This wind-tunnel model was built, perhaps by NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to test the aerodynamic characteristics of the one-astronaut Mercury capsule during the launch phase or during an emergency abort. It shows the spacecraft with its escape tower, used to pull the capsule away from the booster during an emergency.
Between 1961 and 1963, Mercury, the first U.S. human spaceflight program, sent two astronauts on sub-orbital trajectories, and put four astronauts into orbit. The escape tower was never used during a manned mission, but did function during test missions and on one failed Mercury-Atlas unmanned launch. In 1974 the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center transferred this wind-tunnel model to the Smithsonian.