Mission: Big Joe 1
Launch Pad: LC-14
Vehicle: Big Joe (1) SN 10-D
Test of ablation heatshield. The nose-cone capsule for Big Joe had no retrorocket package. The inner structure held only a half-sized instrumented pressure vessel instead of a pressurized cabin contoured to the outer configuration. Built in two segments, the lower half by Lewis and the upper by Langley, the main body of the spacecraft replica was fabricated with thin sheets of corrugated Inconel alloy in monocoque construction. This model of the Mercury capsule had more than one hundred thermocouples around the capsule skin to register temperatures inside and under the heatshield, sides and afterbody. (Reference NASA SP-4201 p. 201)
The Atlas 10-D was programmed to rise, pitch over horizontally to the Atlantic before it reached its 100-mile peak altitude, then pitch down slightly before releasing its corrugated nose cone at a shallow angle barely below the horizontal.
Altitude: 95 statute miles
Duration: 0 Days, 0 hours, 13 minutes, 0 seconds
Distance: 1,496 statute miles
Max Velocity: 14,857 miles per hour
Max Q: 675 psf
Max G. 12
September 9, 1959, 3:19am EST, Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The original launch date for Big Joe was July 4, 1959 but the launch date was postponed until mid-August by the Air Force because the booster did not checkout out perfectly at first. Then it was put off until early September by Space Task Group (STG) engineers, who were working on instrumentation and telemetry problems. Finally, the count picked up on September 8, 1959 when the Atlas 10-D (the sixth of this model to be flight tested) stood on the launch pad with a Mercury capsule (minus its escape tower).
About 2:30 a.m. a 19-minute hold in the countdown was called to investigate a peculiar indication from the Burroughs computer that was to guide the launch. A malfunction was found in the Azusa impact prediction beacon, a transponder in the booster. Since there were several redundant means for predicting the impact point, the trouble was ignored and the countdown resumed. Liftoff occurred at 3:19 a.m. EST.
About 7 hours after launch, the Destroyer Strong reported that she had netted the boilerplate capsule intact.
The spacecraft test was successful, Launch Vehicle was a failure. The two outboard engines had not separated from the centerline sustainer engine after their fuel was exhausted. The added weight of the booster engines retarded velocity by 3000 feet per second and the capsule separated from the booster 138 seconds too late. The impact point was 500 miles short.