Science: Gas Guidance

To casual kibitzers at Cape Canaveral, the Polaris missile that took off from a dry-land pad and soared successfully downrange may have represented simply one more test shot. To U.S. Navy technicians, the deadly bird signaled the start of a new era in U.S. rocketry. A revolutionary new control system guided its second stage.

Standard weapon of U.S. nuclear submarines, the Polaris burns solid fuel, and it cannot be steered, as liquid-fuel rockets are, by swiveling the whole combustion chamber. Instead, Polarises now at sea use jetavators—movable nozzles inserted in their jet streams to deflect them and thus keep the rocket on...

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