National Geographic : 1960 Jul
One-ton Mercury Capsule Drops to the Salton Sea in a Parachute Test NASA and its contractors have con ducted thousands of experiments to develop a safe design for our first man-carrying satellite. Engineers staged this test of the capsule's recovery system near El Centro, California, home of the Air Force-Navy Joint Parachute Facility. The capsule, a full-scale mock-up, was released from a cargo plane at 30,000 feet. Just 88 seconds later--at 10,000 feet-the main chute opened. Blossomed to its full 63 feet, the nylon canopy (above) lowers its burden to the land-locked Salton Sea. Traveling 30 feet per second at im pact, the capsule's blunt nose craters the calm surface (upper right). Airtight and watertight, it floats like a marker buoy (opposite) as a launch moves in for recovery. Researchers have made more than 50 drop tests at El Centro from var ious altitudes. Photographer Bates Littlehales shot these views from a helicopter.