The Mercury Spacecraft was the first American manned spacecraft.
Each Mercury capsule was named by the astronaut who flew in it.
The names of all capsules ended with the number 7. The "7" was
intended to suggest the teamwork of the astronaut group. The
astronauts flew solo in cone-shaped capsules.
The capsules were two meters long and 1.89 metres wide. A
cylinder was mounted to the top of each capsule with a 5.8 metre
escape tower attached to it. Heat shields protected the capsule
and astronaut from the 3,000 degree Fahrenheit reentry. The
astronaut lay in the spacecraft with his back to the shield. The
capsule's narrow nose housed the parachutes that slowed its
descent through the atmosphere before splashdown.
Max Faget was chiefly responsible for the design of the Mercury
spacecraft. Max Faget was also influential in the design of
Gemini, Apollo and Shuttle spacecraft.
Two launch vehicles (rockets) were used during the Mercury
Project: a Redstone rocket launched the MR-3 and MR-4 suborbital
flights and an Atlas rocket was used for the remaining four
The missions steadily increased in duration from 15 minutes and
22 seconds to 34 hours, 19 minutes and 49 seconds.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration was formed on
October 1, 1958, and the man in space program was introduced just
six days later. The program was renamed "Project Mercury" by Nov. 26, 1958,
just prior to the commencement of the astronaut candidate
Project Mercury met all three of its objectives: orbit a manned
spacecraft around Earth; learn about man's ability to function in
space; and safely recover the man and spacecraft. The project ultimately put six men in space, four of whom made
orbital flights around Earth. It proved that men could function
normally for up to 34 hours of weightless flight. Over two million people worked on the project for almost five
years. By 1963, Project Mercury wrapped up and Project Gemini was
two years into its development stages.
Mercury astronaut candidate requirements were strict. NASA
required that all astronauts be male, no older than 40, no taller
than 5'11 and in excellent physical condition. They had to have
graduated from test pilot school, be a qualified jet pilot with at
least 1,500 flying hours, and have a bachelor's degree or the
equivalent in experience. NASA officials began with a pool of 508
service records. One hundred and ten of those men met the
requirements. This group was further whittled down by physical and
psychological testing until just seven men remained.
The Mercury Seven were introduced to the public at a press
conference in Washington, D.C. on April 9, 1959. They rapidly took
on hero status.
All of the men except Deke Slayton flew into space on a Mercury
flight. Slayton developed a heart problem that later went away,
allowing him to fly on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project mission.
There were nine missions, six were piloted.
1. Mercury 3: - Suborbital Flight
Launch Date: May 5, 1961.
Astronaut: Alan Shepard.
Rocket: Mercury Redstone 3
Capsule: Freedom 7
* Alan Shepard was the first American in Space.
2. Mercury 4
Launch Date: July 21, 1961.
Astronaut: Virgil 'Gus' Grissom
Rocket: Mercury Redstone (MR-4)
Capsule: Liberty Bell
* Capsule sank but astronaut rescued.
3. Merury 6
Launch Date: February 20, 1962.
Rocket: Mercury Atlas 6 (MA-6)
Capsule: Friendship 7
* John Glenn was the first American in Earth orbit.
* John Glenn took the first photographs of the Earth from space
during the third Mercury manned mission.
4. Mercury 7
Launch Date: May 24, 1962
Astronaut: Scott Carpenter
Rocket: Mercury Atlas (MA-7)
Capsule: Aurora 7
* First meal eaten in space. Missed landing site by 402km (250
5. Mercury 8
Launch Date: October 3, 1962
Astronaut: Walter Schirra
Rocket: Mercury Atlas (MA-8)
Capsule Sigma 7
* First splashdown in Pacific Ocean.
6. Mercury 9
Launch Date: May 15, 1963
Astronaut: 6. Gordon Cooper
Rocket: Mercury Atlas (MA-9),
Capsule: Faith 7
* First US Flight to exceed 24 hours.
* Gordon Cooper was the first person to release a satellite
from a spacecraft. He released a 6 inch sphere that had a strobe
light beacon for a visual tracking.
Mercury MA-7 Delta 7
Astronaut Deke Slayton was to have been the second American in
orbit. His planned flight was cancelled 18 March 1962 when the
astronaut's minor heart condition became public. Walter M. Schirra
was his back-up. When Slayton was selected as an astronaut in
1959, it was known he had a minor heart fibrillation.
Delta 7 was the name planned second US manned orbital flight
capsule. Delta is the fourth letter in the Greek alphabet and as
this would have been the fourth manned flight.
Scott Carpenter was the second American to orbit the Earth. He
was launched on May 24, 1962 on Mercury-Atlas 7.
Did you know?
* The Mercury space suit was developed from a military flying
suit - the US Navy Mark IV Pressure Suit used for high altitude
* Mercury Mark II was the original name given to the Gemini
* Wally Schirra was the only astronaut to fly in Mercury,
Gemini and Apollo spacecraft. He flew on Mercury 8, Gemini 6 and
Mercury Spacecraft Links:
Mercury Project - Spacecraft:
- McDonnell Douglas History, Mercury Spacecraft:
Mercury Project: Includes Information and Digital
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