Picture of the Week #46
Mercury Capsule "Big Joe". National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, September 2006.
From the information plaque:
Height: 2.9 m (9 ft. 4 in.)
Weight: 1,159 kg (2,555 lb)
On September 9, 1959, NASA launched this unmanned Mercury spacecraft from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a suborbital flight that lasted 13 minutes. It was the second Mercury launch and the first using an Atlas booster. The flight helped NASA evaluate the booster, the new ablative heat shield (designed to burn away during reentry to dissipate heat), the capsule's flight dynamics and aerodynamic shape, and spacecraft recovery systems and procedures.
The heavily instrumented "Big Joe" was the most massive American spacecraft launched up to that time. Its internal design was different from the manned version, but its success paved the way for the beginning of manned Mercury launches in 1961.