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Restored Atlas rocket erected on display as Mercury astronaut’s ride to orbit

AstronomyRestored Atlas rocket erected on display as Mercury astronaut's ride to orbit

Sixty-one years after it stood ready to send NASA’s last one-man mission into Earth orbit, the Mercury-Atlas 9 (MA-9) rocket is standing again.

A replica of astronaut Gordon Cooper’s 1963 ride into space is now part of the vertical displays in the missile gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. The exhibit is comprised of a recently-restored authentic Atlas missile and a mockup Mercury capsule with its launch escape tower.

“The museum’s direction for a new space and missile interpretation in the coming years involves a deeper dive into the NASA-USAF partnership, and the MA-9 configuration is a way to tell both a NASA and an Air Force story,” wrote Doug Lantry, curator and historian at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, in an email to “The rocket will do interpretive double duty, allowing us to talk about the early days of human spaceflight and also the first U.S. ICBM [inter-continental ballistic missile].”

“The missile gallery will highlight the adaptable nature of several of its artifacts as both nuclear deterrents and as space launch vehicles,” said Lantry.

Related: Faith 7: Gordon Cooper’s 1963 Mercury-Atlas 9 Launch in Pictures

Gordon Cooper’s Mercury-Atlas 9 rocket stands on LC-14 at Cape Canaveral ahead of its historic May 15, 1963 launch. (Image credit: NASA)

The Convair Atlas D (or LV-3B/SM-65D) went on public display on Tuesday (April 30), just days after it was delivered by truck from Thomarios, a Copley, Ohio-based construction company that specializes in the restoration of historic airplanes and spacecraft. For the past few years, the team at Thomarios has worked to prepare the Atlas for exhibit, including inspecting its internal support frame that replaces having to pressurize the rocket (as was needed when the vehicle was flightworthy).

“Thomarios was aimed at bringing this significant piece of space exploration history back to its former glory. The process involved intricate refurbishments, ensuring that every component of the rocket mirrors the operational and aesthetic conditions of its original state in 1963,” reads a statement on the company’s website. “Thomarios was proud to play a pivotal role in preserving and showcasing this iconic artifact.”

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