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Mystery Photo

What in the world is it?

Mystery Photo
Don’t peek at the answer until you’ve given this a good try! Then, scroll down a bit and the truth will be revealed to you.

Credit: (NASA)

What In the World Is It?

A fashionable Egyptian Mummy? The latest in baby fashion? Nope. What you see here is Sam, a Rhesus monkey from the 1960s. Sam’s modeling the (then) latest fashion in space wear: the Mercury fiberglass contour couch – in which he was eventually flown into space as a test subject aboard the Little Joe 2 rocket.

Little Joe was designed to use different combinations of solid rocket motors to achieve different flight paths. In theory Little Joe could propel a Mercury space capsule to a speed of 2.9 kilometers per second (1.8 miles per second) and reach heights in excess of 160 kilometers (100 miles). Little Joe was not suitable for piloted flights because it didn’t have a guidance system nor the ability to shut off the rockets once lit.

The School of Aviation Medicine had made ready a biological package for its primate passenger. The chief interest was to see how well Sam could withstand weightlessness during the trip. This was also the chief interest of astronauts Alan B. Shepard and Virgil I. Grissom, who came to see this launch.

On December 4th, 1959, just before noon Little Joe ripped through the air under full power and burned out at an altitude of 100,000 feet. The tower and capsule separated as planned and the escape rocket gave an additional boost, throwing the capsule just short of 280,000 feet, or 53 miles. This peak height was about 100,000 feet lower than expected, so Sam experienced only three minutes of weightlessness instead of four. He survived the mild reentry, the not-so-mild impact, and six hours of confinement before he was recovered by a destroyer and liberated from his inner envelope.


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