations operational, Titan consistently launched eight or nine missions a year from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Facilities at Cape Canaveral provided for high launch rates from either Launch Complex 40 or 41. At Vandenberg, the Titan team executed Titan's high-inclination missions from Space Launch Complex 4 East and 4 West. Titan II test launches continued from silos in Complex 395 at Vandenberg.

Several of NASA's solar system exploration missions launched from Cape Canaveral on the high-performance Titan IIIE, with the cryogenic Centaur upper stage. These historic missions helped set the stage for continued robotic explorations of near and outer planets. The two Viking spacecraft were launched just weeks apart in 1975. The Viking project made significant discoveries about the Martian surface and atmosphere. In 1977 the two Voyager missions were also launched weeks apart to journey to Jupiter and Saturn for closeup studies of these two outer planets. Eventually, between them, Voyagers 1 and 2 would explore all the giant outer planets of our solar systems, 48 of their moons, and the unique systems of rings and magnetic fields those planets possess.

The reliable Titan III system went on to become the workhorse for space launch, and the Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile continued its vital mission of strategic deterrence during the height of the Cold War.

The 1980s

The 1980s were transitional years for the United States space program. NASA was developing the new Space Shuttle, a reusable space transportation system, which was to be the single launch system for all U.S. government spacecraft. All expendable launch vehicles including Titan were to be phased out and replaced by the new launch system. The Titan 34D was developed to accommodate larger military spacecraft during this period of transition to the new Space Shuttle. Fifteen Titans were ordered and the 34D was to be the last configuration of Titan to fly.

Two pivotal events would alter this transition strategy and redefine the role of Titan. First, some Air Force officials argued that it was unwise to rely solely on the Space Shuttle for launch of critical national security space missions. They persuaded Congress to build 10 heavy-lift Titan expendable launchers as a backup for military payloads.

The second event was the catastrophic failure of the Space Shuttle Challenger in January 1986. In the aftermath of this tragic accident, national space policy was reexamined and changed. Commercial spacecraft, critical military payloads and deep space missions requiring the high-energy cryogenic Centaur upper stage were moved off the Space Shuttle manifest. A new Titan launch pad was built at Vandenberg AFB for high-inclination missions, and orders for the new and improved Titan IV went from 10 to 41 vehicles. The launch of Titan IVA-1 in June 1989 restored heavy-lift launch capability for the United States. A total of 39 Titan IV vehicles would ultimately be launched over the next 17 years.

The 1990s

Titan provided access to space for the nation's largest and most important space systems throughout the 1990s. An advanced, more powerful configuration of Titan IV with a new generation of large solid rocket motors, state-of-the-art guidance and electronics and a new ground processing system became operational. With these improvements, the new Titan IVB took its place as the heavy lift launch workhorse for the United States.

During the 1990s, Lockheed Martin also refurbished several decommissioned Titan II ICBMs for use as space launch vehicles (SLVs); 13 were launched successfully carrying medium class spacecraft into high-inclination missions from Vandenberg. Also operational during the 1990s, the Commercial Titan III launch system completed its final three missions from Cape Canaveral, including the Mars Observer launch in 1992.

In this decade, however, the end of the Titan program came into view as the nation committed itself to the development of the next-generation launch system called Evolved Expendable Launch System or EELV. In 1998, the Air Force implemented a plan to transition from the existing Titan, Atlas and Delta launch vehicles to the EELV. The Air Force would require Titan IV to launch a total of 39 missions, providing critical time into the next decade for the new EELV configurations to demonstrate their operational capability.

Titan, a foundation of our national experience in space for nearly 50 years, was coming to an end. This transition, however, did not allow for a relaxed phase out or any reduction in mission success controls. Every remaining Titan mission was critical to national security. Continued Titan successes laid the groundwork for a disciplined, reliable transition to the new EELV launch system.

The 2000s

By the turn of the century, Titan had been performing missions in space for the United States for 45 years, and the end of this great program was in sight. A new generation of expendable launch vehicles, the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles, became operational and the transition from Titan to EELV was complete.

The final Titan IV was rolled out of the production facility just south of Denver, Colo., in April 2002 and delivered to Vandenberg Air Force Base. By the end of 2002, production of all major elements of the remaining Titan IV and Titan II vehicles was complete, and the program began to shut down production and testing facilities.

The nation applauds a performance of 368 launches over a period of 50 years, providing a record of support to the nation that included protection from nuclear attack, manned space launch, solar system exploration, commercial launch and military space launch.

Each new configuration of Titan demonstrated impressive technological advancements for its time. The proud record and the legacy of Titan, however is not a result only of machines. The rockets performed strictly as they were designed, constructed and programmed to do by the men and women who made personal commitments to a challenging and difficult undertaking.