X-15 Number 1.
Fifty years ago the X-15 program was still in full swing as NASA research manned craft control in the upper thin atmosphere, and the fringes of space. On June 27, 1962 X-15 pilot Joe Walker flew X-15 number 1 to an altitude of 120,000 feet. While firing the rocket motor on his way to that altitude, he managed to fly the craft at Mach 6.09 (4159 mph) while he passed the altitude of 96,000 feet. After casually managing to make this new record speed, Walker continued with his planned tests of steep angle re-entry through the atmosphere.
X-15 pilot Joe Walker.
The height flown in the mission was not the highest. NASA announced on the same day that a previous mission on June 21 had reached the altitude of 247,000 feet. That flight was done by NASA pilot Robert White in X-15 number 3. As the X-15 program continued, new records were being set and great research completed.
Also on this day back in 1962, NASA made an announcement about the next Mercury manned mission. Designated MA-8, the plan was to have the Mercury craft piloted in at least three, and perhaps up to six orbits. The astronaut selected for this mission would be Navy Commander Walter M. Schirra, Jr.
Walter M. Schirra, Jr. "Wally"
Wally Schirra came from Hackensack, New Jersey, and was born into a family deeply involved in aviation. His father had earned his pilot wings during World War 1 in Canada. Both parents became "Barnstormers" between the world wars and entertained crowds with their amazing skills. His mother even did the "wing-walking" stunts! By the time he was 15, Wally could fly his father's plane.
Schirra (right) studies the MA-8 operation plan with Chris Kraft (left). Kraft would be the Mission Control Flight Director during the MA-8 mission.
NASA publicity picture of Walter Schirra in Mercury spacesuit. The suit cooling unit is attached. A model of the Mercury spacecraft and escape tower is posed to the right.
The backup pilot assigned to MA-8 was astronaut L. Gordon Cooper, a Major in the US Air Force. He had been a test pilot at Edwards AF Base testing the F-102 and F-106 jet combat aircraft.
L. Gordon Cooper.
When someone asks you why we should spend money on the space program, start by telling them about TIROS. Fifty years ago, as our nation watched television breathlessly for the next manned space launches, the benefits of being able to launch satellites was paying off large dividends. On June 19 NASA launched the TIROS 5 satellite into orbit. The pictures coming from TIROS 4 had been degrading since the middle of June, and only some of its visual data was useful for forecasting. TIROS 5 was expected to relieve the aging TIROS 4 and start helping the nation prepare for the current hurricane season.
TIROS cloud cover map made from TIROS TV imaging.
On June 15, 1962, The US Weather Bureau informed the news agencies that they believed the formation of the first hurricane of the 1962 season would be detected by "one or all of its battery of ships, planes, radar and TIROS weather satellites." In 1961, TIROS 3 had spied hurricane Esther in the Atlantic Ocean just as it was forming. The total 1961 count of watching storms from space had been 5 hurricanes and 1 tropical storm in the Atlantic, and 11 hurricanes and typhoons plus 1 tropical storm in the Pacific. By tracking these storms from space better than storms had ever been tracked before, many lives were saved, property prepared for the storms, and ships at sea diverted.
Thor-Able 4th from left, to right side of Gemini-Titan. I took this picture of NASA's Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center Rocket Park on my last trip.
TIROS 5 was sent into space on the Thor-Able rocket from pad LC-17A just as TIROS 4 began experiencing failures. Unfortunately the launch placed the satellite into an elliptical orbit instead of a circular one; nevertheless the pictures from TIROS 5 were excellent at first. TIROS 5 would continue to work for 161 days.
When you consider all the hurricanes and ocean storms that have occurred over the last 50 years, that were tracked and watched from these remote stations in outer space, you begin to realize just how much damage and loss of life could have hit our nation without them. Think also of all the weather forecasting that has increased crop production as well as saved them and you begin to see the enormity of what the space weather satellites have achieved.
By Mark Daymont
Space Center Educator