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Sun, Jul 09, 2006

Did Boeing Defy Curse Of Vandenburg's SLC-6?

Sends Spy Satellite Into Orbit From 'Cursed' Pad

Is it possible for a launch pad to be cursed? Before you say no... consider the odd and, frankly, creepy history of the SLC-6 site at California's Vandenburg Air Force Base.

Up until the successful June 28 launch of a Boeing Delta IV rocket carrying a spy satellite from the pad -- known colloquially as "Slick-6" -- the Space Launch Complex had a checkered history of spectacular failures, beginning with its original reason for existence.

Construction of the site began in March 1966, to support launches of Titan III rockets supporting the Air Force's planned Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program. When crews began excavating the site, however, they came across human remains.

It turns out the site was an ancient burial ground for the Chumash Indian tribe. Despite requests from the tribe for time to study and excavate the site, NASA went ahead and built over the site... and as anyone well-versed in mystical forces could tell you, that's NEVER good karma.

Local legend has it a Chumash tribal leader placed a curse on the site, in his anger over NASA's refusal to honor the remains.

Of course.. curses don't exist, right? Well... before you say no, consider these facts --

  • The MOL program -- intended to put a military space station into orbit to spy on the Russians -- was scrapped shortly after the pad was completed
  • Plans to begin shuttle launches from the California site were cancelled in the wake of the 1986 Challenger disaster
  • The 1995 launch of a Lockheed communications satellite from the site -- 29 years after ground was first broken at Slick-6 -- failed when the rocket's hydraulic system bugged out shortly after liftoff.
  • The August 1997 launch of the Lewis spacecraft started out promisingly -- but, alas, the satellite entered a flat spin after it reached orbit... which misaligned the probe's solar panels with the sun. Once month later, it returned to Earth... burning up in Earth's atmosphere.
  • The April 1999 launch of the Ikonos commercial spy satellite met a similar fate, after its nosecone failed to separate after liftoff.. and it wound up in the Pacific Ocean

A successful launch from SLC-6 finally occurred the following September, when a duplicate Ikonos satellite was placed in orbit by a Lockheed Athena booster... after the aerospace manufacturer allegedly hired a Chumash priest to remove the curse from SLC-6 (Lockheed denies such a ceremony took place.)

While the satellite was successful, however, the rocket was not -- Lockheed wound up taking a bath on the Athena program, with only a handful of rockets sold. Boeing hopes its Delta IV booster meets a better fate... and so far, all systems seem to be normal for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) satellite, NROL-22.

Emphasis on "so far"... and no word yet on whether Boeing asked forgiveness from the spirits before the rocket lifted off.

FMI: www.boeing.com

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