Where Earth Ends and Space Begins
February 24, 1949: First Rocket to “Officially” Reach Outer Space
Bumper 5, the first rocket to “officially” reach outer space is launched on this day in 1949 from White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico. The rocket was a modified German V-2 ballistic missile.
Unofficially, German scientists during World War II were testing the V-2 rocket, which most likely became the first man-made object in space. After the war, the U.S. used German scientists and their captured rockets in programs for both military and civilian research.
The Bumper 5 reached a record altitude of 244 miles, which broke the unofficial record of 117 miles, reportedly set by an early German V-2 missile launched in 1944. The German missile later established the Kármán line, which is 62.1 miles (100 kilometers) above the Earth’s sea level. This is considered the upper limit of Earth’s atmosphere and the beginning of Outer Space.
The line is named after Theodore von Kármán, (1881–1963) a Hungarian-American engineer and physicist. He was the first to calculate that around this altitude, the atmosphere becomes too thin to support aeronautical flight, because a vehicle at this altitude would have to travel faster than orbital velocity to derive sufficient aerodynamic lift to support itself.
This means your aircraft would have to be able to fly at above 17,000 mph to move through the Karman line. The X-15, fastest manned flight vehicle traveled at Mach 6.72 (6.72 times the speed of sound) about 4,520 mph.
The RTV-G-4 Bumper was a rocket built by the United States. It was a combination of the V-2 rocket and WAC Corporal sounding rocket and used to study problems pertaining to two-stage high-speed rockets. Eight rockets were launched during the Bumper program from May 13, 1948 to July 29, 1950. While the first six flights were conducted in White Sands, the seventh launch – Bumper 8 on July 24, 1950 – became the first ever rocket to be launched from Cape Canaveral.
Launching Bumper Rockets in the 50’s