Saturday, December 9, 2017

Abandoned Rocket Fuel Plant, Redlands, California

Redlands, California, is a historic town on the far east outskirts of the Los Angeles metropolitan area.  The historic core is well-represented by gorgeous Craftsman architecture houses in impeccable condition. But drive to the unincorporated town Mentone, turn north on some gravel roads towards the Santa Ana River wash, and you come across a wasteland of boulder fields, water retention pits, and hulking concrete bunkers. The bunkers are the remains of the Lockheed Propulsion Company, which developed and tested solid fuel rocket motors and propellants for use by the military and NASA between 1961 and 1975. A predecessor company used the site before 1961.
Southern California was, for many decades, one of the prime locations for the US aerospace industry. After World War II, aircraft companies expanded their operations to encompass the new rocket and space technologies, especially in the 1960s, as we developed equipment and systems for the space race.
These were sturdy buildings, with thick reinforced concrete walls. Some semi-buried bunkers (see the fourth photograph) were made to store highly explosive materials. Bunkers like this are built with thick earthen sides and a thin roof so that an explosion will dissipate its energy vertically into the air. Note the troughs in the floor through which cables and conduits could be routed.
These rectangles contain glass at least 6 inches thick. They were designed for movie cameras to film rocket nozzle exhaust. I have seen windows like this at an old building (no longer extant) at the Waterways Experiment Station in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
According to a Wikipedia article, the Lockheed plant closed in 1975 when the last contracts for the Apollo program ended and NASA selected Thiokol to prepare solid propellant for the Space Shuttle booster rockets. Solvents and other toxic chemicals have been measured in water wells in the region. Nevertheless, Lockheed-Martin Corporation has refused to pay for the clean-up of the contamination. Is this not a familiar story?

For more articles on Redlands, please click the links:
1. Restoring the Santa Fe Depot.
2. Historic Redlands High School's Clock Auditorium.
3. A quick tour of Craftsman houses.

For an odd site in the California desert:  Salvation Mountain.

The photographs of the rocket fuel plant are from a compact Yashica Electro 35CC film camera with a fixed 35mm f/1.8 Color-Yashinon lens. My impression is that the lens may be giving slightly more coverage than 35mm, but regardless, it is a handy focal length for street and casual photography. The film was Fuji 200, purchased in Kathmandu. I scanned the negatives on a Plustek 7600i 35mm film scanner using SilverFast Ai software.

Update January 2018
A retired rocket scientist, Mr. C.E. Juran wrote to me. He worked at the site, which was then run by Grand Central Rocket, from 1956 to 1966. He confirmed that Lockheed left a mess when it closed the site in 1974. Recall, in that era, there was minimal environmental awareness. The photograph shows Mr. Juran with a rocket being assembled; the propellant "grain" is suspended above the pressure case.

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