Whole Object Name
Thor Able was an American two-stage rocket, first flown in 1958. The first stage, Thor, was an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) originally developed to carry nuclear warheads. Thor missiles were deployed in Britain between 1959 and 1963, putting the country briefly at the forefront of the Cold War. Meanwhile, Thor’s potential as a space launcher was being explored back in the United States. The warhead was replaced with a second stage named Able, taken from the second stage of a Vanguard satellite launcher. The resulting two-stage rocket, Thor Able, was first used for re-entry vehicle research.
Thor Able’s early flights also carried mice in the nose cone, to test if animals could survive being launched into space. The first rocket, with its tiny passenger nicknamed Minnie Mouse, unfortunately exploded but the second and third launches were successful. Electronic monitoring showed the mice survived the launch and a period of weightlessness, but the nose cones were never recovered after they splashed down in the Atlantic.
Variations of Thor Able rockets, often with an additional third stage, launched a number of early satellites. These included some of the early Pioneer missions, which were the first attempts by the United States to send a probe to the Moon. Thor Able ultimately evolved into the Delta rocket family, which became one of the most reliable and longest lived series of satellite launchers.