Space: Casual Triumph

There was a strangely routine air about the rocket test. No exasperating, last-minute delays, no long, apprehensive countdowns — someone simply pressed a button and a dagger of pale yellow flame spewed skyward. White smoke climbed above the dry hills, and an enormous roar echoed along the California-Mexico border. After exactly 109 seconds, as scheduled, silence came back to the test stand.

It was the very casualness of the static test, the ease with which the engineers stuck to their strict schedule, that made the test so impressive. The plain cylinder, 60 ft. long and 13 ft. in diameter, made...

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