Big Joe 1

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Big Joe 1
Big Joe Ready for Launch at Cape Canaveral - GPN-2002-000045.jpg
Big Joe 1 at LC-14 in September 1959
Mission type Reentry test
Operator NASA
Mission duration 13 min
Distance travelled 2,292 kilometers (1,424 mi)
Apogee 153 kilometers (95 mi)
Spacecraft properties
Spacecraft type Mercury boilerplate
Manufacturer McDonnell Aircraft
Launch mass 1,159 kilograms (2,555 lb)
Start of mission
Launch date September 9, 1959, 08:19 (1959-09-09UTC08:19Z) UTC
Rocket Atlas D
Launch site Cape Canaveral LC-14
End of mission
Landing date September 9, 1959, 08:32 (1959-09-09UTC08:33Z) UTC

Mercury insignia.png


Project Mercury
Mercury-Atlas series
Mercury-Atlas 1

Big Joe 1 (Atlas 10-D) launched an unmanned boilerplate Mercury capsule from Cape Canaveral, Florida on September 9, 1959. The objective of the Big Joe program was to test the Mercury spacecraft ablating heat shield. It was also the first Project Mercury flight using an Atlas booster.

The flight was both a success and failure—the heat shield survived reentry and was in remarkably good condition when retrieved from the Atlantic Ocean. The Atlas-D booster, however, failed to stage and separated too late from the Mercury capsule. Due to the added weight of the unseparated booster engines, the sustainer engine depleted its fuel supply 14 seconds early. The boilerplate capsule was not equipped with a launch escape system.

The Mercury capsule flew a 1,424 mile (2,292 km) ballistic flight to the altitude of 90 miles (140 km). The capsule was recovered and studied for the effect of re-entry heat and other flight stresses from its 13-minute flight. Since the data from Big Joe 1 satisfied NASA requirements, a second launch, Big Joe 2 (Atlas 20D), which had been scheduled for the fall of 1959, was canceled and the launch vehicle was transferred to another program.

Capsule weight: 2,555 lb (1,159 kg). Serial numbers: Atlas 628/10-D, Mercury spacecraft - prototype.

The Mercury spacecraft used in the Big Joe 1 mission is displayed at the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.

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 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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