Monday, July 15, 2013

50 Years Ago: NASA Prepares for Apollo

Little Joe II being Assembled at White Sands testing range.

Fifty years ago, NASA had just concluded the Mercury Project, determining that man could survive in space and control a rocket in orbit and return safely to the Earth. The Gemini Program began, ready to send up a crew of two astronauts in each capsule to practice the skills which would be needed to make the trip from the Earth to the Moon. The first steps of the Apollo program continued, with the expansion of testing for the Saturn rocket components.

Little Joe 2 Mercury flight.

To test the Mercury spacecraft, NASA had flown test capsules on the diminutive Little Joe 2 rocket. Now, they planned to use an advanced version called Little Joe II (roman numeralized!) to do the same with the Apollo capsule. On July 15, 1963, components of the new Little Joe II were moved from the General Dynamics/Convair assembly plant to the White Sands Missile Test Range for preparation for testing.

Boeing 377 Guppy special cargo aircraft.

Days earlier, on July 12, the space agency transported a dummy Saturn S-IVB rocket stage to Cape Canaveral. This was the first time that a rocket stage was transported to the Cape by aircraft. Previous transfers had been made on special barges towed by tugboats across the Gulf of Mexico.

Guppy in a later paint scheme.

The Guppy was a rare vehicle. Engineers took a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser and extensively modified the fuselage to accept a hugely oversized payload just like the Saturn stage. It was nicknamed Guppy after the small freshwater fish which always seems to look like it swallowed something too big for its belly.

Saturn S-IVB stage being loaded through the center of the fuselage.

Saturn stage being loaded through the front loading section.

The latest version, the Boeing SuperGuppy.

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