Over the years I have discovered that space-related attractions can sometimes be found in the most unexpected places. A few years ago, I wrote an article about the history of the Redstone missile and among the many comments posted, one of my readers informed me that there was an actual Redstone missile on display in the small New Hampshire town of Warren, of all places. Research quickly verified this and showed that this small New Hampshire community claimed to be the only town in the US to have a real Redstone on display (as opposed to government or aerospace contractor facilities or museums).
Warren was founded in 1763 on what was then the frontier of the British North American province of New Hampshire not long after the region had been secured at the conclusion of the French and Indian War (part of a larger conflict better known in Europe as the Seven Years’ War). Located on the banks of the Baker River in New Hampshire’s picturesque White Mountains with its many hiking trails, the town has a population of about 900 today – not exactly the sort of place one associates with rocketry or space travel.
With Warren not being that far from where I live north of Boston, it was a tempting target for a day trip. My more recent research revealed that this Redstone had just been restored making me even more determined to make a visit. With the approach of the Columbus Day weekend and my wife’s desire to do some “leaf peeping” with the onset of autumn, I figured now was a good time to finally make the 2½ hour trek north and see this Redstone missile for myself. The fact that my wife (who normally does not like to accompany me on my space-related tours) did not mind making a brief stop so that I could see Warren’s Redstone as part of our day trip certainly made it a win-win for me.
The Redstone’s History
What would become the Redstone started as a design study called Hermes C in the late 1940s by a team led by famed German rocket pioneer, Wernher von Braun. Von Braun was relocated to the United States by the US Army at the end of World War II along with the core of his group responsible for the development of the German A-4 rocket (better known as the V-2). The Hermes program was a series of experimental rockets that combined proven German A-4 technology with new American innovations. As such, the Redstone is a direct descendant of the A-4. In July 1950, a feasibility study began for a ballistic missile with an 800-kilometer range based on the Hermes C work.
In hopes of making this new rocket into a mobile field weapon that could be deployed by the US Army as quickly as possible, its nominal range was eventually reduced to 320 kilometers and its development was given a top “1A” priority. On April 8, 1952, this new tactical missile was officially named “Redstone” after the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama where von Braun and his team had moved in 1950. Development of the Redstone proceeded quickly and the first test flight was launched from Cape Canaveral on August 20, 1953. While this first flight was less than successful, the design quickly proved itself during the succeeding three dozen tests flown over the next five years.
In April 1956, the Army’s first Redstone battalion was formed. In February 1958, US Army crews began training flights with actual Redstones launched from Cape Canaveral and the missile range in White Sands, New Mexico. The Redstone, manufactured by the Missile Division of Chrysler Corporation, became operational on June 1, 1958 and was subsequently deployed in West Germany to support NATO’s shield force on what was then the front lines of the Cold War. The Redstone, armed with a W39 nuclear warhead with a 3.8 megaton yield, became the first large ballistic missile deployed overseas by the US.
While von Braun and his team were developing the Redstone, their real dream of spaceflight was never far from their minds. During the early stages of its test flight program, they realized that a modified Redstone could serve as the basis of a launch vehicle capable of orbiting a miniaturized satellite payload. Eventually a joint Army-Navy study was started called Project Orbiter. Even after the US government decided in September 1955 to reject this satellite proposal in favor of one that eventual became known as Project Vanguard (see “Vintage Micro: The Original Standardized Microsatellite”), von Braun and his team at the newly formed Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) proceeded to develop the satellite launcher as the Jupiter C rocket with the blessing of the head of the ABMA, General Bruce Medaris. Although it made its first suborbital test flight in the satellite launcher configuration on September 20, 1956 (with a dummy final stage), the official purpose of the Jupiter C program was to conduct high speed reentry tests of a scale model of the warhead for the new Jupiter IRBM that ABMA was developing (see “The First American Satellite… Almost”). After it met the objectives of that program on its third flight in August 1957, the remaining Jupiter C missiles were placed into storage in hopes they could be used to launch satellites.
The Jupiter C did not have to wait long. On October 4, 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik. Five days after the launch of Sputnik 2 on November 3, von Braun and his team at ABMA were given official approval to attempt a satellite launch using a four-stage version of the Jupiter C now officially designated the Juno I. After the spectacular failure of Vanguard TV-3 on its first orbital test launch on December 8, a Juno I successfully launched Explorer 1 into orbit from Cape Canaveral on the night of January 31, 1958. During the next nine months, five additional Juno I orbital attempts took place, resulting in two more Explorer satellites successfully orbited before the rocket was retired in favor of more capable launch vehicles (see “Vintage Micro: The Second-Generation Explorer Satellites“).
Although the Redstone was retired from duties as a satellite launch vehicle, in 1959 it was selected by NASA to launch the 1,300-kilogram manned Mercury space capsule on suborbital test flights. Designated the Redstone MRLV (Mercury Redstone Launch Vehicle), this rocket made a total of six flights in support of the Mercury program with the last pair launching America’s first astronauts into space. After the flight of Freedom 7 in May 1961 carrying Alan Shepard and Liberty Bell 7 flown by Virgil “Gus” Grissom the following July, the Redstone was retired from its duties supporting the American space program (see “A History of Suborbital Crewed Spaceflights“).
The Redstone, now nicknamed “Old Reliable”, continued to be part of America’s Cold War arsenal until it was officially declared obsolete on June 25, 1964. Newer short range missiles, like the solid-propellant Pershing, were much more mobile and easier to prepare for launch in the field than the liquid-fueled Redstone. On October 30, 1964, the US Army officially retired the Redstone from service during a ceremony at the Redstone Arsenal, and all support contracts were terminated on December 1. The Redstone and its support equipment were subsequently consigned to museums or scrapped in the coming years.
Before the last of the Redstones were permanently consigned to history, it flew in support of one last defense program starting in 1966. In combination with a pair of solid rocket motors serving as upper stages, the Redstone was the launch vehicle in the joint United States/United Kingdom/Australia program called Project SPARTA (SPecial Antimissile Research Tests, Australia), which was to observe model warheads of various shapes and materials during reentry after being launched from the Woomera Test Range in South Australia. After the eight launches of the Redstone-based SPARTA rocket between November 1966 and October 1967 had met all of the program’s objectives, Australia’s Weapons Research Establishment (WRE) received permission to use the last surplus SPARTA rocket to launch a test satellite they had constructed called WRESAT. The successful launch of WRESAT on November 29, 1967 (which made Australia only the fourth nation after the Soviet Union, the United States and France to successfully build and launch a satellite from its own territory) was the last known flight of the Redstone.
The Redstone in Warren
So, how did the small town of Warren, New Hampshire end up with a Redstone missile? While stationed at the Redstone Arsenal in 1970 as a US Army Sergeant, Warren-native Henry “Ted” Asselin had found a number of surplus Redstone missiles lying in a field stripped of their engines, guidance systems and other major components. Asselin felt that the children of his home town and the surrounding area who were interested in the nation’s space program, yet far removed from it, would be inspired by having a real piece of Space Age history on display especially since America’s first astronaut, New Hampshire native Alan Shepard, had flown on the Redstone.
After checking with Army officials, Asselin was told that he could take one of the surplus Redstones for display in Warren as long as it did not cost the government anything. With the permission of the US Defense Support Agency and the approval of the selectmen of Warren, Asselin made arrangements to move a Redstone to his hometown at his own expense all but exhausting his savings in the process. With the help of a friend, Irving MacDonald of Dorchester, using a 23-meter truck and trailer provided by another friend, Lew Brown of Holderness, the surplus Redstone finally reached its new home on April 21, 1971 after an arduous 2,100-kilometer cross country trek. With the aid of a crane, the eight-ton missile was hoisted into position and secured onto a huge steel I-beam set into a 2.4-meter deep foundation of concrete and steel on the edge of the village green on land owned by the Warren Historical Society. The missile was officially dedicated to Warren’s favorite son, US Senator Norris Cotton, during the town’s annual “Old Home Day” on July 4, 1971 by New Hampshire Governor Walter Peterson.
Over the following years, the novelty of having a surplus missile on display began to wear off with some local residents as the Redstone slowly rusted and decayed. Although the unusual landmark survived attempts to have it removed in the early 1980s, the Redstone was in need of restoration after four decades on display and three paint jobs. Following a months long fund-raising effort, the Redstone was restored with a special two-part epoxy paint job in time for the town’s 2014 Old Home Day celebration. Unfortunately, Ted Asselin had passed away the previous year on June 13, 2013 at the age of 81 having moved to the neighboring town of North Haverhill after retiring from the service.
The 25-meter tall, freshly repainted Redstone missile still stands today in Warren’s village green as a monument to Mr. Asselin’s efforts and is one of the more visible manmade landmarks in this quiet corner of the White Mountain National Forest. For those interested in seeing this Redstone display, take Exit 26 off of Interstate 93 in Plymouth, NH and follow State Route 25 west for about a half an hour. Near the junction of State Route 25C in Warren, the Redstone is easy to spot at the north end of the town’s village green just past the town hall on the left. Having been recently restored, it is a worthwhile stop as part of a wider tour of the White Mountains.
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Here is a video of the Annual Service Practice (ASP) firing of the Chrysler-built Redstone missile number CC-2014 at Launch Complex LC-6, White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico by Battery A, 217th Missile Battalion, 40th Artillery Group (Redstone) based in Bad Kreuznach, Germany.
“America’s First Satellite… Almost”, Drew Ex Machina, October 4, 2015 [Post]
“Redstone: The Missile That Launched America into Space”, Drew Ex Machina, April 26, 2016 [Post]
“A History of Suborbital Crewed Spaceflights”, Drew Ex Machina, May 5, 2016 [Post]
David Baker, The Rocket: The History and Development of Rocket & Missile Technology, Crown Publishers, 1978
Mark Davis, “A Life: Henry Theodore “Ted” Asselin, 1931-2013; ‘Let’s Go Get That Missile’”, Valley News, July 22, 2013
John Koziol, “Warren’s Redstone Missile in Need of a Little TLC”, New Hampshire Union Leader, February 24, 2014
Wernher von Braun, “The Redstone, Jupiter, and Juno”, in The History of Rocket Technology (ed. Eugene M. Emme), pp 107–121, Wayne State University Press, 1964
“Old Rocket Making Town’s Eyes Sore”, NY Times, April 6, 1982