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From the Archives: Rocket test rumbles Santa Susana Field Laboratory

From the Archives: Rocket test rumbles Santa Susana Field Laboratory
Feb. 4, 1985: A rocket test causes billowing smoke on a cold night at Rocketdyne in the Santa Susana Mountains above the San Fernando Valley. (Joel Lugavere / Los Angeles Times)

On Feb. 4, 1985, staff photographer Joel Lugavere covered the test of a NASA space shuttle engine. This image accompanied staff writer Allan Jalon's article in the Feb. 11, 1985, Los Angeles Times that began:

In a concrete bunker on a crest in the Santa Susana Mountains, two men peer through binoculars and out of green-tinted glass that darkens their faces.

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In another bunker, computer consoles wait to record what is about to happen. Between the two structures, a huge metal scaffold embraces a rocket engine. Its nozzle's wide end faces downward, shrouded in vapor. A countdown begins: 10…9…8…7…6…5…4…3…2.

Instead of the beauty of flight comes a frightening concentration of sheer power. A rocket launch is quick drama. Not so a test of a rocket engine, which goes nowhere. The fire is a constant column of energy, a shivering reddish spike roaring into a deep metal pit. The scene is repeated once a week at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, owned by the Canoga Park-based Rocketdyne Division of Rockwell International Corp.

Since 1947, the engines for almost every American rocket came to life for the first time amid the sandstone and sage to these rough mountains. …

At the height of the Cold War, from the 1950s to the mid-1960s, there were up to eight large rocket tests here a day, company officials said.

In 1996, Boeing acquired the site and closed the facility soon afterward. Currently the heavily contaminated area is undergoing cleanup.

For more, check out this June 13, 2014, article by Michael Hiltzik:Santa Susana toxic cleanup effort is a mess.

This post was originally published on Sep. 24, 2014.

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