Thiokol (variously Thiokol Chemical Corporation(/Company), Morton Thiokol Inc., Cordant Technologies Inc., Thiokol Propulsion, AIC Group, ATK Thiokol, ATK Launch Systems Group; finally Orbital ATK before becoming part of Northrop Grumman) was an American corporation concerned initially with rubber and related chemicals, and later with rocket and missile propulsion systems. Its name is a portmanteau of the Greek words for sulfur (θεῖον "theion") and glue (κόλλα "kolla"), an allusion to the company's initial product, Thiokol polymer.
The Thiokol Chemical Company was founded in 1929. Its initial business was a range of synthetic rubber and polymer sealants. Thiokol was a major supplier of liquid polymer sealants during World War II. When scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory discovered that Thiokol's polymers made ideal binders for solid rocket fuels, Thiokol moved into the new field, opening laboratories at Elkton, Maryland, and later production facilities at Elkton and at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. Huntsville produced the XM33 Pollux, TX-18 Falcon, and TX-135 Nike-Zeus systems. It closed in 1996. In the mid-1950s the company bought extensive lands in Utah for its rocket test range.
During its existence, Thiokol was responsible for two of the worst industrial disasters in American history.[dubious – discuss] On February 3, 1971, at a Thiokol chemical plant southeast of Woodbine, Georgia, a fire entered a storage facility holding nearly five tons of ignition pellets, flares, and other highly flammable materials. The facility exploded, killing 29 people and severely wounding more than 50 others, including many with severed limbs. Windows were shattered 11 miles (18 km) from the site and the explosion was heard for 50 miles (80 km) around. Georgia law prevented employees from suing their employer because they were covered by workers' compensation insurance.
On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challengerexploded 73 seconds into its flight, killing all seven crew members aboard. An investigation found the cause was two O-ring seals in the Space Shuttle's right solid rocket booster, which had been manufactured by Morton Thiokol. Test data from as early as 1977 had revealed a potentially catastrophic flaw in the O-rings in low-temperature situations, but neither Morton-Thiokol nor NASA addressed or corrected the issue. Shortly before takeoff, several Morton Thiokol engineers recommended calling off the launch until temperatures at Cape Canaveral increased, but they were overruled by company management.
Model 601 U.S.A.F. Thiokol Snowcat
Thiokol Spryte used for winter service
1926: Two chemists, Joseph C. Patrick and Nathan Mnookin, were trying to invent an inexpensive antifreeze. In the course of an experiment involving ethylene dichloride and sodium polysulfide, they created a gum whose outstanding characteristic was a terrible odor. The substance clogged a sink in the laboratory, and none of the solvents used to remove it were successful. Then the frustrated chemists realized that the resistance of the material to any kind of solvent was a useful property. They had invented a synthetic rubber, which they christened "Thiokol".
1929: Bevis Longstreth, an executive at a salt company, founds the Thiokol Corporation in Trenton, New Jersey. He becomes its president and general manager.
1944: Longstreth dies, leaving the position of president and general manager open. William Crosby becomes general manager.
1982: Thiokol merges with Morton-Norwich products (owners of the Morton Salt concern, the Simoniz automotive products brand, and various chemical concerns). The merged company is called Morton Thiokol Incorporated (MTI).
1986: An O-ring fault in an MTI SRB destroysSpace Shuttle Challenger in flight. The company was found at fault for the destruction of Challenger and deaths of the astronauts, as a direct causality from pressure from NASA to launch, based on inconclusive evidence of O-ring failure, while under freezing temperatures. (see Space Shuttle Challenger disaster).
1989: Morton Thiokol splits, with most of the chemical concern going with Morton. The propulsion systems division becomes Thiokol Inc.
1998: Thiokol changes name to Cordant Technologies.
1998: Thiokol branded polymer products purchased by PolySpec L.P., a Houston-based manufacturer of industrial coatings, marine decking, and subsea insulation products.
2000: Thiokol merges with two divisions of Alcoa and with Howmet Castings and Huck Fasteners to become AIC Group (Alcoa Industrial Components).
2001: Alliant Techsystems (ATK) Inc. (a company formed when Honeywell spun off its defense division) spends $2.9 billion buying Thiokol and related businesses from AIC/Alcoa. ATK built the third stage of the Trident missile and had earlier bought Hercules Aerospace Co., builder of the second stage. With the purchase of Thiokol, makers of the missile's first stage, ATK controls the lion's share of the US solid rocket-fuel market.
Thiokol gas generators were used in the airbags on Mars Pathfinder. The top photo shows a complete airbag assembly under test, the bottom shows the three titanium Thiokol gas generators used to inflate the airbags.
In addition to ski lifts, Thiokol produced a range of equipment for ski resorts including snowcats and snow grooming vehicles. These businesses were spun off in 1978 when the company restructured itself to concentrate on its rocket products and related technologies. John Z. DeLorean purchased the Thiokol snowcat operation and renamed it DMC. DMC continued to manufacture snowcats until 1988, when the company was renamed LMC. LMC continued making snowcats for 12 more years but ceased operations in 2000. Thiokol produced snow vehicles with a wide range of capabilities and duties. The company also produced several utility based vehicles based on their snowcat tracked vehicle, in addition to larger snow grooming machines suitable for use on steep ski-slopes. Thiokol machines were used in ski resorts, operated by the USAF in Alaska and other northern regions, and are now popular with private owners as dependable snowcats and for all-terrain transport.
Amphibious Thiokol Swamp Spryte All Terrain Vehicle
Thiokol pioneered the short-burn rocket motors used in aircraft ejection seats. The company also produced a number of the earliest practical airbag systems, building the high-speed sodium azideexothermic gas generators used to inflate the bags. Thiokol bags were first used in U.S. military aircraft, before being adapted to space exploration (Mars Pathfinder bounced down on Mars on Thiokol airbags) and automotive airbags. Thiokol's generators form the core of more than 60% of airbags sold worldwide.
^Morton Thiokol: Getting off easy. Gregory R. Bell, Harvard Crimson, December 10, 1986
^Edwards, Douglas C. (2001). "Chap. 5 - Liquid Rubber". In Bhowmick, Anil K.; Stephens, Howard (eds.). Handbook of Elastomers, Second Edition (First ed.). Marcel Dekker Inc. p. 135. ISBN 0-8247-0383-9. Retrieved 8 February 2015.
^Sutton, Ernest S. (1999). From Polymers to Propellants to Rockets - A History of Thiokol. American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics. p. 2.