DEFENSE: Longest Stretch

The big bird screamed upward off its Cape Canaveral launching pad, nosed over toward the southeast, curved down the length of the Atlantic and navigated 9,000 miles before its nose cone splashed hard by its chosen target just south of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. In exactly 52½ minutes last week, the 130-ton, 75-ft. Atlas rocket set a new U.S. missile record and beat the Russians' best distance mark by more than 1,000 miles.

The long shot needed a nicety of aiming and timing. Soaring 1,000 miles toward outer space at speeds up to 17,000 m.p.h., the instrument-packed Atlas would...

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