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LJ-1 (Little Joe 1) was one of the unmanned Mercury launches. The goal of the launch was to determine how well the escape rocket would function under the most severe dynamic loading conditions anticipated during a Mercury-Atlas launching. A Boiler Plate Capsule was attached to a Little Joe booster for the test.

On August 21, 1959, evacuation of the Wallops Island launch area had been proceeding on schedule and the batteries for the programmer and destruct system in the test booster were being charged. Suddenly, half an hour before the scheduled launchtime, an explosive flash occured. When the smoke cleared it was evident that only the capsule-and-tower combination had been launched, on a trajectory similar to an off-the-pad abort. The booster and adapter-clamp ring remained intact on the launcher. Near apogee, at about 2000 ft, the clamping ring that held tower to the capsule released and the small rocket for jettisoning the tower fired.

The accident report for LJ-1, issued September 18, 1959, blamed the premature firing on the Grand Central escape rocket on an electrical leak, or what missile engineers call "transients" or "ghost voltages" in a relay circuit. The fault was found in a coil designed to protect biological specimens from too rapid an abort.


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