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Old 02-09-2019, 07:17 AM
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Evolution of the Randall Model 17 Astro

After seeing a modified Astro selling on eBay, I thought it time to post a thread on the evolution of the Astro.
Much has been said and written about the Astro over the years, including the Chapter in Bob Gaddis book dedicated to it.
My intent in this thread is to put in order the evolution of the Astro, from beginning to today. Hopefully the gaps that I leave will be filled by others who participate in this thread.

** Some of the dating is based in part on the sheath that appears with the knife, but the transition from long thin hilt to shorter/ thicker is seen in many Astros in small riveted sheaths by the late 60's early 70's. We also see the round butt in a sheath without rivets post 1972. So the transition from round butt to more blunt/square happened between 1972-1980. Then the raised/pronounce leading edge of the top clip appears sometime between 1980-85, as it appears this way, the modern look by 1985, in the 27th printing of the Randall catalog.

Bo pictured in 1984 with the Space knife made for and carried in space by Maj Gordon Cooper in May 1963. Maj Cooper presented his knife back to Bo as a gift for Bo's contribution to the Mercury Space Program in December 1963.


Maj Gordon Cooper's Astro before being fitted with Micarta scales


The Astros made for the 7 Mercury Astronauts


NASA also ordered a number of Astros to be used by the astronauts in training for the Mercury Space Program, and for others associated with the program. These knives were made from Solingen steel and engraved

Randall Made
Orlando Florida

Where the Randall logo stamp would normally be on Randall knives. These knives were made along with the personal knives that went to the 7 astronauts.



The personal knives were made for the purpose of accompanying the astronauts on their flights, but we know that Gus Grissom took his training knife with him on his flight. When his capsule splashed down in 1961 it sunk. The capsule was recovered in 1999, and Grissoms Astro was found in the capsule.

Condition after restored


In 1963 the Randall catalog Sixteenth printing was released featuring The new Astro, initially sold without scales, with scales being an option.


An early Astro as shown in the Sixteenth printing 1963 Catalog without scales.


Here is another early Astro without scales made with Solingen steel from Pete Hamilton's book.


Then in the Seventeenth printing 1965 Catalog the Astro was offered standard with scales


To be continued.......

Last edited by samg; 02-27-2024 at 12:27 PM.
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Old 02-09-2019, 09:58 AM
Sligo Sligo is offline
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Evolved it has ! Very nice Sam !!
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Old 02-10-2019, 10:47 AM
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It appears that the Astro adapted to the pronounced/raised leading edge top clip sometime between 1981-1985, perhaps Scott has some input to more closely date the evolution of the top clip to the modern look. I believe he started at Randall knives around 1983?
Thanks Scott.


Last edited by samg; 02-10-2019 at 06:26 PM.
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Old 02-10-2019, 07:24 PM
dirty water dirty water is offline
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Hello Sam, thanks for the visit and talk...this has been the only design that I've been familiar with on the 17 since I started, I have no idea when the change started...(or even why!, sorry)
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Old 02-11-2019, 09:02 AM
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Thanks Scott. It was a great visit. Always good to visit the shop and museum. Missed seeing you at the Gator show. I flew back to North Carolina on Saturday.
That's ok about the Astro. I think a 3 year window for design change is pretty close. If it's always had the raised top clip since you started at Randall in 1983, then it seems that evolutionary design change happened sometime between 1980-1983. Thanks for the contribution to the thread Scott.

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Old 03-05-2019, 09:52 AM
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There is discussion of the Astro in the other thread "Early Astro without scales" where it's being discussed whether there were any Orlando steel Astros made before 1963. I thought the discussion belongs more in this thread.

The claim by Jack, is that most if not all Astros made before 1963 are Solingen steel Astros. With the exception of the Astronauts personal knives of course that were made from 01 carbon tool steel with the Randall stamp.
The 60 NASA training knives with the Solingen etched RANDALL MADE ORLANDO FLORIDA stamp, 20 were ordered and made in 1960, and 40 more were made in 1962.
Other than the training knives, I have only observed a couple of Solingen Astros. One a experimental with a brass hilt, and another in Pete Hamilton's book. Also the experimentals in the Randall museum.

The earliest Astros are made with brown Micarta scales, which date them to approx 1965 and earlier. Others were made without scales as offered standard in 1963-64. I have seen many Orlando steel Astros in Brown Micarta with the early sloping, dulled top clip, and long, thin stainless hilt, rounded tang butt, correct replicas of the Original Astronaut knives.
As I have seen these brown Micarta Astros in lift the dot, double Brown button, and baby dot split back sheaths, unless specific provenance to indicate year of manufacture, these brown Micarta Astros were made between 1962-65.

Here is one with a lift a dot sheath.

Double brown button from 1963

Joe Dorsky has an early Astro that he was referring to in the other thread "Early Astro without scales" in double brown button sheath that he estimates was made in 1962.


What all of these Astros have in common is the sloping, dulled top clip, and long, thin stainless hilt, and rounded tang butt. Also Brown Micarta, with the exception of Joe's Scaleless Astro.

Jack did a great thread on the evolution of the Randall stamps, in the thread "dating old Randall blades by blade stamp". Observing Randall stamps on early examples, there are 2 different stamps that were used on the early- mid '60's Astros. Type 1&2. The earlier stamp (type 1 Jack's thread)was used on the bottom knife in the following photo. The vertical part of the letter F in FLA is directly under the right leg of M in Made
The top knife in the following photo has the later stamp (type 2 Jack's thread)where the vertical part of the letter F in FLA is more centered in the letter M in Made
At this time in the early to mid 1960's, both stamps were in use. I have seen the later stamp on knives from the late 50's.


An illustration of Jack's research into the 3 stamp types


I have not seen an early public Astro in the older brown linen Micarta that was used on the astronauts knives and NASA training knives, or in tenite as used on the mod 14 and 15. The tenite and earlier brown linen Micarta would be a sure way to distinguish the earliest Astros. The later brown canvas Micarta was exhausted by 1965. At that point, black Micarta began being used.

Here are a couple close-ups of the different brown Micarta used early on.
The earliest brown linen Micarta.


The later brown canvas Micarta. Note the wavy thread thru the canvas Micarta.


An update to this is an early brown linen Micarta Solingen Astro that is authenticated at one of the 60 NASA knives made perhaps in 1962. This is the only Solingen stamped Astro that I have seen in the earlier brown linen Micarta.


This is an update in Feb 2024 as I've recently acquired a scaleless Program Mercury Era Astro in a lift the dot sheath, made between 1961-62.


Last edited by samg; 03-17-2024 at 04:24 PM.
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Old 06-03-2019, 01:59 PM
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Here is an interesting early Astro that Bill brought to my attention.
Note the tall, thin stainless hilt.



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Old 12-01-2023, 05:52 PM
MCM MCM is offline
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Back from the depths.

Looking for a Astro sheath for this one. Mid to late 70's seem about right? JRB?
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File Type: jpg 20231201_155754_resizedsmm.jpg (318.7 KB, 2 views)

WTB Randall flat handle 2-4 and 2-5.
And a nice late 60's early 70's 2-8

Last edited by MCM; 12-01-2023 at 06:03 PM.
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Old 03-17-2024, 07:20 AM
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Here is a bit of a different Mod 17 that doesn't fit neatly in a box. At first glance it looks like one that was produced sometime between approx 1969-70 or so. Small riveted sheath, thicker hilt that we start seeing in later 60s, (hilt remained about the same thickness early on thru about 1968-69), black micarta, rounded butt, we see the change of the butt to square in approx 1971-72. Carbon blade that changed to stainless in 1972.
I'm thinking 1969-70 because of the thicker hilt. When the Randall catalog changed the display of knives photo in the 19th printing catalog of 1969, the Astro still had the thinner, longer hilt seen on earlier mod 17s

What makes this Mod 17 a bit different is that it has an earlier stamp on the blade. A type 1 as Jack referenced it. In approx 1966 we see the new stamp that aligns the top line Randall with bottom line Orlando

This subject has the earlier type 1 stamp.

So with the earlier stamp, looks like 2 possibilities.

1) they still occasionally used the type 1 stamp as late as 1969-70

2) They pulled an earlier blade out of the bin and finished it up.

Either way, this is a unique Mod 17 configuration with the earlier stamp

Last edited by samg; 03-18-2024 at 01:45 PM.
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Old 03-17-2024, 08:07 AM
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To add to my last post this morning about the evolution of the Mod 17 Astro, the most significant changes that occurred were from approx 1969-1972. These changes were:

1) curved contoured dull top clip to a more angled clip like mod 15

2) thicker then shorter hilt

3) from rounded to squared butt

4) from Carbon blade to Stainless blade

5) last change came a bit later in a slower progression, the top clip went from a mod 15 look to the raised point where spine meets clip, then slightly curved to the point by 1980-82

So the Astro saw the most change to the profile between 1969-72 then final change in approx 1980-82. I think it has been relatively unchanged since 1982.

So the mod 17 designed for Project Mercury in 1959-60 was first offered to the public in 1963 went from this profile in 1965

To this one by 1982

Last edited by samg; 03-17-2024 at 03:40 PM.
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Old 03-17-2024, 08:40 AM
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As to the design changes over the years, there are many opinions on the subject. Some love the newer look of the Astro, some don't.
Here is my opinion. I don't care for the newer design, but then I'm old school. I grew up in Florida and remember the early Mercury thru Apollo space program, so the early 1st design of the Astro is the style I appreciate. After all, the Astro was offered to the public initially as a "Replica" of the Astronauts knives

Then we see the changes in the late 1960s early 1970s with final changes in 1980-82.
The way I look at it, Mr Bo Randall made or approved these changes under his watch.

So though I'm not a fan of the changes, the way I look at it, with the distinct changes and moving away from the Replica language that changed in the 28th printing catalog in 1988,
it distinguishes the true replicas 1961-1967 and puts the transition around the time of a tragedy at Cape Kennedy.
Its possible that Bo began making the transition change in 1967 after the fire that killed Gus Grissom and 2 others on the pad during a preparation exercise in Jan 1967.
This is merely speculation, I have no proof and it could be something much simpler. Its just interesting that this particular knife that was never made specifically to be used in the field but as a replica knife, there's a reason that the changes in the knife occurred after five or six years.

Last edited by samg; 06-13-2024 at 10:24 AM.
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Old 03-17-2024, 09:15 AM
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To add to my previous 3 posts today, it's total speculation but I mentioned the time-frame that Mr Randall changed the profile of the Astro. It remained relatively unchanged with exception of going from brown to black micarta in 1965.
The real change began I think in 1969.
Here is a photo from Dominique Beaucants book

That shows a photo taken from the 20th printing 1969 catalog showing the Astro in same early profile

Then this pic from same book of a board that was made with all the knives in the catalog for a customer that was commissioned in 1969 and finished in 1971

Note the changed profile of this Astro in the completed board of 1971

Top clip and hilt have changed at this point.

So either it's pure coincidence that the Astro started changing profile in 1969 or Mr Randall did it to mark the end of an era, the completion of the goal to put man on the moon in 1969.

Last edited by samg; 03-17-2024 at 05:42 PM.
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Old 03-17-2024, 12:10 PM
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Here is a Mod 17 with etched July 20 1969 obviously marking the date of the moon landing.

Was this one ordered just after the moon landing?
This Mod 17 still displayed the rounded butt but the top clip was like the Mod 15, the hilt was thicker, carbon blade, and riveted sheath. So interesting to speculate when this knife was made, but looking at photo below of the 19th printing dated July 1969 (Just after moon landing) and delivery date was July 1971. Which means if this knife was ordered to commemorate the moon landing, a delivery date of 1971 fits the profile of this knife/sheath.

I will search to see if any documented early Astros with original profile come up past delivery date of July/August 1969, or if documented profile changed Mod 17s were earlier than July/August 1969.

Last edited by samg; 03-17-2024 at 03:47 PM.
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