Rare Atlas Collection

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Museum Receives Rare Historic Atlas Rocket Film Collection—Only One of its Kind in the World

Unique films document many of America’s space missions

The San Diego Air & Space Museum received a historic Atlas space launch vehicle film collection donation from Lockheed Martin and United Launch Alliance (ULA), totaling approximately 3,000 reels of 16-millimeter film. The collection is being digitized by the Museum and will be made available online for worldwide public access. In addition to the film, $50,000 to preserve and catalog this collection was provided to the Museum by Lockheed Martin and ULA, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and The Boeing Company that designs, builds and launches the Atlas and Delta rockets that deliver critical missions for the Department of Defense, NASA, the National Reconnaissance Office, and other commercial customers. The Atlas film collection includes interviews and lectures by early rocket pioneers, such as Krafft Ehricke, known as the “Father of the Atlas;” James Dempsey, who headed development of the original Atlas Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) program; and Dr. Charles Draper, known as the “Father of Inertial Navigation.” Films of both presidential and early astronaut visits to Atlas facilities are included, as are films documenting many of America’s most historic space missions. The collection includes data, photographs, and film of virtually every launch over more than fifty years of the Atlas program. Virtually every aspect of the program is captured, including images of the vehicle, the design, development, test facilities, operational sites, and the men and women who made this era of spaceflight possible.

“Lockheed Martin is honored to continue to partner with the San Diego Air & Space Museum to help preserve the historical role of these heritage space technologies and monumental achievements,” said John Karas, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company’s vice president of Business Development. “Historical lessons learned, missions accomplished, and frontiers reached support and inspire us today as Lockheed Martin and others take on new challenging missions such as building and launching spacecraft that will travel to Mars and study the Martian atmosphere, rendezvous and return samples from an asteroid, and carry humans into space as part of our Nation’s next generation of human spaceflight.”

San Diego is the birthplace of the original Atlas ICBM, one of America’s air and space “giants.” Designed, developed, and manufactured in San Diego by the Convair and later the Space Systems Division of General Dynamics Corporation, Atlas provided an effective Cold War deterrent in its initial role as America’s first ICBM, and later served as a reliable and more powerful space launch vehicle for sending America’s first astronauts into Earth orbit. Atlas launched the first satellite to project a human voice from space in 1958, broadcasting a message to Earth from US President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Atlas also launched the Surveyor moon missions, which provided the foundation for Apollo human exploration voyages, as well as Mariner missions to Mars and the outer planets, critical national security missions, weather and climate monitoring satellites, and vital communications and navigation satellites such as today’s Global Positioning Satellite system.

Lockheed Martin Corporation’s heritage companies include the General Dynamics Space Systems division that was originally headquartered in San Diego, CA, where over 500 Atlas ICBM and space launch vehicles were designed and built. In 1994, the space division was acquired by Martin Marietta, and the following year, Martin Marietta joined Lockheed to form Lockheed Martin. Following this merger, Lockheed Martin donated a significant archive of historic photos and films to the Museum. The records gained at that time constituted an unprecedented historic treasure, consisting of 165,000 Atlas images, as well as 77,750 Convair aircraft images and 3,500 corporate images. The most recently acquired film collection complements the earlier Atlas collection donation.

ULA was formed in December 2006 by Lockheed Martin and The Boeing Company, and provides the nation assured access to space on its Atlas and Delta launch vehicles. Since it was formed, ULA has launched 75 consecutive successful missions – 32 of which were Atlas V launches.

“United Launch Alliance is very proud to make this priceless collection of Atlas history available to the museum and the public,” said Matthew Smith, ULA’s vice president of engineering and information technology. “This history of the Atlas rocket is remarkable and a testament to our nation’s resilience in leading the world into space.” Smith, who began his career with the Atlas program in 1983 as an engineer for the Convair division of General Dynamics, added that it also is gratifying to be launching the evolved version of the rocket – the Atlas V.

“Over more than 50 years, Atlas has played a critical role in defending our country, furthering our knowledge of the universe and supporting human spaceflight. United Launch Alliance continues the tradition of excellence, delivering many of the nation’s most critical and prized assets into space on Atlas V as well as our Delta family of launch vehicles.”

Katrina Pescador, Director of the Library & Archives at the San Diego Air & Space Museum, said she was most pleased to receive this important, one-of-a-kind collection. “It is especially noteworthy, and captures a very important and remarkable period of San Diego’s air and space history. It is a perfect complement and companion to the historic photos and films Lockheed Martin donated to the Museum in 1994. Once digitized, we expect there will be a high level of researcher interest, worldwide, and will significantly broaden our online successes.”

San Diego Air & Space Museum

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