They Didn't Ask Me (dr_phil_physics) wrote,
They Didn't Ask Me

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NASA - Copper Country

Things I Did Not Know Existed

Internet research takes you in directions you never expect.

I was doing Google Maps to locate The Jam Pot, the bakery store of the Holy Transfiguration Skete, Society of St. John, a Catholic monastery of the Byzantine Rite. It's off M-26 on the northern shores of the Keweenaw Peninsula -- north of Houghton, just past Jacobs Falls and before Copper Harbor MI. And with Google Maps, you can scroll around. I was looking at Brockway Mountain Drive and then decided to see the northern terminus of US-41 (1990 Miles to Miami). And then I decided to see how far the private road goes to Lake Superior...

And there on the edge of webpage, along the tip of the Keweenaw, past the end of the main road, was a tag for Keweenaw Rocket Range.


Click on it, and there's a link to a webpage: The Keweenaw Rocket Range 1962-1971 In the Copper Country of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

No, this was not some hobbyists launch site nor a humorous joke by the Michigan Tech students. This was an actual NASA launch site through the University of Michigan and Michigan Technological University. Really?

At first it was small sounding rockets for weather research. Then a test program for a multiple rocket launcher on a buoy. And finally, two Nike-Apache rockets which traveled up a hundred miles to space and back. (Space officially begins at just 100 kilometers.) There was even talk of launching a couple of surplus Redstone boosters -- the ballistic missile line used for the first suborbital Mercury-Redstone NASA manned launches with Alan Shephard and Gus Grissom in 1961 -- for either polar launches or suborbital around the other side of the planet. That didn't happen.

I have a mild affection for the Nike rocket, as there was a Nike missile base near where I grew up in western New York -- my Cub Scout troop did a field trip there when it was an active site. They even popped a missile out of its hardened launcher for us. Cool.

You can read about the history in the link above. Naturally, the two Nike-Apache launches launched in JANUARY of 1971, during a series of blizzards that dumped 94" of snow...

Google Maps of Copper Harbor, US-41 and the Keweenaw Rocket Range.

Google Maps satellite view closeup of the site.
Two NIKE-APACHE rockets were fired off from the Keweenaw Missile Range as a part of the IGY, International Geophysical Year, in a coordinated launch with other NASA facilities in North America. Although other research sounding rockets had been fired from the Keweenaw Range in years previous, these were by far the largest rockets fired.

Preparations went on through the Fall of 1970, but took until January, 1971, to bring things to a readiness. Weather that winter also took a toll. These pictures were taken by Roland Burgan, then WHDF (Houghton, later WCCY) General Manager, & News Director, over two trips made into the site on two consecutive days, Thursday, January 28th, and Friday, January, 29th., 1971. Accompanying Roland was a brother, Read, then General Manager of WGGL-FM, (PBS station at MTU). The first launch had been set for Thursday, but was postponed at the last minute by uncooperative high altitude winds. The launch went as planned on Friday, at noon. Temperatures that day hovered at -20 deg.F

Ground crew waiting for results.

Nike-Apache at launch from the Keweenaw Rocket Range. (Click on photo for larger.)

Memorial stone put up by PFRC in 2000. (Click on photo for larger.)

Go PFRC. I was never a member of PFRC -- the Permanent Floating Riot Committee -- Michigan Tech's SF club only because we lived 14 miles out of Houghton in Laurium, so I was never able to go to the meetings on nights and weekends. Plus... I wasn't active in going to cons yet. But PFRC, ably assisted by legendary adviser and Physics professor Gary Agin, was always a class act in the finest traditions of Michigan Tech.

Of course they put up a memorial plaque and then replaced it with a proper stone. At the end of a series of impassable roads and beyond the ends of the earth on the shores of Lake Superior. The weather should just be about perfect right now.
Copper Harbor, MI
Thursday 1:00 PM
Dr. Phil
Posted on Dreamwidth
Crossposted on LiveJournal
Tags: keweenaw, lake superior, michigan, nasa, space

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