Monday, April 25, 2011

50 YA: MA-3 Rocket Launch

MA-3 blast off from Cape Canaveral.

Continuing the test preparations for launching an American into space, NASA conducted an unplanned unmanned test of the launch escape system from a functional Atlas rocket. On April 25, 1961, Mercury-Atlas 3 (MA-3) lifted off from launch complex 14. As a full-up test, a functional Mercury capsule (spacecraft #8) was set atop the Atlas rocket. Instead of an astronaut, a mechanical dummy with sensors onboard was placed in the capsule.

Forty-three seconds after blastoff, something went wrong with the Atlas rocket which lost control of its maneuvering. Safety rules demanded that the range officer activate the self-destruct so that the rocket could not pose a threat to communities along the coast of Florida. The launch escape system was activated just before the rocket blew up. The system saved the capsule, which was happily recovered about 20 minutes after the start of liftoff. It would be re-used on the next MA test flight.

Meanwhile, the astronauts (the Mercury "Seven") and the American public wondered when oh when would America launch its own voyager into space.

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