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Any of a series of U.S. expendable space launch vehicles. The Atlas was originally designed as a liquid-fueled ICBM and first tested in an operational version in 1959. Early versions launched most of the Mercury manned missions and, coupled with upper-stage rockets, a number of Ranger, Surveyor, Mariner, and Pioneer probes on lunar and planetary missions. Later generations have become workhorses of the U.S. space program and carry a wide variety of scientific, military, and commercial spacecraft.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Atlas rocket, visit Britannica.com.
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