To test the escape tower, a small rocket using four solid Recruit booster rockets and a sold Castor sustainer rocket was developed by North American. This rocket was called Little Joe and was launched eight times, two of which carried a monkey. The escape tower was also tested once in a simulated ground abort. There were a total of five Redstone flights (two unmanned, one carrying a chimpanzee and two manned), and ten Atlas flights (five unmanned, one carrying a chimpanzee, and four manned). Another three manned Atlas missions were planned, with one mission to last up to three days, but these were cancelled after the first four manned orbital flights met their mission objectives.
At launch, the spacecraft had a mass of 1935 kg, with three small posigrade solid rockets of 1.8 kN each to put the spacecraft into orbit. To re-enter, three 4.4 kN solid motors were used. Attitude control was maintained with six 111 N and six 53 N hydrogen peroxide rockets. The manned suborbital missions used a beryllium heat shield with small round porthole windows to the left and right of the astronaut. The orbital missions used an ablative sheat shield, with a single rectangular window in front of the astronaut. The spacecraft is very small with a diameter of only 1.89 m and a height of 3.51 m. With the escape tower, the total height is 7.9 m.
North American built the solid rocket escape tower which had a main thrust of 231 kN. For a normal launch, a 3.6 kN solid motor was used to separate the escape tower from the spacecraft. The mass of the escape tower is only 580 kg with a height of 5.2 m.
|Beat up box of the American Space Pioneers box, including three BB bullets!|
The Mercury kit is the orbital window version, but despite being first issued in 1964, one year after the program had completed, there are a large number of inaccuracies, especially in the body and escape tower motor. There are 50 plastic parts alltogether, including four parts for the stand. The plastic is moulded in a dark green plastic, which I later found out to be a bit brittle. The kit also includes a small cutting of clear plastic sheet for the window, which is shared with the Gemini kit. Decals for all the six manned missions are included.
|The parts of the Mercury and Gemini kit.|
To correct the inaccuracies of the kit, I bought the RealSpace detail set, which replaces the body and escape tower motor and nozzles with accurate resin parts, obviously modified from the kit parts. RealSpace also has a porthole version of the kit for those who want to build the suborbital version. Also included are two parachute compartments, for the launch and on-orbit configurations, instrument panel, hand controller and other miscellaneous external parts. The set replaces 23 plastic parts of the kit with 13 resin parts, half of the kit components (not including the stand)!
|RealSpace detail set.|
As the kit decals were pretty basic and probably too old to use, I bought the New Ware 1/48 Mercury aftermarket decals set (this also includes decals for the 1/48 Gemini, Apollo CSM and Apollo LM kits). The decals include the large marking for all six manned missions, including the small stencils on the body and escape tower, plus the black line markings for the retropack used in the orbital missions.
|New Ware decals.|
The base of the RealSpace escape tower motor was a little missmoulded, which I corrected with putty, although it was difficult to replicate some of the nuts that were missing. I had some problem with the struts in the escape tower, as they were brittle and prone to breaking. For the tower verticle member part 11, there is an extra umbilical cable on the right side. As this did not seem to appear in the photos and drawings I could find, I removed this cable. The attach ring part 8 had the inside moulding removed, as the escape tower would be separate from the spacecraft. I probably could have removed a little more from the inside, to give a better fit over the drogue chute housing.
I first painted the escape tower Humbrol H19 Gloss Red, but it looked a little too red. Looking at some photos, I changed my mind and then sprayed the escape tower H132 Satin Red which was little lighter in colour. The insides of the nozzles were painted H133 Satin Brown. The attachment ring and drogue chute cap were painted H85 Satin Black.
I had a bit of a problem with the flow generator part 4 on top of the motor. Due to its thin shape and the brittle plastic, this broke once during assembly and once after painting. I managed to repair the part both times, but the tower was mishandled by a member of my family without my knowledge, with the flow generator being being broken off and lost to the infinity of space. I was left with no choice but to scratch build a replacement part. I removed the remaining stub and drilled a small hole in the middle of the forward cap part 3. I then cut a short straight length from a paper clip to which I superglued a small piece of plastic. The plastic was then shaped into a cone, the part superglued into the hole, and finally repainted. This is now a much stronger part and hopefully should survive any further mishandling.
The most complicated painting exercise is the instrument panel. Each of the sections of the panel was painted in a different colour. For reference, I used Phil Smith's fantastic build of the Atomic City 1/12 Mercury kit. Phil gives the Floquil Railroad paints he used in this photo. However, as these paints are difficult to obtain for me, I used Humbrol paints instead. Here are the mixtures I used:
|F414308 Dirt||H26 Khaki + H93 Desert Yellow|
|F414308 Dirt + White||H26 Khaki + H93 Desert Yellow + H34 White|
|F414302 Sand + F414378 Reading Yellow||H24 Trainee Yellow + H93 Desert Yellow|
|F414352 Freight Car Red + F414308 Dirt||H60 Scarlet + H26 Khaki|
|F414203 GN Big Sky Blue + White||H65 Aircraft Blue + H34 White|
|F414317 Concrete + White||H93 Desert Yellow + H34 White|
|F414368 Penn Central Green + F414203 GN Big Sky Blue||H149 Dark Green + touch of H65 Aircraft Blue|
|F414368 Penn Central Green + F414203 GN Big Sky Blue + Black||H149 Dark Green + touch of H65 Aircraft Blue + H33 Black|
The central column and rear of the panel was painted H129 Satin US Gull Grey. After painting the rest of the switches and instruments according to this photo I filled in the periscope window with some clear drying glue.
|Instrument panel next to US 10c piece.|
In the kit, the main body is provided in three sections, but the resin replacement is moulded in one piece with a large pour stub attached on top. The bulk of the stub was cutoff with a razor saw, with the remaining stub carefully sanded away. The resin drogue chute was then superglued in place, being careful with the alignment. The body was then sprayed H85 Satin Black with the base of the drogue chute housing painted H130 Satin White. The window was then cut from the clear sheet and attached using clear drying glue. The interior was painted H129 Satin US Gull Grey and the instrument panel then glued in place.
|Instrument panel inside the spacecraft.|
The rear bulkhead was painted H129 Satin US Gull Grey with the life raft to the left of the astronaut painted silver. As shown by Phil Smith's model, the bulkhead is far from accurate. I did not make any attempts to correct this, other then using the RealSpace hand controller. For the astronaut, Revell made the trousers flare out near the shoes. I scraped away at the plastic using a sharp knife to smooth this out. The suit was painted H11 Silver, the straps H130 Satin White and the Helmet H22 Gloss White. When I tried to glue the astronaut in, he wouldn't fit! I found the problem to be that I had used one of the Gemini astronauts that had come loose from the sprue, who has shorter legs than the Mercury astronaut. The proper astronaut was then corrected, painted and glued in place.
|Rear bulkhead, astronaut and retropack|
The retropack was painted silver and then covered using the New Ware decals. I messed up the decals on one of the retro motors, but fortunately the New Ware set had spares I could use. For the heat shield, the only reference I had to its colour was that it was "brown". So I painted it H133 Satin Brown, which I later found out was a little too light in colour. The retropack straps were painted steel with the electrical wiring painted silver. One end of the straps that attaches to the heat shield was missing, so I fixed this with a small piece of plastic. The three small posigrade nozzles were attached and painted H132 Satin Red.
|Heat shield with retropack attached.|
With the main body completed, I then put on the decals. However, I found the large New Ware decals to be hard to settle and brittle, with the result that the "UNITED STATES" and flag decals were unusable. I tried the original kit decals, but they were even more brittle. In the end, I had to make my own ALPS decals, although for some reason the middle red stripe in the flag is thinner than it should be. The New Ware "Freedom 7" and stencils could be used, although they did not settle as well as I would have liked. The brittleness of the decals may be a result of the hot and dry summers we have had, where the temperature in my room can get over 40 C during the day.
The last RealSpace pieces were then attached. These are the periscope and periscope door at the back of the spacecraft and destabiliser flap at the top. A small antenna was inserted at the top using a short piece of wire.
|Spacecraft port and starboard.|
I wanted to display the model in a vertical position, so I did not use the stand that is provided. I made up my own stand which is a copy of the Airfix Saturn V stand. The stand was made using 1.5 mm thick plastic sheet, except for the plaques where I used 0.5 mm sheet. A modification is that there are two display plaques, one for the Mercury model and one for the yet to be completed Gemini model. The stand was sprayed H85 Satin Black. The plaque decals were made using my ALPS printer.
|Scratchbuilt stand before and after painting.|
Space in Miniature Has lots of information on the spacecraft differences. You can also order a book describing how to detail the model.