Monday, August 2, 2010

50 YA: Atlas tests

Atlas test missile

Fifty years ago, NASA faced the huge challenge of developing a rocket which could launch a man into space. For the Mercury program, that meant it had to lift a single-occupant capsule into low Earth orbit. The Redstone and Atlas missiles seemed to offer the best opportunities.

Unfortunately the Atlas conversion from the nuclear weapon missile to a man-rated launch vehicle proved to be a challenge. The test, named MA-1, occurred 50 years ago (actually July29, 1960) ended in disaster, failing 58 seconds after launch.

The missile carried an unmanned test copy of the Mercury capsule. No escape system was provided. The capsule was meant to go into a sub-orbital flight and re-enter for testing. Instead the wreckage of the capsule and rocket fell into the Atlantic ocean 10 miles from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The wreckage was recovered for analysis. Pieces of the wrecked capsule are currently located at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, Kansas.

The wrecked capsule after recovery.

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