CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- The Atlas fired Friday night was America's first intercontinental ballistic missile to travel the full, ocean-spanning range of 6,325 miles, the Pentagon said today in a statement released by the Air Force.
The Washington announcement made formal the event that already was the cause of jubilant celebration here at the launching site where the giant ICBM thundered skyward in the night.
Russia claimed successful ICBM flights more than a year ago but this was America's first successful venture with the so-called "ultimate weapon" that would be capable of untold horror if ever launched with an atomic or hydrogen device in its nose.
In a terse but momentous statement, the Defense Department said the successful all-the-way flight "came less than a year after the first successful flight of the Atlas, made last Dec. 17 when the test vehicle went slightly more than 500 miles."
Fired Over Atlantic
"The Atlas ICBM launched yesterday was successfully test fired for the first time over the full intercontinental range, a distance of approximately 5,500 nautical miles," the Pentagon statement said. The distance is equiv alent to 6,325 statute miles.
The Atlas was fired over the Atlantic missile range from Cape Canaveral at 9:27 p.m., est Friday.
The missile was powered for what the department called "this significant flight" by a three-engine cluster. Prior successful firings, all at less than the full ranga but employing all three engines, were staged Aug. 2, Aug. 23, Sept. 14, and Nov. 17.
A spokesman for the Convair Astronautics Division of General Dynamics Corp., which built the Atlas, said the flight was a complete success.
Even before the announcement, any doubt was dispelled by broad grins on the faces of test officials and a champagne party thrown spontaneously here by Convair and Air Force missile people.
Sources in Washington, who asked not to be identified, said the missile covered a distance of 5,500 nautical miles (6,300 statute miles) and smacked into the South Atlantic within 30 miles of a target area set up for it.
The Atlas, launched at 9:27 p.m. e.s.t. and guided autamati-own instruments, performed perfectly, according to the Washington spokesman.
The Atlas was equipped with a slender, pointed nose cone designed to come back intact through the atmosphere from its peak altitude of 800 miles. Reconnaissance planes and recovery boats stood by at the target area. Test officials lightened the vehicle by keeping data-recording instruments to a minimum.
Two booster rocket engines . dropped away smoothly 130 seconds after takeoff. The three main engines, which provide more than 300,000 pounds of thrust, continue to operate until the Atlas has reached a speed of about 16,000 miles an hour. The nose cone then separates and re enters the denser portion of the atmosphere at a speed about 25 times that of sound.
In a statement issued shortly after the shoot, J. V. Naish, president of Convair Astronautics, said: "There are no fundamental, question marks left in the Atlas program. Tonight's flight demonstrated the range capabilities of the Atlas."