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Launch of Titan IV-B rocket.
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Courtesy of the United States Air Force and Lockheed Martin

Titan Rocket Finally Completes First Mission
News story originally written on May 24, 1999

The new Titan IV-B rocket finally completed a successful mission today after months of failure. The Lockheed Martin missile carried a classified payload for the United States Air Force. It launched on May 22, 1999 at 5:36 Eastern Standard Time from Space Launch Complex Four East at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

On board the vehicle was a secret spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office. An earlier mission was supposed to launch a similar satellite into orbit, but the Titan rocket blew up after liftoff, destroying the $1 billion satellite.

"We always feel relief at the point in the mission when we have a successful payload separation and the satellite gets into orbit," said Air Force Major John Cherry.

The Titan IV is the nation's largest unmanned rocket, but it has a terrible record. The rocket failed to launch in two previous attempts and blew up in another. A planned mission to send NASA's Quickscat weather satellite into orbit has been delayed because the Titan IV isn't ready for launch.

"Today's successful Titan 4B mission was critical for our customers," said G. Thomas Marsh, president of Lockheed Martin Astronautics. "We are proud to team with the Air Force in launching these large and important payloads that contribute directly to our national security."

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