Story of Thor: From a humble ballistic missile to America’s most popular launch vehicle

A jack of all trades situation.
Derya Ozdemir

Did you know that Thor, named after the Norse god of thunder, was one of the first launch vehicles used by the United States? It also provided nuclear deterrent prior to the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Furthermore, this legendary vehicle launched NASA's first spacecraft as well as hundreds of spy satellites for the U.S. military. The United States Air Force originally intended Thor to be an intermediate-range ballistic missile.
Three businesses, Douglas, Lockheed, and North American Aviation, were given one week in November 1955 to submit bids for a U.S. Air Force contract to develop a missile that could strike the Soviet Union from the United Kingdom.

On December 23, 1955, the Air Force selected North American's Rocketdyne division to build the missile's engine, which would provide 135,000 pounds of thrust, and Douglas as the prime contractor for the missile's airframe and integration. This is how Thor came to be, a humble ballistic missile that didn't even have the range to reach USSR targets without being stationed just outside their borders.

Thor would then become the Delta, and the most launched rocket in U.S. history. If you're curious to know more, make sure you watch the video embedded above, and as always, enjoy.

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