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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—Henry David Thoreau (18171862)
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—Fran Sussner Rodgers (20th century)