Did you know Talon Park at the entrance to Space Center Houston is home to a “boilerplate” Apollo capsule?
NASA built “boilerplate” (BP) capsules, or nonfunctional craft that simulated the basic size and weight of command modules, as part of the Apollo program to test equipment and procedures prior to the crewed missions. Many BPs were created, with some having even been launched into orbit for unmanned testing. However, some were used here on Earth to test loads and handling characteristics.
Prototypes were used to mitigate the risk of damaging the actual spacecraft that would be used in missions. Drop tests, floatation tests, parachute tests, flight tests and others that posed a great risk to the command module were assigned to various, expendable, boilerplate capsules, which would be rigorously tested.
The boilerplate capsule at Talon Park, known as BP-K, is one of a series (designated the 1200-numbered series) that was constructed in Clute, Texas by Ace Fabricating. Boilerplates were built without internal equipment since they were primarily used for water tank and ocean tests, whereby NASA engineers would test buoyancy, floatation collars, and retrieval procedures (performed by the U.S. Navy).
In 1966 NASA engineer John H. Kimzey requested an unused boilerplate to be used as a test chamber in fire extinguisher testing. The module was modified for this purpose. Following the tragic Apollo 1 fire in 1967, the prototype module was again modified for small scale flammability testing. All new materials had to be re-certified prior to resuming Apollo flights. BP-K helped re-certify these materials in testing, playing a small, but significant role in human spaceflight history.
Once the Apollo tests were completed, BP-K was again modified to conduct heat shield testing of the Space Shuttle Thermal Protection System, which included the shuttle’s insulation tiles. These tests were conducted through 1983.
While the boilerplate’s original serial number remains unknown, it continues to go by BP-K, the unofficial designation given by the hard-working engineers who worked alongside Kimzey during Apollo and into the Shuttle era. Once its use in testing was over, the boilerplate was refurbished for public display, leaving some pipes and flanges in place for historical preservation.
The boilerplate was placed on display at Space Center Houston in 2007. BP-K now rests at Talon Park, near NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) where it was used as a test chamber, to pay tribute to the efforts of the engineers at JSC and their role in human spaceflight history. It is displayed alongside a pair of T-38 aircraft at the entrance to Space Center Houston.