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Old 02-15-2018, 12:28 PM
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samg samg is offline
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Original Randall Astronaut Training Astro surfaces

I recently became aware of the surfacing of one of the original Astros made by Randall Knives for the Mercury manned space program.

Joe Dorsky came into possession of the knife and has pictures and an article about it on his website.

Here is the write up and a couple photos by Joe:

Dr. Laughlin's Astro
Jan 13, 2018 admin

A recent surprise came my way when a gentleman contacted me about a knife that had belonged to his step-father. Turns out his step-father, Dr. Carl Patrick Laughlin, was at the heart of the Mercury Space Program. Upon further conversation, it became apparent the doctor played a large role in America's manned space program in the developmental stages of NASA. Dr. Laughlin was the lead medical officer for John Glenn's orbital flight after which he wrote the paper "Physiological Responses of the Astronaut". Laughlin was Glenn's personal physician as well.

The Astro knife belonging to Laughlin is what I believe to be one of ten ordered by Gordon Cooper (Gaddis) for the astronauts. Seven were named to the astronauts, two were unnamed, and the last knife of the order went to a Dr. Bill Douglas. The step-son told me that Dr. Laughlin was asked by Cooper if he wanted one of the knives and Laughlin basically said "Sure".

Overall the knife is in excellent used condition with some scratching and possibly some light sharpening, but a fantastic example. The step-son told me Laughlin used the knife, and did so in some training exercises he remembers being told. I surmise they could have been survival exercises with the astronauts. He also mentioned the knife was carried in a pack. Was this one of the astronaut survival packs? This would lend itself to the condition of the Lift-a-Dot sheath which is in near mint condition save for a few scuffs.

Also, an interesting trait I have only recall seeing on the original knives is the white nylon cord for thong and tie down. It is visible in photos of the astronaut knives and I don't recall seeing it on others. While the original thong is missing from this knife, most other earlier brown micarta examples I have seen have leather thongs. The brown micarta scales are of the very early material with the two retaining bolts spread very wide with one virtually right up against the hilt and the other similarly located near the thong hole. I presume this wide spacing was to create more storage space for survival items in the hollowed out scales.

The knife is etched in block letters Randall Made Knives on one line above and below, Orlando, Florida.

There are some interesting photos that came with the knife to include one of Laughlin in what appears to be Houston Control, one of he and JFK, one from John Glenn, and one from the seven astronauts.

This Astro is the most historicaly significant example I know of outside of Cooper's knife residing in the Randall Museum and the Grissom knife I believe at Kennedy Space Center. There is also a nice letter from Dr. Laughlin's widow giving a brief commentary on her husband's involvement with NASA and the Mercury program as well as Identlfying the knife that belonged to her late husband.

Joe mentions in his write up on this knife that he believes this knife to be one of the original 10 made with the 7 original Astros for the astronauts. 7 for the astronauts, 2 without etched name blades, and 1 Astro Doctor knife with hook in handle. (Page 178 Gaddis)

Here are the original 7

My opinion is that the subject knife is not one of the original 10, but one of the 20 ordered on June 24, 1960 and shipped July 7, 1960.

Page 177 Gaddis:

Page 179 Gaddis:

This last passage from Gaddis Bo let Cooper know that these 20 were to be engraved "Randall Made Orlando Florida".
Note, Bo said engraved, rather than the Randall stamp that was used on the 10 original knives. Also Engraved so these 20 would not be confused with the original 9. These 20 were also Solingen blades.

These knives were made for astronaut training in Arizona
The knife recovered from Gus Grissoms capsule is one of these, exactly like the one Joe came in possession of with the engraved Randall Made Orlando Florida.

One other to my knowledge Astro Training knives resurfaced and was sold a few years back. I tried to attach pics of the other 2 knives, but I'm unable to do so. I will try to on the next post.

Joe could be right that this one could be of the original 10, but considering that the original 7 astronaut knives that we have a picture of has the standard Randall Made stamp on them, and the standard scale bolt distance standard on most Astros, it seems plausible that the 2 without etched name Astros were made the same.
The one Joe came in possession of has the Randall Made Orlando Florida (Florida spelled out) engraved, instead of the standard stamp, described by Bo as being a feature of the 20 training knives, doing so to differentiate from the original 9.

Either way, it's an incredible find, and I thank Joe for the story and photos.

Regards, Sam
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Old 02-15-2018, 01:15 PM
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samg samg is offline
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Here is Gus Grissoms Astro recovered from his submerged Mercury capsule. Note the engraved Randall Made. Obviously he decided to take his training knife into space. Perhaps he felt that as he trained in the Arizona desert with it, it would be his go to knife

Here is one that sold a few years back.

Last edited by samg; 02-15-2018 at 01:23 PM.
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Old 02-15-2018, 09:27 PM
crutchtip crutchtip is offline
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I have read the section on the space program in Gaddis many, many times. Thought about it, re-read it, spoke with others, and while it contains the most information available, I wondered was it complete. In other words in the context of his book, was there any details that were determined not as important to be included, did Bo neglect to mention something, or perhaps not every thing was recorded.

My point with this is I was told directly by Dr. Laughlin's step son the the knife came with the Astronaut knives, not with the NASA knives. He was specifically asked by Cooper if he wanted a knife. So, in the haste of filling the order and "working like mad" to fill it, we know the seven astronaut knives were Orlando blades, but were the remaining three Orlando blades? Did Bo throw one or two additional Solingen blades in with the order?

On page 176, there is a quote from Cooper in a letter to Bo where he asks for two additional knives. On page 177 Cooper notifies Bo that the astronaut order is to be kept separate from the NASA order. Then on page 179 Bo states that astronauts are getting nine knives in the original order.

So when you really read this stuff, it sometimes seems what was really clear isn't really clear.

I don't know, but can only go on what I was told, that Dr. Laughlin got his knife from Cooper. Laughlin was pretty proud of his service and ties to the program, so I will trust his memory of circumstances as relayed to me by his step son.

Last edited by crutchtip; 02-15-2018 at 09:30 PM.
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Old 02-15-2018, 10:30 PM
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samg samg is offline
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Thanks for bringing this knife to light Joe, and the accompanying provenance. It represents a part of Randall history that Bo was very proud of. Another important piece of Randall lore accounted for.

Regards, Sam
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Old 02-16-2018, 04:49 AM
Sligo Sligo is offline
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Historic no doubts at all !!! Thanks for sharing !
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Old 02-16-2018, 09:37 AM
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samg samg is offline
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Here is another NASA training Astro that surfaced a few years back.

I would also like to interject a point made by Joe Dorsky some time back that these knives were ordered for survival training.
Joes comment about the following photo:
" I don't know if this is one of the actual knives delivered to NASA for survival training, but may be one made available to support staff, NASA officials, and/or those in some way affiliated with the program in some fashion."

So to be clear, they were ordered for training, but as we know, some wound up in Staff, and other officials hands. We also know that one rode up in space with Gus Grissoms as well.

Hopefully more of these Randalls will surface. Perhaps even the original Astros that belonged to the astronauts. We know where one of them reside, in the Randall Knife Museum in Orlando FL that belonged to Major Gordon Cooper.

The knife that Joe commented about above

Last edited by samg; 02-16-2018 at 04:48 PM.
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