Blast Off! Little Joe makes Big Smoke. Photo of an earlier launch.
Fifty years ago, things were really ramping up for launching our first astronaut into space. Every piece of equipment was being tested to discover whatever could possibly go wrong. The Little Joe program was designed to test aspects of the Mercury space capsule, which would take one astronaut on voyages into space. This test, conducted from Wallops Island on March 18th, 1961, was supposed to test the escape tower system.
Unfortunately, due to some faulty programming, the test was only of limited use. It reached a height of 7.7 miles and flew about 18 miles downrange over the Atlantic ocean. The Capsule used in the test was called a "Boiler-plate" because it was not fitted with the correct interior, although it did include test measuring equipment. Failure of the test occurred when the escape tower blasted away successfully, but failed to take the capsule with it! Recovery teams did eventually recover all pieces of the test capsule and tower. This failure led to another launch later.
For Space Fans, the capsule used in this test is on display at the Virginia Air and Space Center in Hampton, VA.
Little Joe 5A being assembled prior to launch.