Celebrating a Storied History in the Heavens: 10th Anniversary of the Final Titan
It was 10 years ago when Barb Sande gazed upward to watch the last Titan rocket soar into a cloudless, blue sky from its launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
“My husband and I attended the final Titan launch and it’s an enduring memory,” Barb reflected. “It was Oct. 19, 2005, and it was a gorgeous, clear day – which also happened to be the day before my 50th birthday. It was bittersweet to see the last vehicle fly while celebrating this personal milestone.”
Barb, a senior staff engineer in Mission Success Integration, started on the Titan program in in January 1981 on the airborne electrical engineering team and moved to the Mission Success organization in the electrical group in 1984 and held various positions from there.
“I worked on the program for nearly 25 years and maintained the official launch history. Even today, I am the keeper of Titan data for those looking for it.”
In Greek mythology, “Titans” were giant deities of incredible strength, who ruled from their perch on Mount Olympus. The Titan rocket holds true to this analogy of power and dependability, as seen through the rocket’s 50-year span of contributions to the American space industry.
In 1956, in the early years of the Space Race, The Martin Company won the contract to design and build the Titan I and then Titan II Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). Titan grew to become an unprecedented multi-stage launch vehicle that would carry spacecraft and astronauts beyond the bounds of Earth for decades to come.
Titan I began launching in 1959, evolving into Titan IIs that were used by NASA as a precursor to Apollo and retrofitted in the 1980s for lifting government spacecraft such as weather satellites. Titan III iterations were developed as satellite-launchers, and the vehicle culminated in its most powerful version, the Titan IV – capable of launching payloads of more than 12,700 lbs. to geosynchronous orbit.
The nation’s ICBM program; Project Gemini, NASA’s second human spaceflight program; the Mars Viking landers; the Voyager deep space probes; communications and reconnaissance satellites—all of these programs and more relied on Titan rockets for a safe ride into space. (Read more about Titan’s history in “Remember the Titans.”)
“My top highlight of working on the Titan program would have to be the launch of the Cassini mission to Saturn on Oct. 15, 1997,” said Barb. “There was a lot of tension at the launch site before this vital and huge interplanetary spacecraft was launched, but it went flawlessly. I have followed the mission ever since, doing presentations about it and other programs to schools and civic groups through the JPL Solar System Ambassador program. I even have personalized ‘Cassini’ license plates on my car honoring that amazing mission.”
The last Titan rocket, a Titan IV B, successfully launched a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office. Paul Roybal, who spent nearly 20 years on Titan and was the core propulsion sub-system CPE at the program’s end, was also at the launch.
“I was the certified principal engineer for the pre-valves, which were the valves that isolated the propellant tanks from the liquid rocket engines,” said Paul. “The pre-valves were commanded to open at 26 seconds before launch and would take 6 to 12 seconds to open. It was nerve-racking until I heard the count at 12 seconds, and then it was exhilarating. I could exhale and enjoy taking in Titan’s last moments on the launch pad.”
Although Titan’s numerous missions and technical successes are certainly a key component of the vehicle’s celebrated history, those who worked on the program also credit the program’s triumphs to the people who supported this great rocket.
“The coworkers in Denver, Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg, as well as major subcontractors and the Air Force, all jelled,” added Paul. “It was truly a team and a family.”
In all, 368 Titans were flown – 200 from Vandenberg and 168 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida – enabling unprecedented capabilities that ranged from Earth reconnaissance and military and civil communications to human and robotic exploration. As Titan flew its concluding mission 10 years ago, Walt Yager, the last Titan program declared the liftoff placed “the final brush stroke on the Titan masterpiece.”
October 19, 2015