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Little Joe: Mercury's First Steps

Little Joe: Mercury's First Steps First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review October 2004 Title Little Joe: Mercury's First Steps
Publisher Published 2004
Format DVD MSRP (USD) $19.95

First Look

Little Joe: Mercury's First Steps

Before the first astronauts entered space, many NACA (later NASA) engineers were concerned about finding a reliable launch vehicle that could put the new Mercury capsule into space. The two vehicles available were a modified Redstone, which had enough power to push Mercury (and its astronaut) into space, but was not strong enough to accelerate the Mercury into an orbital velocity, and the Atlas, which did have the thrust and endurance to push Mercury into orbit. As many who've watched Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff" will recall, the Atlas was failure prone, forcing the fledgling space agency to fly Redstone for the early launches.

To add a margin of safety, engineers came up with the concept of an escape tower that would be attached to the capsule and pull it and its astronaut away from an exploding launch vehicle. The concept was sound, but how do you test such a concept. Enter the Little Joe.

Little Joe was a small booster assembled out of four surplus Sergeant motors with enough thrust to get the test article up to the edge of space. NACA had North American assemble a number of these test boosters to test the escape tower's ability to pull the Mercury away from an exploding booster in a variety of flight conditions.

The folks at a new company called have compiled loads of flight test videos and reference photographs from NASA and put the collected works on their first reference DVD. Just in time for the upcoming Atomic City 1/12 Mercury Capsule, here is an interactive reference that shows you the assemblies of the Little Joe, the three different types of Mercury capsules flown, and the escape tower in action through a variety of test flights.

Little Joe: Mercury's First StepsThe main video is about 20 minutes long and is smoothly edited. If you want to see extended video on different test flights, these are available on another menu, as are a library of still photographs from the program. The images you see here were 'grabbed' from the video to show you the quality of this production, most of which is in color. In addition, an alternate audio track is available on the main documentary in which the producer and several noted space modelers discuss resources for space modeling, references and resources available to the viewers.

Little Joe: Mercury's First StepsI am very happy to see someone compiling the shelves full of archive videos from this test program as well as other programs of note. Some of the upcoming videos announced by include the Me 163, Bomarc, and the US tests of the V-2 rocket. This video is recommended to all space modelers and historians alike! You can order this video directly from by visiting their website at

My sincere thanks to for this review sample!