In Area II of SSFL is the Delta site, first constructed in 1957 for Thor engine testing and later modified for the Lance J-2 programs, including altitude testing. The area has also been used for the loading of propellant for Peacekeeper Stage IV. The DELTA 1 and 2 test stands conducted 105 and 462 rocket firings respectively but records are unavailable for DELTA 3. In all, Delta Area participated in the missile programs E-1 Engine, X-1 Engine, X-4 Engine, J-2/Saturn-V, Atlas, Jupiter, NOMAD, and Lance.

The Delta Area is also one of the highest headwaters of Bell Creek to the southeast which leads to the Los Angeles River. Several “ponds” with astronomically-high levels of residual chemical contamination are also in these highlands watershed. Delta Area and the Propellant Load Facility (PLF) have massive amounts of contamination left from decades of rocket testing and loading fuel for nuclear-tipped missiles. Toxins found to date at these two sites include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals, and dioxins.

The PLF was used to load the nuke-tipped MX Peacekeeper missile’s fourth stage with fuel. The mixture included monomethyl hydrazine (MMH) and nitrogen Tetroxide (NTO), two extremely volatile ingredients. Two 360 gallon NTO Storage Tanks with a Graham-type 800 fume scrubber were on the site with another tank for the MMH. Both toxins helped contaminate the complex area and the R-2 pond which served as a pooling site for the PLF and sits at the top of the headwaters of the Los Angeles River. The Peacekeeper “MX missile” (for Missile-eXperimental), was a land-based Inter Continental Ballistic Missile deployed by the United States starting in 1986. Fifty missiles were deployed until the last Peacekeeper was taken off alert on September 19, 2005. The U.S. Air Force was the only operator of the missile which is no longer used in the country’s arsenal.

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In June 1998,’s Michael Collins wrote his first article about Rocketdyne, Boeing, and the Santa Susana Field Laboratory for a Los Angeles magazine cover story entitled “Hot Zone“. Subsequently at a community meeting, three Boeing flacks, Dan Beck, Lori Circle and Inger Hodgson, berated Collins for the magazine cover’s “A Nuclear Nightmare in Our Own Backyard” headline and for the article’s use of the sentence, “The Rocketdyne lab was a key supplier of America’s rapidly expanding arsenal of nuclear weapons and rocket engines for the coming space race.”

Seems that the trio didn’t consider the MX Peacekeeper missile, with its multiple nuclear warheads, a “weapon.” Much like a gun which delivers a bullet to the target, a missile equipped with nukes does the same. Both are weapons. Even though Circle hissed that Boeing was considering “legal action,” Collins scoffed at the threats, went back into the community meeting and met a former Rocketdyne whistleblower who gave an exclusive interview that resulted in an LA Weekly article called “Total Recall.”

25 Years of Award-Winning SSFL/Rocketdyne Reporting