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Project 7969
Part of Man-In-Space-Soonest

Project 7969 Designs

Project 7969 Designs
Project 7969 designs. From left, top row: North American X-15B; Bell Dynasoar; Northrop Dynasoar; Republic Demi body; Avco manoeuvrable drag cone. Second row: Lockheed; Martin; Aeronutronics; Goodyear; McDonnell; Convair
Credit: © Mark Wade

American manned spacecraft. Study 1959. North American was the final selected vendor for Manned-In-Space-Soonest. The 1360-kg ballistic capsule would be launched by an Atlas booster to an 185-km altitude orbit.

Status: Study 1959. Gross mass: 1,360 kg (2,990 lb). Height: 2.40 m (7.80 ft). Diameter: 1.80 m (5.90 ft).

The simple ballistic capsule, using parachutes for a water landing, would weigh between 900 and 1360 kg. The capsule would be 1.8 m in diameter and 2.4 m long, and completely automated. The capsule's life support system would be designed for single-crew missions of up to 48 hours. The re-entry vehicle was the 'Discoverer' type being developed for the Corona project. For this kind of capsule, where the direction of G-forces was reversed between ascent and return, the pilot's couch proposed by Harold J von Beckh of ARDC's Aeromedical Field Laboratory was necessary. This was attached at pivot points at the head and feet of the pilot, so it would rotate freely to bring the pilot's back against the G forces, regardless of their direction. An ablative heat shield would allow re-entry deceleration to be kept below 9 G's, and the cabin temperature below 65 deg C. Multiple small solid propellant retro-rockets would brake the capsule back into the atmosphere at the end of its mission.

The capsule had an abort system that used high-thrust solid fuel rockets at the base of the capsule to fire it clear of the booster in case of an emergency. The final estimated cost of the program, using the Atlas launch vehicle, was $106.6 million. That cost included establishment of a worldwide tracking network and continuing with design of the Thor WS-117L and Thor-Able as backups in case the Atlas proved to be unreliable.

On 16 June 1958, Wright Field issued competitive design study contracts to North American and General Electric for the capsule. Each contract was nominally valued at $370,000 and was to run for three months. Each contractor was to complete design of the capsule and present a mock-up of their planned spacecraft. A down-select would be made in September, once fiscal year 1959 had begun.

But by 25 July NASA had been created and it was clear that President Eisenhower wanted the new civilian agency to handle the manned capsule program. Ballistic Missile Division's General Schriever promised that if the Air Force was awarded the program, he would release of the final tender documents to the contractors within 24 hours, and orbit the first man in space by June 1960. But Eisenhower's people were unshaken. NASA would handle the program.

The Air Force program limped along until NASA formally came into existence in September. It was not known if North American completed the contracted mock-up. Harrison Storms at North American was informally told he would have been given the MISS capsule contract. But NASA became operational on 30 September 1958, and the Air Force took only a logistical support role in the new program.

NASA ran a new competition for the manned capsule, which was to be produced to Faget's precise specifications. McDonnell, which had worked so closely with Langley, unsurprisingly won the award in January 1959. McDonnell's corporate commitment, preparation, and kowtowing to Faget's preferences were noted by Harrison Storms at North American. He vowed not to make the same mistake again. Four years later he convinced North American's management to take the same approach, and won the biggest plum of all, the Apollo moon-landing contract.

Crew Size: 1.

Family: Manned spacecraft. Country: USA. Launch Vehicles: Atlas D. Agency: USAF, North American. Bibliography: 26, 483, 491, 59.

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1958 September 1 - . Launch Vehicle: Thor.
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