"---his signature, too!"Little Joe 2 (Mercury): Original Air Force Photo of Sam "Signed" with His Paw Prints. A true Space pioneer, Rhesus monkey Sam was the first animal launched during Project Mercury, from Wallops Island, Virginia, on December 4, 1959 (an event attended by Mercury astronauts Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom). Offered here is an 8" x 10" heavyweight matte-finish B&W facial close-up photo possibly taken during flight with his black ink paw prints at lower left. On the verso is stamped: "SAM/ Official Air Force Photo/ By: Sam Photography/ Brooks Air Force Base, Texas/ File 1682GC Date 10 Dec. 59". Sam's name was an acronym for the U.S. Air Force's School of Aviation Medicine at Brooks AFB in Texas, of which Major General Otis Otto Benson Jr. was commander. It was Benson who sent this photo to the original recipient along with a handwritten note dated March 3, 1961, reading as follows: "Here is Sam on his/ celebrated flight into Space/ and down the Atlantic missile/ range --- his signature, too!/ Kindest regards/ Otis O. Benson, Jr". The original hand-addressed 12" x 10" envelope of transmittal, with a March 4, 1961, Randolph AFB cancel and Major General Benson's address label, is included. Also included with the lot is a copy of General Benson's official Air Force biography. We offer this well-documented photo to a discerning space collector and historian who recognizes its rarity and importance. Photo exhibits just a bit of the expected light silvering and a minor paperclip indentation but is very fine overall; the note is extremely fine.
Little Joe was an unmanned solid-fueled booster rocket used as an inexpensive substitute for the Atlas and Redstone vehicles during the testing phase of the Mercury launch escape system and heat shield. There were eight launches in the 1959-1960 time period. Little Joe-2 was the fourth of these test flights and the first with an animal aboard; an important matter was how weightlessness might affect Sam and therefore, the future human astronauts. Sam was housed in a cylindrical capsule inside a Mercury boilerplate capsule atop the Little Joe rocket. The mission lasted 11 minutes and 6 seconds, travelling 194 miles and reaching an altitude of 53 miles, close to the edge of space. The capsule and its "monkeynaut" successfully survived the high-altitude abort sequence and splashed down in the Atlantic where the U.S.S. Borie recovered it. Sam suffered no ill effects from his journey and returned to the colony where he trained, living until November 1982. For more information on this flight, please view this lot on our website.
This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury
By Loyd S. Swenson Jr., James M. Grimwood, and Charles C. Alexander
Published as NASA Special Publication-4201 in the NASA History Series, 1989.
From pages 211-212:
After the disappointment of Little Joe 1-A, Donlan, Bland, and Piland decided to pull out the stops on Little Joe 2 and allow the aeromedical specialists to run all the experiments they wanted on a high-powered flight. The School of Aviation Medicine had made ready a biological package for its primate passenger, a small rhesus monkey named "Sam," after his alma mater. In addition to Sam's special capsule for rocket flight, the military physicians now prepared barley seeds, rat nerve cells, neurospora, tissue cultures, and insect packets to measure the effects of primary radiation, changes in appearance and capacity for reproduction, and ova and larvae responses to the space environment.
Little Joe 2 promised to be a spectacular flight if everything went as planned. The engineers could see how the capsule escape system would function under conditions of high mach number and low dynamic pressure; more important technically, they could measure the motions, aerodynamic loads, and aerodynamic heating experience of the capsule entering from the intermediate height of about 70 miles. The Air Force medical specialists might also learn about other things, but their chief interest was to see how well Sam himself would withstand weightlessness during the trip. This was also the chief interest of Alan B. Shepard and Virgil I. Grissom, who came to see this launch.
On December 4, 1959, just before noon, the third Little Joe, LJ-2, 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 into a coasting trajectory that reached its zenith just short of 280,000 feet, or 53 miles. This peak height was about 100,000 feet lower than expected because of a serious windage error, 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.
All preliminary indications reflected a highly successful flight. For the first time Little Joe had achieved full success on all three orders of its programmed test objectives.
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