Mercury Capsule Model in the 1- by 1-Foot Supersonic Wind Tunnel
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National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) researchers install a small-scale model of the capsule for Project Mercury in the 1- by 1-Foot Supersonic Wind Tunnel at the Lewis Research Center. NASA Lewis conducted a variety of tests for Project Mercury, including retrorocket calibration, escape tower engine performance, and separation of the capsule from simulated Atlas and Redstone boosters. The test of this capsule and escape tower model in the 1- by 1-foot tunnel were run in January and February 1960. The 1-by 1-Foot Supersonic Wind Tunnel had a 15-inch long test section, seen here, that was one foot wide and one foot high. The sides were made of glass to allow cameras to capture the supersonic air flow over the models. The tunnel could generate air flows from Mach 1.3 to 3.0. At the time, it was one of nine small supersonic wind tunnels at Lewis. These tunnels used the exhauster and compressor equipment of the larger facilities. The 1- by 1 tunnel, which began operating in the early 1950s, was built inside a test cell in the expansive Engine Research Building. During the 1950s the 1- by 1 was used to study a variety of inlets, nozzles, and cones for missiles and scramjets. The Mercury capsule tests were among the last at the facility for many years. The tunnel was mothballed in 1960. The 1- by 1 was briefly restored in 1972, then brought back online for good in 1979. The facility has maintained a brisk operating schedule ever since.
The Space Race began with a shock to the American public when the Soviet satellite Sputnik was launched in 1957. United states created NASA accelerate U.S. space exploration efforts and launched the Explorer 1 satellite in 1958. The Soviet Union was first again when it puts the first human, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, into a single orbit on April 12, 1961. Shortly after this, on May 5, the U.S. launched Alan Shepard, on a suborbital flight and reached its orbital goal on February 20, 1962, when John Glenn made three orbits around the Earth in the Mercury capsule. The Mercury space capsule was a pressurized cabin produced by McDonnell Aircraft and carried supplies of water, food, and oxygen for about one day. Mercury was launched on a top of modified Atlas D ballistic missiles. The capsule was fitted with a launch escape rocket to carry it safely away from the launch vehicle in case of a failure. Small retrorockets were used to bring the spacecraft out of its orbit, after which an ablative heat shield protected it from the heat of atmospheric reentry. Finally, a parachute slowed the craft for a water landing. Both astronaut and capsule were recovered by helicopters deployed from a U.S. Navy ship. The Mercury project missions were followed by millions on radio and TV around the world. Its success laid the groundwork for Project Gemini, which carried two astronauts in each capsule and perfected space docking maneuvers essential for manned lunar landings in the Apollo program announced just a few weeks after the first manned Mercury launch.