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  Randall Astro knife sheath as flown on Mercury

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Author Topic:   Randall Astro knife sheath as flown on Mercury
toadboy65
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Posts: 10
From: Alexander, Nc, USA
Registered: Sep 2014

posted 09-28-2014 08:57 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for toadboy65   Click Here to Email toadboy65     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
here (below) is an Randall Astro knife I am working on, and I want to make a sheath as flown. I know that at least the first Mercury missions used a slot in the survival kit, but I have no info about any other sheath besides the leather ones, which I do not believe were ever flown.

I have a very good contact at the National Air and Space Museum, but he came up empty on this one. Any ideas?

DG27
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Posts: 38
From: USA
Registered: Nov 2010

posted 09-29-2014 04:12 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for DG27     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Regarding any other sheath, I do not think a separate sheath was used.

Since the knife fit into a pocket on the survival kit, and was held in place with a flap that snapped to the snap on the handle, all that was needed was to have the pocket lined with some stiffer material to keep the blade from cutting the fabric of the survival kit. In an emergency you don’t want to have to pull the knife out and then have to remove another sheath. You want it ready to use as soon as you pull it out. So my best guess is that the lining of the survival kit knife pocket acted as a built in "sheath".

There is a survival kit on display at the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, although it is without a survival knife. Perhaps you can get your contact at the museum to take a peek inside the knife pocket to see if it has a built in sheath lining. I am sure they have other survival kits in storage as well.

Your project is very interesting, and as a result of it I have learned a lot about the Randall knife. I also found the discussion and photos at the Randall Knife Forum very enlightening.

Not many things are handmade anymore and the craftsmanship is excellent. So now I would like to get one. I am curious as to the material you made the snap strap out of. The photos of Grissom's recovered knife show the strap material may have been the same material as the survival kit, an aluminized rubberized canvas material, but other photos show it white and not gray. Any information you would care to share would be appreciated.

If it turns out there was no separate sheath, I suppose you could replicate the pocket section of the survival kit for display. Or if you are a purist, you could replicate the entire survival kit...but you will need a big display case.

Thanks again for your posting.

toadboy65
Member

Posts: 10
From: Alexander, Nc, USA
Registered: Sep 2014

posted 09-29-2014 09:12 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for toadboy65   Click Here to Email toadboy65     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have looked carefully at the material on the handle snap of Grissom's knife, and it is identical to some material I have that is used to shield drogue chute risers on early 60s jet aircraft ejection seats. I am completing a restoration of one of those seats, and I have some material left over.

I can provide the MILSPEC number, but I will have to dig it out from the 6000 pages of specs for the seat restoration. Most of those vintage materials were provided by USAF from their remaining stock.

The material is shiny silver when new, but fades to a grey with use and handling. I noticed that mine appears white in the provided image. I used nomex thread for the stitching, which may not be accurate for the first Mercury applications. Nomex came into use at NASA in the early 60s, but I cannot confirm if it was used in this particular application. I also used a 60s MILSPEC snap.

I am still not ready to give up on the sheath. I know there was not one used up to Liberty Bell, but I know some changes were made to the kit configuration. I am a little fuzzy on the details right now. I did some research on this a year or so ago, and I will have to read my notes again. What I found were some mention of a sheath, but no details.

I do not think the leather sheath would have been used due to flammability and maybe weight. I could probably make a beta cloth sheath that approximates what they might have used, but I do not work that way.

328KF
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Posts: 929
From:
Registered: Apr 2008

posted 09-29-2014 09:16 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for 328KF   Click Here to Email 328KF     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
That's an interesting piece you have there. I was curious about the handle construction, as it appears to be unlike the modern Randall design. That looks like a modern blade forging with a older style handle. Did you have them make it that way or did you have it modified yourself?

They don't do brown handles anymore, and the end is squared off rather than rounded. They've been like that since the late '60's, early '70's. when I visited the Randall shop some years ago, I had a look at Gordon Cooper's flown knife there, and they showed me photos of a "one of a kind" replica of Grissom's knife that they made for his brother, I believe.

Even that replica had more yellowish colored handle scales, but the end was rounded.

I agree that it's unlikely a dedicated sheath was flown. I've seen photos of John Glenn holding a sheathed Astro knife after a jet flight taken by a Life photographer. Each had their own personal engraved knives but several flew their missions with NASA-owned knives that were provided by Randall as part of the original order. NASA may have discarded these sheaths due to the pouch on the survival kit.

toadboy65
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Posts: 10
From: Alexander, Nc, USA
Registered: Sep 2014

posted 09-29-2014 09:22 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for toadboy65   Click Here to Email toadboy65     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by DG27:
I also found the discussion and photos at the Randall Knife Forum very enlightening.
Oh, and the Randall shown in your link is certainly Grissom's, but likely a later knife for Gemini or Apollo. The Liberty Bell knife can be seen here, also in the Randall forums. I think what we have is two different museums with Grissom's Randall, and they both think they are the only one.

toadboy65
Member

Posts: 10
From: Alexander, Nc, USA
Registered: Sep 2014

posted 09-29-2014 09:33 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for toadboy65   Click Here to Email toadboy65     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by 328KF:
Did you have them make it that way or did you have it modified yourself?
The modifications were done at my shop. This is a new knife modified to be close to the Mercury knives. Randall will not do those modifications.

It is not intended to be a perfect replica. The guard is different than most of the Mercury knives, and the blade would need to be rhodium plated. I may do those things, because I am that sort of person, but it is not my present intention to do so.

The scale material is a match to Grissom's Mercury knife, and will look more like it with carrying and use.

328KF
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Registered: Apr 2008

posted 09-29-2014 10:29 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for 328KF   Click Here to Email 328KF     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
That's a very nice job you did there. It takes some skill and confidence to go to work on an expensive knife like that, and your results are top notch.

I always wondered why they changed the handle design, and why Randall doesn't offer brown micarta these days.

On the topic of the Grissom knife in the link above, that is not an Astro model #17. Looks more like a Model #1 that Randall probably made for Grissom later. I have not seen or heard of the whereabouts of his Astro.

Shepard carried a NASA knife, attached to the hatch, that was lost when the hatch was jettisoned. Grissom's flown knife was a NASA knife, as was Glenn's. I've seen both flown knives and they are not engraved.

Carpenter flew with his personal Astro, which was either lost or stolen during his recovery at sea. Schirra carried his Randall in Sigma 7, and it first sold at auction in 1994. And of course, Cooper's personal knife flew on Faith 7 and was gifted to Bo Randall afterward.

Slayton's Astro is displayed at the Astronaut Hall of Fame, so that leaves Glenn's, Shepard's, and Grissom's engraved knives that I have no information on.

Lou Chinal
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Posts: 1087
From: Staten Island, NY
Registered: Jun 2007

posted 09-30-2014 11:59 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lou Chinal   Click Here to Email Lou Chinal     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Nice job! I have wondered about the material that the handle of Slayton's knife was made from? By the way, he did not carry it on Apollo.

toadboy65
Member

Posts: 10
From: Alexander, Nc, USA
Registered: Sep 2014

posted 09-30-2014 09:23 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for toadboy65   Click Here to Email toadboy65     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Once again my memory is failing me. If I remember, the original Mercury knives used a linen-based brown/tan micarta. I remember there was a spec about the linen weave and the resin composition that made it difficult to source. If I remember correctly, there was a formula change around 1965.

I know this makes me sound like I have oldtimer's disease, but I sourced my handle material more than four years ago, and I have been dealing with other things since. If you really want the specs, I can post them next time I run across those files. Somewhere here I have a tome on preplastic materials, but it is not here on the correct shelf.

One thing I remember is that the original material is super fire resistant. I actually did a kiln test for my own satisfaction. Some new formulations use polyester resin, which does not have the same characteristics. I think the material I used also has an asbestos component, but I need to double check that.

Probably anyone could realistically use modern micarta of the right color and it would be fine.

328KF
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From:
Registered: Apr 2008

posted 10-09-2014 11:27 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for 328KF   Click Here to Email 328KF     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Lou Chinal:
I have wondered about the material that the handle of Slayton's knife was made from?
Lou, it took me awhile to dig this up. This is Slayton's Randall knife on display at the Astronaut Hall of Fame. It looks like the handle was fitted later and appears to be made of some sort of neoprene rubber material.

KSC Nov 7, 08 127

I noticed in an old auction catalog that Schirra's knife had the same gripped handle on it as well.

In regard to the rhodium plating, both Slayton's and Cooper's knives show pitting and significant wear-off of the plating with some moderate use.

Lou Chinal
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Posts: 1087
From: Staten Island, NY
Registered: Jun 2007

posted 10-09-2014 03:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lou Chinal   Click Here to Email Lou Chinal     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for looking this up. I remember seeing it at the Astronaut Hall of Fame years ago and I remember the orange handle. I did have some face time with Slayton and asked him about carrying the knife on ASTP. He specifically said he did not.

I did hear a story about Cooper taking his with him on Gemini survival training. But I also heard that he gave his knife from MA-9 back to Bo Randall. Did Cooper have two?

There were very few flight items you could get your hands on when I was a kid. Of course I had one.

328KF
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From:
Registered: Apr 2008

posted 10-09-2014 05:41 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for 328KF   Click Here to Email 328KF     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It is possible that Cooper may have taken his knife with him for Gemini survival training. The hand-written letter in Randall's shop from Cooper gifting the Astro to Bo is dated 6 December 1963, roughly 7 months after MA-9. So he had it in his posession during that time and from it's appearance, put it to some good use.

Joel Katzowitz
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Posts: 448
From: Marietta GA USA
Registered: Dec 1999

posted 10-09-2014 06:07 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Joel Katzowitz   Click Here to Email Joel Katzowitz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This question is slightly off topic but close enough to post.

I believe I've seen a small (maybe 2" long) Randall knife cast in acrylic and labeled as "flown" on one of the Mercury missions. I have a photo of it somewhere.

Does this ring a bell with anyone?

Robert Pearlman
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Posts: 30746
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 10-09-2014 06:17 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The souvenir/dealer's lucite display was previously discussed as part of this thread.

Joel Katzowitz
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Posts: 448
From: Marietta GA USA
Registered: Dec 1999

posted 10-10-2014 07:27 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Joel Katzowitz   Click Here to Email Joel Katzowitz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for the link Robert.

I'll try to find my photo of the lucite. I believe it did reference Shepard's flight and I'm pretty sure it was donated to the Astronaut Hall of Fame by Schirra.

328KF
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Posts: 929
From:
Registered: Apr 2008

posted 10-10-2014 02:30 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for 328KF   Click Here to Email 328KF     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Here is a quick pic of the lucite. As was discussed before, the wording tends to be a little misleading. I've seen these offered for sale as "flown" items.

Joel Katzowitz
Member

Posts: 448
From: Marietta GA USA
Registered: Dec 1999

posted 10-10-2014 04:17 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Joel Katzowitz   Click Here to Email Joel Katzowitz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thank you for posting the image of the lucite, and yes, the wording could be construed as misleading. I imagine it was unintentional.

Lou Chinal
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Posts: 1087
From: Staten Island, NY
Registered: Jun 2007

posted 10-13-2014 07:41 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lou Chinal   Click Here to Email Lou Chinal     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The block of lucite was about 3-3 1/2 in diameter. They were originally sold as a paparweight.

toadboy65
Member

Posts: 10
From: Alexander, Nc, USA
Registered: Sep 2014

posted 10-24-2014 11:19 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for toadboy65   Click Here to Email toadboy65     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for the reply on the orange knife. I did not know about that one, so you can disregard my answer.

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