This week, you get a photo of a Big Shot, or at least the launch shroud for one (it’s at the Air Force Space and Missile Museum, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, in Florida):
From the placard:
Built by the Missile and Space Systems Division of the Douglas Aircraft Company, shrouds like this one were used during the Big Shot-1 and Big Shot-2 suborbital inflation tests. Part of NASA’s project Echo, each Big Shot payload consisted of a 535-pound (243 kg), 135-foot (41 meter) diameter aluminized plastic balloon.
Following ejection from the shroud at an attitude of about 250 miles (402 km), the balloon was inflated and began to rise before making a slow fall back toward Earth. Big shot tests were designed to validate inflation methods for the proposed Echo passive communications satellites, which were to reflect radio signals across large expanses of ocean.
The Big Shot payload, enclosed within the shroud, was launched atop a Thor missile. Big Shot-1 was launched from CCAFS complex 17 on January 15, 1962. Although all test objectives were met, the balloon was torn apart due to rapid inflation. The launch of Big Shot-2, also from Complex 17, took place on July 18, 1962, and was visible for about 10 minutes as it inflated and rose to an altitude of more than 900 miles (1450 km). At the time, Big Shot-2 was the largest man-made object ever placed in space.
Big Shot tests paved the way for the successful deployment of the Echo II satellite on January 25, 1964.