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Stamp Profile From PRIME to Space Shuttle Marshall Islands Issue Date: 23/12/1988 This issue is a three-fold commemorative of Kwajalein's historic role in the US space program: the 30th anniversary of NASA, the civilian National Aeronautics and Space Administration; the 25th Anniversary of Project PRIME. The US Air Force's hypersonic flight test Precision Recovery Including Maneuvering Entry program, which held a key to the design of the future Space Shuttle; and the September 29, 1988 launching of Shuttle Discovery, the rebirth of America's manned space program. Ever since the 1950s the highly sophisticated tracking and communications facilities at Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands have been essential to America's worldwide tracking network. The atoll's isolated location freed it from snooping eyes and radio interference; and being off shipping lanes, it provided ample open water for safe reentry of space vehicles. Today it is still an important facility in control of Space Shuttle missions. In the 1960s NASA and the US Air Force engaged in parallel programs to find the optimum design for a rocket-powered aerospace plane, each pursuing separate lifting- body research, then eventually combining programs to culminate in the shuttle. True lifting bodies are wingless vehicles that rely for their aerodynamic lift on the shape of the underbelly, without conventional wings, which would be torn off during reentry. The US Space Shuttle, as well as those being developed by France and USSR. are essentially lifting bodies with vestigial wings to provide a better landing flare maneuver. The Air Force launched its research with START (Spacecraft Technology and Advanced Re-entry Test) in 1961. Following the 1963 wind tunnel tests of its advanced phase, called PRIME, the Air Force publicly announced in 1964 the initiation of the PRIME mission with the Martin Marietta Corp.: to design, build and test materials for hypersonic lifting-body reentry vehicles. Specifically, PRIME SV-5D was designed to be maneuverable during reentry and to be recoverable. Key to the program was getting a prototype vehicle into space and determining if its shape could survive the heat of reentry, maneuver to a landing point off the ballistic path it was launched upon, and keep its crew alive. Three PRIME SV-5Ds were launched, all successfully from Vandenberg APB atop a Convair Atlas, to near orbital speed, downward range to Kwajalein: #1 on Dec. 21, 1966; #2 on Mar. 5, 1967; and #3 on Apr. 18, 1967. From the moment of launch, control of each mission passed to Kwajalein. Technicians at Kwaj controlled and tracked operation o29/08/06the SV-5D in space using its own onboard rockets, and adjusted the flight path to achieve a pin-point landing off the beaches of Kwajalein. While all three launches were successful, only vehicle #3 was recovered. Tracking and recovery ships of the US space command and helicopters permanently based at Kwaj effected recovery and returned the vehicle to laboratories on Kwajalein for initial inspection. After thorough study of the vehicle and analysis of data, the Air Force pronounced the program a complete success and placed the SV- 5D on public display at the Air Force Museum, Wright-Patterson APB, Ohio. A fourth vehicle that had been readied was never launched. a follow-up mission was declared redundant; manned testing was commenced. From Project PRIME, with the attribute of maneuverability during reentry proven at Kwajalein, and its pioneering work in ablatives and internal steam cooling, grew the manned X-24A rocket plane and the X-24B rocket-powered, one-man prototype of the Space Shuttle. The X-24B in particular was used as a test bed to train pilots in the most critical part of a Shuttle mission - landing a space plane with poor aerodynamic characteristics dead-stick. Techniques learned from these tests were used in training Shuttle pilots. This issue is the second in a series of Marshall Islands stamps highlighting Kwajalein's impact on space exploration. (The 1985 issue honored participation in the International Halley Watch.) The 4-stamp strip depicts the PRIME launch from Vandenberg, Calif., the SV-5D glowing red hot during re-entry, recovery off the beach at Kwajalein, and Shuttle Discovery in orbit while under communications control from Kwajalein. The' single airmail stamp, based on an official NASA photograph, depicts the Space Shuttle and a space-walking astronaut in orbit over Rongelap Atoll. William R. Hanson, NASA's Lunar Artist-Apollo 16, designed this and the Halley issue. The House of Questa, London, again did the printing. © 1968 Marshall Islands Philatelic Bureau. Printed in U.S.A.
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