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Wallops' Launch Record – Fact or Fable? (Revised)

By Keith Cowing
August 21, 2013
Filed under

Wallops History – Launching Excellence Through the Years (2010)
“Established in 1945 under NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) … Wallops launched its first rocket on July 4, 1945. Since then, we have fulfilled our mission with the launch of more than 14,000 rockets.”
Wallops Island – 60 Years of Exploration (2005)
“Since 1945, NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility has launched more than 15,000 rockets from Wallops Island for science studies, technology development, and as targets for the U.S. military.”
Keith’s note: Lets see. 1945-2010 – that’s 65 years of rocket launches – 23,725 days. If Wallops did complete 14,000 rocket launches you’d need to launch a rocket every 1.7 days nonstop for 65 years. Or if you believe the 2005 number of 15,000 launches (60 years, 21,900 days) that would require a rocket launch every 1.5 days.
I wonder if Wallops actually has records to back up these conflicting claims. Or is this just something they keep repeating – because the old hands say its true and no one really cares to check. Indeed, Wallops PAO can’t even get their own grand history straight. In 2005 they claimed it was 15,000 launches. Five years later it was 14,000. How did the number go down – shouldn’t it be going up? It is interesting that both numbers are exact multiples of a thousand and that they differ by exactly 1,000.
Keith’s update: I asked Wallops PAO “Do you have actual statistics to support the 14,000 / 15,000 launches from Wallops claims that appear on webpages? Why are there different official numbers? Can you direct me to those statistics – and explain what a “rocket launch” actually means i.e. does it include model rocket launches, mortars, etc.?”

The reply I got from Keith Koehler at Wallops PAO was “A few years ago I asked the same question. So I went through all the launch log books to confirm the numbers that were being used. The numbers were correct. The launches that Wallops have conducted include both those at Wallops and when we have conducted remote campaigns. The number includes sounding rockets, test rockets, met rockets, projectiles, and target vehicles. It does not include model rockets. In some cases, during the 1960s we had around 400 launches in a year. Also, some missions, such as the 1970s solar eclipse, included launching 36 rockets in 24 hours.”
I replied: “Why does one official NASA web page say 15,000 launches as of 2005 and 14,000 launches as of 2010? How can the number decrease — by exactly 1,000? Why are the numbers exact multiples of a thousand? Are the records you used publicly available?”
Koehler replied: “The numbers are rounded off. The log books are at Wallops. They are not publicly available on the web. I don’t know the reason for the discrepancies in the numbers. Which two sites are you looking at?”
My response was to ask why Wallops launch records are not public (other launch sites’ records are). and told Koehler to look at the NASA Watch link I originally sent him (obviously he did not read the NASA Watch link I originally sent him).
Koehler’s hilarious response: “I can’t explain the differences.”

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.