The Mighty Thor…60 Years Of Flight

The Mighty Thor…60 Years Of Flight

22/05/2018Written by Tori Tasker

Celebrating 60 years of our very own “Mighty Thor”

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Thor at the Space Centre

Thor at the Space Centre
Thor Able and Blue Streak in the Rocket Tower. Credit: National Space Centre

With a bit more than the might of a mouse, the Thor Able rocket is one of the National Space Centre’s most cherished and impressive artefacts. It stands around 27 metres tall next to a rocket called Blue Streak. Our Rocket Tower tells the story of these two rockets as well as the journey of spaceflight from the earliest satellites to landing a man on the Moon.

Thor Able began its life as a missile. Thor was an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile that was first developed by America to carry nuclear weapons during the Cold War. Meanwhile, the second stage of the rocket, Able, was part of the Vanguard satellite launcher. When the two were put together as a two-stage rocket, they became Thor Able.

Thor Able was first used to test re-entry. Engineers needed to know if we had the materials and techniques needed to launch something into space and bring it back through our atmosphere safely, without burning up.

It turns out we did. To launch a rocket into space, we just need to know a bit about Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion, combustion, and escape velocity. We explore the science behind travelling to space in this blog post.

Project Mouse In Able

Project Mouse In Able
Launch of Thor/Able 3 on August 6, 1959. Credit: NASA

Thor Able was first launched on 23 April 1958. On board this flight was a mouse named Minnie the Mouse. This mission was called Project Mouse-In-Able, or MIA. Sadly, this mission was unsuccessful as the rocket exploded 146 seconds after launch. Two more mice followed in their own, more successful, launches, which paved the way for future human spaceflight. To learn more about the fateful journey of Minnie the Mouse and other rocket mice, check out our blog, The Space Mouse’s Tale.

After testing re-entry methods, Thor Able was turned into a satellite launcher. Some of its missions include the early Pioneer missions, which were the first attempts by the United States to send a probe to orbit the Moon, and TIROS-1, the first successful weather satellite.

The Mighty Thor for May half term

The Mighty Thor for May half term

To commemorate the missions and life of Thor Able, we are dedicating our May half term activities to the rocket and, of course, the mice who paved the way for human spaceflight. Our space experts are excited to share with you the stories behind our very own Thor Able rocket.

We invite you to join our Mini Thor Tours that are running three times a day in our Rocket Tower. Hear about Minnie the Mouse, the item of contraband that almost found its way onto Thor Able’s first launch, and the rocket that Thor Able has evolved into today.

If you, like us, feel the loss of Minnie the Mouse, come along to our Space Craft Zone to make and launch Minnie the Moustronaut. Or if rockets are more your style, you can make your very own string-powered Thor Able rocket.

Last but not least, come along to our ‘It IS Rocket Science’ talk in Live Space three times a day. There will be some explosions and bangs along the way!

Join us for The Mighty Thor activities between 26 May and 3 June.

Check out our event page for more details and timings.

About the author: Tori Tasker is the Public Programmes Team Leader at the National Space Centre.