ARMED FORCES: Death of the Big Bird

Haggard from seemingly endless days of overwork, 200 missilemen reported in at Florida's Cape Canaveral missile test center one murky night last week to give the Atlas its final preening before flight. In a blockhouse a few hundred feet from the launching pad, physicists and engineers started radioing to foremen the long lists that comprised the exquisitely detailed ritual of inspection. Fitted together in the great steel bird's innards were some 300,000 parts, and a failure in one of them could cause a misfire.

It was nearly 3 p.m. when the hollow-eyed, unshaven...

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