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 could 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". According to Gaddis, Bo was desperately trying to fill the order so did he run out of time and throw a couple Solingen blades in with the order?
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.
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