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The Rocky Mountain News October 19, 2005

Last of the Titans ready for blastoff

After today's slated launch, Colo.-built rocket to be retired

By Roger Fillion

A Colorado-built booster rocket is poised today to be the last of the Titan family to blast off, capping a 50-year history dating to the Cold War era.

If all goes as planned, the nearly 200-foot Titan IV will lift off from a California launch pad and deploy a spy satellite into space for Uncle Sam. It would be launch No. 368 for Lockheed Martin Corp.'s Titan.

The Titan began service as a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile stashed in underground silos scattered across Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado and elsewhere.

It later evolved into a booster rocket that carried Gemini astronauts such as the late Virgil "Gus" Grissom into space.

It also carried exploratory spacecraft such as the 1970s-era Viking Mars landers, not to mention secretive spy and communications satellites.

"What a long, strange trip it's been. It's difficult to imagine the world without the Titan," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org. "It's been so central to so many things we've done."

Since development work began 50 years ago, more than 500 Titans have rolled off the line at Lockheed Martin's production facilities in Jefferson County.

Thousands of people have had a hand in the work carried out at the cavernous Waterton Canyon plant.

"The vehicle has been very capable and productive for this country," said Charles Rash, a Titan manager at Lockheed who is overseeing the program's closeout.

At today's scheduled liftoff, the Titan IV is designed to generate 3.4 million pounds of thrust. That's equivalent to 13 747 jumbo jets taking off together.

Lockheed Martin - formed by the 1995 merger of Lockheed and Martin Marietta - is retiring its Titan launch vehicles in favor of the more modern Atlas V rocket, also built here.

But the Atlas may not be built here for long.

Under a proposed joint venture, Lockheed's rocket plant is slated to be shuttered and reopened at rival Boeing Co.'s facilities in Decatur, Ala.

Waterton Canyon would serve as headquarters of the new United Launch Alliance, which must win U.S. antitrust approval.

Some 1,000 Boeing rocket jobs are earmarked for transfer here from California.

About 250 Lockheed employees are completing work on the Titan program in Jefferson County. Spokeswoman Joan Underwood said about 75 percent of those workers have been given jobs on other Lockheed programs.

She said the remaining employees will either retire, take a severance package or accept work elsewhere in the company. A final breakdown isn't yet available.

"In the end, if there are any layoffs, the numbers will be very low," Underwood said.

The first Titan to fly was a Titan I missile fired in a test launch on Feb. 6, 1959. The first Titan II test launch occurred March 16, 1962.

A dozen of the Titan IIs were built for NASA's Gemini program in the mid-1960s.

The 1986 Challenger space shuttle accident forced the government to revise plans to scrap the Titan and other "expendable" rocket programs.

The Titan III and IV rockets have transported deep-space scientific spacecraft as well as military communications satellites and spy satellites.


Copyright 2005, Rocky Mountain News