This week’s picture comes from the New Mexico Museum of Space History, in Alamagordo. It’s of a “Little Joe II” rocket, with boilerplate Apollo command module & escape tower up top:
The Little Joe II was a simple, cobbled-together booster used to test the launch escape system for the Apollo missions. The idea was to make a vehicle that was so cheap to build that it could be flown a number of times in order to thoroughly test out the escape system before any astronauts got in an Apollo capsule. The Little Joe II was used for five flights between 1963 and 1966, all from the White Sands Missile Range (just down the highway from Alamagordo). Meanwhile, a couple of “pad abort” tests were conducted from a ground-based test stand.
Showing that history does (at least sometimes) repeat itself, NASA is in the process of building up some comparable hardware for the Orion program. Pad abort tests will come first (starting this fall), also at White Sands. In the coming years, escape system tests will be conducted as part of the Ares I booster test flight program.