Science

NASA’s first space capsule landed at the Long Island Museum.

An early American spacecraft that survived two launches – although the first one only reached a height of a few inches above the ground – landed at a museum on Long Island, New York.

The first production US spacecraft to be launched into space, the Mercury-Redstone 1A (MR-1A), is now on display. (will open in a new tab) at the Cradle of Aviation in Garden City. The capsule is on long-term loan from the Smithsonian.

“Despite the fact that it flew without a person on board, it is historic because it was the first.” – Josh Stoff, curator of the Cradle of Aviation Museum. (will open in a new tab), said in an interview with collectSPACE.com. “They tested the entire parachute system and retro rockets. And it all worked. This led to the start of the space race. [to put a human into space]Alan Shepard, John Glenn and all that great stuff.”

An MR-1A capsule built by McDonell Aircraft (today part of Boeing) was flown to Cape Canaveral, Florida on July 23, 1960 for the first launch of the Mercury spacecraft on a Redstone rocket. Four months later, on Nov. having walked only about 4 inches (10 centimeters).

Reacting to an emergency situation (the result of the separation of two cables in the wrong order), the Mercury capsule dropped a rescue rocket and deployed its medicinal, main and reserve parachutes.

“There is great footage of this failed launch,” Stoff said. “He cracked the top.”

Project Mercury: America’s first manned space program

Mercury-Redstone 1 (MR-1) launch failure on November 21, 1960 (left) and MR-1A successful launch on December 19, 1960

Mercury-Redstone 1 (MR-1) launch failure on November 21, 1960 (left) and MR-1A successful launch on December 19, 1960 (Image credit: NASA)

A month later, NASA was ready to try again. Using the same but refurbished spacecraft and a new rocket, Mercury-Redstone-1A launched on 19 December 1960 from Launch Complex 5 (LC-5), this time with a much better result. After reaching an altitude of 130 miles (210 kilometers), the MR-1A capsule completed its suborbital spaceflight, preparing the spacecraft for use on primate and later human missions.

In a flight lasting 15 minutes 45 seconds, the MP-1A spacecraft splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean, from where it was picked up by helicopters.

“To the average person, it looks identical to the one that Alan Shepard flew. (will open in a new tab)“Stoff said, referring to the appearance of the capsule, including its small porthole window. “It has the whole structure, but you can see that they pulled out all the tools. The design looks complete for the seat, dashboard and parachutes, but there are no fittings.”

After passing post-flight testing, the MR-1A capsule (also known by its serial number, Spacecraft #2) embarked on a journey, including stops in 1963 at (now former) Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base in Kansas City. Missouri; the Kalamazoo Air Show in Michigan; National Conference of Air Scouts at the University of Illinois at Champaign; and the Four State Fair and Rodeo in Texarkana, Texas. In October 1963, he was prepared for an exhibition in New Mexico.

Some time later, the capsule was sent to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it was displayed in the visitor information center, and then the visitor complex was placed under a parachute in the Hall of Early Space Research.

In 2003, NASA transferred ownership of the spacecraft to the Smithsonian. (will open in a new tab), who then moved the MR-1A to NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field in California. It was from there that it got into the “Cradle of Aviation”.

“He went to Ames and just stood there in the corner of the visitor center. There wasn’t really any exhibition around it,” Stoff told collectSPACE. “So I think the exhibition here gets better and the whole space race is told around it.”

A Mercury-Redstone 1A capsule aboard a transport truck that took it from California to New York.

A Mercury-Redstone 1A capsule aboard a transport truck that took it from California to New York. (Image credit: Cradle of Aviation Museum)

In addition to showing the history of the Apollo Lunar Module, which was built in nearby Bethpage, Cradle of Aviation also showcases a vintage full-scale model of the Gemini spacecraft and the Apollo Command Module (CM 002), which was used to test the launch evacuation system at 1966.

“So now we have examples of Mercury, Gemini and both Apollo spacecraft. It’s kind of unique when the whole timeline is set,” Stoff said.

The MR-1A capsule was trucked from California on a three-day cross-country trip. It arrived at the Cradles of Aviation with a plexiglass hull and a special wheeled cart already in place. The spacecraft debuted at the show late last week, just a month after yet another new addition, a Sally Ride statue. (will open in a new tab)first American woman in space.

“Spaceship Mercury completes our space racing collection and gives us the opportunity to show the real flight of the spacecraft. Very few museums in the country or in the world have flown spaceships, whether they had astronauts on board or not, so it kind of takes us to the next level,” Stoff said.

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