SPACE: Double Blast-Off

As the seven U.S. Project Mercury astronauts watched from a Cape Canaveral bunker, an Atlas roared off into the rain-soaked skies carrying the first spaceborne production model of the Mercury capsule. But 65 seconds after the blastoff, the Atlas exploded and disintegrated. From the capsule itself came radio signals for 3½ minutes after the launching, indicating that only the Atlas booster had been destroyed, that the capsule had hit the sea intact. A day later recovery teams retrieved sections of the capsule from the ocean.

The shot was the first of a...

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