In November 2014 the White Sands Missile Range Cultural Resources Program executed a Memorandum of Agreement in support of the demolition of the Green River Test Site in Green River Utah, an annex to WSMR. The site was determined to be an eligible Historic Military District.
GRTS was originally built in support of the United States Air Force Advanced Ballistic Re-entry System Program, utilizing the Athena rocket to study re-entry phenomena, determining optical and radar signatures.
The scale model ICBM Athena test vehicle was designed to reproduce trajectory dynamics at re-entry and to facilitate the development testing of full size decoys. Between 1964 and 1973 the USAF had launch 140 Athena rockets.
The City of Green River maintains a community park that is home to a full-scale replica of the Athena rocket. Over the years it has developed numerous cracks, blisters, holes, and large breaks in its external aluminum casing, particularly along the bottom half of the booster rockets attached to the lower east and west sides of the missile.
The City of Green River takes great pride in their past support of the ABRES program with the Athena rocket proudly representing that history.
In consultations with the Green River community Bill Godby, White Sands Missile Range archaeologist, learned that there was a great desire to restore the missile. Godby incorporated restoration of the rocket as one of the stipulations of the MOA developed as mitigation for the demolition of the facility (yet to occur), in addition to developing additional interpretation of GRTS.
To execute the mitigation AmaTerra Environmental, Inc. (AmaTerra), who also completed the National Register evaluation of the site, was awarded funds to repair and improve the Athena rocket display.
Initial inspection of the rocket it appeared that the project would not be too difficult to complete and could be done in place. Previous repairs to the rocket were visible, largely concentrated toward the bottom. Godby and AmaTerra staff agreed it would be reasonable to attempt to sub-contract an autobody repair shop or repairman to complete the repairs, on site. However, after months of trying to attract local talent, Ama Terra had no success, only frustration and several very high price proposals that included the rocket being removed and located to the job shop. Removing the rocket was out of the question due to logistics and cost. With this unusual mitigation proposal at a stand still Victor Palma, Vice-President of Ama Terra, decided to do it himself, along with a contractor- jack of all trades-Victor has used frequently. His name, appropriately, is John Henry!
Palma and Henry flew to Green River in June 2015, on a mission to get the work done no matter what. Despite a few surprises, they completed the effort in about 7 days, with an interesting story to tell. The team discovered that the missile has an internal “skeleton” of steel and an external casing of aluminum and between the two was a mortar/concrete layer.
Upon further inspection the two also learned that a hole at the top of the booster, there by design, was allowing precipitation from snow and rain to enter the interior of the missile. In turn the water is being absorbed by the concrete middle layer like a sponge. During winter the collected moisture freezes, expands and cracks. Over time, this expansion has created cracks in the external aluminum casing, and ultimately caused several large pieces to break off of the missile display.
After inspecting the situation, and much discussion of how to proceed, the two established their initial plan of action to complete the effort on site. For minor repairs the team used their power grinder to ground broken and exposed edges and filled the cracks and holes with an epoxy mixture. At a minimum, three layers of epoxy were necessary to completely fill these areas. Once the epoxy layers reached a point where they were slightly above the casing, the epoxy was sanded smooth, even with the casing, and then painted.
For the larger cracks and breaks, a bigger challenge was at hand, involving a good deal of creative “on your feet” thinking. Victor and John decided that concrete polymer in combination with epoxy and fiberglass cloth would be best to fill the larger sections. Upon removing sections of the middle concrete/grout layer they continued by grinding the edges of the broken and cracked external casing surface, preparing the areas for the concrete polymer and epoxy fill. Ultimately, six layers of concrete polymer followed by three layers of epoxy were required to fill the larger cracks and breaks. The entire process, for both major and minor repairs, was completed with the application of two coats of white, oil-based exterior paint.
As mitigations go, this one was certainly a first. What seemed to be the easiest tasks of the mitigation plan turned out to be not so easy. Fortunately as a small company AmaTerra had the flexibility to find a homegrown solution with access to John Henry! Palma and Henry had the great experience of getting very friendly with the one and only scale model Athena rocket to exist. AmaTerra can now “rocket restoration” to their capabilities.