MAIL VIA ROCKET (Jan, 1957)

MAIL VIA ROCKET

A missile expert predicts rocket mail by 1965. Here are MI’s ideas on how the system could function.

By Frank Tinsley

IT’S Friday noon. In the home office of a giant New York corporation the final drafts of a secret merger are being signed. If they can be signed by the party of the second part in San Francisco and be back here in the office before the stock market closes—so that “buy” orders can be rushed to dealers throughout the country—a possible Monday financial slump can be averted. The atmosphere is tense. A micro- photo machine has been moved into the president’s office and a trusted operator inserts the sheets, one by one. Two tiny prints of each emerge, one for the files and one for mailing. The latter is sealed in a pencil-thin plastic carrier bearing the written address and the code punch for San Francisco. The carrier is then popped into a pneumatic tube that takes it to a central post office where it emerges into a sorting machine. Automatically identifying the punch mark, this device drops it into the San Francisco container. At scheduled intervals, an attendant seals these containers and inserts them in a large pneumatic tube to the rooftop heliport. Here our letter is picked up by a fast convertaplane that flies hourly between the city and the rocket base.

Arriving at the base, our pilot hovers over the Frisco-bound rocket. Mail containers are lowered to a loading crew perched high on the missile’s open cargo doors. Parcel post packages follow swiftly and the doors are swung upward and locked. The “service stand” retracts its telescoping tower, folds it neatly on its bed and pulls away from the missile pit.

With an ear-splitting roar, the downward rush of incandescent gas is deflected up and out by the cup-shaped walls of the bunker. Slowly, the missile rises, gathering momentum with every foot of altitude. Climbing high into space at 10,000 mph the winged postman is guided on its course by electronic pilot installations spaced across the country. With engines cut, it begins the long, roller-coaster dip to the Pacific. As it nears the coast, controls are actuated and the huge missile turns slowly end-for-end. Tail first, with rocket again soaring, it gradually brakes it descent. Now the landing controls at its destination take over. Lightly, it touches down on its landing pad.

The postman’s engine is cut. A reversal of the New York procedure whisks the merger container into the hands of its addressee by 10 a. m. Pacific Standard Time. Quickly countersigned and witnessed, it begins its return trip. Our New York executives receive the papers at 2:30 p.m.—in plenty of time to close the deal.

When will this closely-coordinated missile mail service be in operation? According to Hall L. Hibbard, head of Lockheed Aircraft’s Missile Division, missile mail and freight will be possible by 1965. MI agrees—and we foresee that the speed of the service will require a smooth-working, speeded-up city-to-rocket base and ground handling system to exploit its fullest potential.

15 comments
  1. Rick Auricchio says: April 15, 20089:52 pm

    I suppose they just forgot about the FAX machine.

  2. Casandro says: April 15, 200811:26 pm

    This would have been a good alternative to wire transfers for money. You could get money to other places within hours not days. And it would also probably be cheaper for international transfers.

  3. Myles says: April 16, 20088:14 am

    Cool, these missiles will be ready at the same time we will have “robot slaves.” The weakest part of this plan is the rockets landing. That requires sophisticated computer control that did not exist. Also as Rick says above, the technologies that would make this system obsolete were already know about when this article was written.

  4. Charlie says: April 16, 20089:20 am

    Myles » That and the fact that the cost would be astronomical. There are incredibly few things that a) need to happen in 3 hours instead of 12 and b) can’t be done over the phone or fax.

  5. Eamon says: April 16, 200810:35 am

    Can you imagine if something went wrong? Valuable cargo scattered across miles of countryside or worse, straight through some building.

    The only thing I can think of that this would be cost effective for is transplant organs.

  6. John says: April 16, 200811:50 am

    Notice on the top of the second page the aircraft looks an awful lot like a V-22 Osprey

    Here is the Wikipedia site: http://en.wikipedia.org…

  7. Myles says: April 16, 20081:09 pm

    I did notice the Osprey looking helicopter. It seems like a simple idea. I worked for a Textron company so we got bulletins on what was happening with the Osprey while it was in early development. They kept pushing back the expected delivery date (by years) as it had a tendency to fall out of the sky. It looked like it was going to be a dud. It takes extremely sophisticated computer programs to keep it in the air when it is in hover mode that probably didn’t even exist when they first started working on the program.

  8. jayessell says: April 16, 20084:31 pm

    Myles:
    Is the hovering problem due to the air beneath the rotors forming a ring that can’t support the aircraft?
    (Which is why helicopters don’t/can’t/shouldn’t land straight down?)

  9. Rick Auricchio says: April 16, 20084:34 pm

    “The only thing I can think of that this would be cost effective for is transplant organs.”

    The misfires and failures might even help provide a ready supply of organs from unfortunate victims.

  10. Blurgle says: April 16, 20087:10 pm

    Unfortunately, money transfers are only expensive for people who don’t have much money. If you have the money to afford this, you have the money to get free, immediate wire transfers.

  11. Crazy Pat says: April 16, 20089:10 pm

    Postal workers in charge of firing missiles… great idea til a disgruntled employee reprograms them to shoot into the supervisors office window ;)

  12. richard schumacher says: April 17, 20087:53 pm

    You guys have heard that in a couple years thrillseekers will be paying $200,000 a head to take quite similar joyrides, right? Transcontinental and transoceanic business trips will follow soon after.

  13. beagledad says: April 21, 20084:08 pm

    Rocket-assisted insider trading! Cool! Will the indictments be sent via rocket too?

  14. rocketeer says: January 17, 20095:20 am

    First attempts to deliver mail by rocket were made in the early 1930s by German rocket enthusiasts. It’s a nice concept for a fast package delivery, but has been impractical for the last 80 years. You would need the reliability (with the cost) of “man-rated” rockets for the job, and as history shows, “man-rated” does not mean there isn’t a much greater chance of “complete loss of vehicle and crew/cargo” than in air mail.

  15. Brian says: June 27, 20119:02 am

    We still have bicycle messengers in all the major cities in America, and I’ve often thought that intra-city envelope and small package delivery could be facilitated by radio-controlled toy planes and helicopters. Until I got one, and realized therse devices can be toppled by a 2 mph wind. Plus there are security issues, too evident for me to go into detail about. So why I a ringing this up, then? I don’t know. Leave me alone.

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