Jul 04

Space Rocket History #19 – Little Joe: Mercury’s Test Vehicle

“The designers made the Little Joe booster assembly to approximate the same performance that the Army’s Redstone booster would have with the capsule payload. But in addition to being flexible enough to perform a variety of missions, Little Joe could be made for about one-fifth the basic cost of the Redstone, would have much lower operating costs, and could be developed and delivered with much less time and effort. And, unlike the larger launch vehicles, Little Joe could be shot from the existing facilities at Wallops Island.”


Little Joe 6 Launch


Little Joe on the Mobile Launcher


Sam the Monkey


Mounting the Capsule

Little Joe: Mercury’s First Steps from James Duffy on Vimeo.

Jun 27

Space Rocket History #18 – Luna 2 and 3

While the Mercury 7 were fulfilling their roles as symbols of space exploration, Korolev once again was offering the real thing. He now prepared to undertake the most demanding mission yet. The mission that would accomplish the next step in Korolev’s program of lunar exploration. He would attempt to photograph the far side of the moon.


Luna 2

Luna2Attached to Rocket

Luna 2 Attached to Rocket


Far Side of the Moon Photographed by Luna 3


Luna 3


Luna 3 Stamp

Jun 20

Space Rocket History #17 – The Mercury 7

On April 1, 1959, Robert Gilruth, the head of the Space Task Group, Charles Donlan, Warren North, and Stanley White selected the first American astronauts. The “Mercury Seven” were Scott Carpenter, L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., John H. Glenn, Jr., Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Alan B. Shepard, Jr., and Donald K. “Deke” Slayton. 

The Mercury 7

The Mercury 7

Mercury Capsule and Astronauts

Mercury Capsule and Astronauts


Jun 13

Space Rocket History #16 – Astronaut Candidates

Candidates were given continuous psychiatric interviews throughout the week, and extensive self-examination through a battery of 13 psychological tests for personality and motivation, and another dozen different tests on intellectual functions and special aptitudes–these were all part of the Week of Truth at Dayton.

Two of the more interesting personality and motivation studies seemed like parlor games at first, until it became evident how profound an exercise in Socratic introspection was implied by conscientious answers to the test questions “Who am I?” and “Whom would you assign to the mission if you could not go yourself?” In the first case, by requiring the subject to write down 20 definitional identifications of himself, ranked in order of significance, and interpreted protectively, the psychologists elicited information on identity and perception of social roles. In the peer ratings, each candidate was asked which of the other members of the group of five accompanying him through this phase of the program he liked best, which one he would like to accompany him on a two-man mission, and whom he would substitute for himself. Candidates who had proceeded this far in the selection process all agreed with one who complained, “Nothing is sacred any more.”

Scott Cent
GPN Centrifuge

May 30

Space Rocket History #14 – US Space 1958 – Explorer, Vanguard, Pioneer, and NASA

In late March, 1958, President Eisenhower publicly announced the United States’ intention to launch a spacecraft to the Moon.  He assured the nation that  this was not science fiction.  It was an achievable goal presented by leading scientists.  The announcement came less than 2 months after the first US satellite had reached orbit.  The President was committing the nation to a space race to the moon with the Soviets.  If all went well the country would have a spacecraft in orbit around the moon before the summer was over.


Vanguard 1 Satellite

Vanguard 1

Vanguard 1


Pioneer 1 on the Launch Pad

Pioneer Satellite Replica

Pioneers 0-2 Satellite Replica



Pioneer 3

May 23

Space Rocket History #13 – Explorer 1 – Juno 1

At approximately 12:48 a.m. EST, the first listening stations began reporting that they had received radio signals from the “Explorer” satellite. The first station to confirm the signals was the San Gabriel Valley Amateur Radio Club near Pasadena, California.  However, ABMA officials were waiting for confirmation from the Goldstone radio tracking station in Earthquake Valley, California.  Finally, 1 hour and 57 minutes after launch the confirmation was finally relayed to ABMA officials in the form of the simple phrase, “Goldstone has the bird!”


Explorer 1 – Jupiter C Launch


On the Pad




Explorer 1 Satellite



Van Allen



206615main_medaris-516 (1)



Explorer 1 Satellite


Pickering, Van Allen, Von Braun Holding Satellite

206607main_launch-516 206601main_explorer-stand-516

May 16

Space Rocket History #12 – Vanguard TV3 – Flopnik

It seemed as if the gates of hell had opened up.  Brilliant stiletto flames shot out from the side of the rocket near the engine. The vehicle agonizingly hesitated for a moment, quivered again, and in front of our unbelieving eyes, began to topple. It sank like a great flaming sword down into the blast tube it toppled slowly breaking apart, hitting part of the test guard and ground with a tremendous roar that could be felt and heard even behind the 2 food concrete wall of the blockhouse. For a moment or two there was complete disbelief. I could see it in the faces. I could feel it myself.”  


Vanguard TV3 Launch


Vanguard TV3 Diagram


Vanguard Satellite

May 09

Space Rocket History #11 – Sputnik 2 – Laika: The Space Dog

Sputnik 2 was the second spacecraft launched into Earth orbit and was the first to launch a living creature. The satellite was a 4 meter high cone-shaped capsule with a base diameter of 2 meters. It contained several compartments for radio transmitters, a telemetry system, a programming unit, a regeneration and temperature control system for the cabin, and scientific instruments. A separate sealed cabin contained the first space passenger Laika, the space dog. Engineering and biological data were transmitted by the telemetry system to Earth for 15 minutes of each 103 minute orbit.  Two spectrophotometers were on board for measuring solar radiation and cosmic rays. A television camera was mounted in the passenger compartment to observe Laika.

Laika Stamp Laika Laika-Sputnik-2 sputnik-2 sputnik2_design_1 Sputnik2_vsm

Laika, 1957 from KC Giessen on Vimeo.