a website collaboration between Science Service and the Smithsonian Institution

1959 - S.S. American Mariner Gerald G. Guess, of Bisbee, Arizona, to provide the most 

precise data yet collected at sea on missile flights


E&MP 103.030

Radar - Missile Tracking

January 22, 1959


This huge antenna, largest tracking radar afloat, will assist in tracking missiles and recording their performance on the Atlantic Missile Range. Ship, the S. S. Mariner, has been fitted out by Radio Corporation of America as a veritable floating laboratory of electronic and optical instruments.

Besides the antenna is RCA engineer Gerald G. Guess, of Bisbee, Arizona, member of the crew that will operate the electronic equipment aboard.

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From: Radio Corporation of America, Dept. of Information
30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York 20, N. Y.

For Release Immediately
January 22, 1959


S.S. American Mariner, Outfitted by RCA With Latest Equipment to Check Missile Flights, Is Inspected by Scientists; Carries Precise Tracking Radars, Even Videotape


BALTIMORE, MD., JAN. 22 -- A refurbished cargo vessel, fitted out with electronic equipment so elaborate as to make it a veritable floating laboratory, is scheduled to sail from this port tomorrow (Friday) to take its new post in the South Atlantic to aid in tracking the experimental missiles fired by the U. S. military services and in recording data on their performance.

The vessel is the S. S. American Mariner, which has been refitted from stem to stern with the latest electronic and optical instruments to provide the most precise data yet collected at sea on missile flights according to a statement by Arthur L. Malcarney, Executive Vice President, RCA Defense Electronics Products. Radio Corporation of America is the system's management contractor.

The information it collects -- by radar, by telemetry, and by optical apparatus -- will supplement the data already being recorded on the missile range by ground stations and picket ships operated by the Air Force. The range extends from Cape Canaveral, Fla., more than 5,000 miles southeast across the Atlantic to the vicinity of Ascension Island, half way between Brazil and the African coast.



The new "missile measurement ship," as the military calls it, is a project sponsored jointly by the Advanced Research Projects Agency, Department of Defense, and the Army Ordnance Missile Command, Huntsville, Ala. It was inspected today by about 150 military and civilian scientists at the Baltimore yards of the Maryland Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, which executed the refitting operation under contract to RCA.

Fifty-two civilian scientists, engineers and technicians, in addition to the ship's crew, will make up the vessel's complement for each tracking mission. Many will be employees recruited from the RCA Service Company, which also is responsible for missile tracking and data collecting on missile performance on the Atlantic Missile Range.

The exact itinerary of the ship's first voyage was not disclosed, but it will involve a lonely vigil far from regular shipping lanes, Defense Department officials said.

Some of the most advanced electronic equipment in existence has been incorporated into the elaborate system aboard the ship, including tracking radars described as the most accurate in the world. The system even includes a videotape recorder similar to that used by broadcasting networks for recording and rebroadcasting television programs.

The scientific staff will make precision observations and collect data on the characteristics of a missile's performance from its ascent -- even including the preliminary countdown -- to remote altitudes in space, through all levels of the earth's atmosphere, to the final plunge to the sea. The data obtained will be shared by all branches of the Armed Forces.

The Navy provided precision computing equipment to compensate for the ship's roll, thus making possible accurate radar measurements at sea.



The Air Force, in turn, will contribute valuable information on missile firings from its Air Force Missile Test Center at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida.

J. J. Henry, of New York and Philadelphia, was the naval architect in the project. The Barnes Engineering Company, of Stamford, Conn., was in charge of the design and operation of non-radar measuring projects. The latter company also will have technical personnel on the ship to operate its equipment.

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Original Caption by Science Service
© Radio Corporation of America

Additional Information
February 21, 2005

S.S. AMERICAN MARINER with reference images

American Mariner began construction in Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard in Baltimore, MD, as S.S. George Calvert, U.S. Maritime Commission hull number 20. Immediately upon launching, the standard construction and outfitting contract with Fairfield was cancelled, and she was towed to the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation's Key Highway plant in Baltimore for completion as a cadet training ship.

At that time, her name was changed to American Mariner to become a companion to American Seaman and American Sailor as cadet training vessels. She continued in service as a training ship until 1950, when she was laid up at Kings Point, NY.

She was still used for training even though laid up until December 1953 when she was transferred to the Hudson River Reserve Fleet at Jones Point, NY.

Here she remained until June 1958 when she was towed out of reserve for conversion into a missile tracking platform for the Army.

She began her new duties on the Atlantic Missile Range in January 1959. She continued as a missile tracking ship for various agencies until 1965.

On October 21, 1966 she was sunk in 20 feet of water in the Chesapeake Bay near Point Lookout, MD as a target ship for Navy pilots flying from Patuxent River Naval Air Station.

She remains there today.

2 pages 93 KB requires Adobe Acrobat Reader
Courtesy: A. Davis Whittaker, Jr.

National Museum of American History


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