Friday, May 16, 2014

50 Years Ago: Making Apollo Safe

Little Joe II in ascent.

Fifty years ago, engineers were doing their best to make sure astronauts could escape a fiery end to the Saturn rocket. On May 13, 1964, NASA launched a "Little JoeII" rocket which was designed to carry test versions of the Apollo Command and Service Module into a launch simulating the forces it would experience on later actual missions. In this case, the modules were a boiler-plate model, or a dimensionally-correct replica of the spacecraft which included weights and sensors for testing. The purpose of this test was not aimed at the capsule, but rather the structure perched on top of it - the escape tower. Blasting off from the White Sands missile range in California, rocket soared to 17,000 feet and then remotely exploded. In an instant, the rocket thrusters on the tower detected the failure and roared into action, separating the command module  away from the explosion and up further to 24,000 feet. At that point the tower was jettisoned and descent parachutes were deployed, returning the command module to the Earth. The entire test took only 7 1/2 minutes, and was passed successfully.

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