Saturday, August 22, 2009

50 YA: Discoverer VI Failure & Mercury Program

Little Joe rocket and Mercury capsule

Covering events from the last few days (albeit 50 Years Ago!):

Discoverer VI was launched successfully on August 19, 1959. This was an additional attempt to perfect the program of photographing classified subjects from space and ejecting a film canister pod to Earth. The idea is to "snag" the parachute after re-entry by a special collector-equipped cargo plane. Unfortunately, a retro-fire mistake resulted in an impossible recovery.

On August 21, 1959, NASA prepared a test of the Little Joe rocket. Atop the squat solid-fuel rocket was a test capsule of the Mercury design, and on top of that was the escape launch system. This test was designed to launch the capsule upwards, and then test the ability of the escape tower to pull the capsule off the rocket to safety in case of an imminent booster failure.  Unfortunately, this test was a failure when the escape tower launched 30 minutes prematurely!

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