Wednesday, June 27, 2012

50 Years Ago: X-15 speed record, MA-8 news

X-15 Number 1.

Fifty years ago the X-15 program was still in full swing as NASA research manned craft control in the upper thin atmosphere, and the fringes of space. On June 27, 1962 X-15 pilot Joe Walker flew X-15 number 1 to an altitude of 120,000 feet. While firing the rocket motor on his way to that altitude, he managed to fly the craft at Mach 6.09 (4159 mph) while he passed the altitude of 96,000 feet. After casually managing to make this new record speed, Walker continued with his planned tests of steep angle re-entry through the atmosphere.

X-15 pilot Joe Walker.

The height flown in the mission was not the highest. NASA announced on the same day that a previous mission on June 21 had reached the altitude of 247,000 feet. That flight was done by NASA pilot Robert White in X-15 number 3. As the X-15 program continued, new records were being set and great research completed.

Also on this day back in 1962, NASA made an announcement about the next Mercury manned mission. Designated MA-8, the plan was to have the Mercury craft piloted in at least three, and perhaps up to six orbits. The astronaut selected for this mission would be Navy Commander Walter M. Schirra, Jr.

Walter M. Schirra, Jr. "Wally"

Wally Schirra came from Hackensack, New Jersey, and was born into a family deeply involved in aviation. His father had earned his pilot wings during World War 1 in Canada. Both parents became "Barnstormers" between the world wars and entertained crowds with their amazing skills. His mother even did the "wing-walking" stunts! By the time he was 15, Wally could fly his father's plane.

Schirra (right) studies the MA-8 operation plan with Chris Kraft (left). Kraft would be the Mission Control Flight Director during the MA-8 mission.

NASA publicity picture of Walter Schirra in Mercury spacesuit. The suit cooling unit is attached. A model of the Mercury spacecraft and escape tower is posed to the right.

The backup pilot assigned to MA-8 was astronaut L. Gordon Cooper, a Major in the US Air Force. He had been a test pilot at Edwards AF Base testing the F-102 and F-106 jet combat aircraft.

L. Gordon Cooper. 

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