7 Mercury Astronauts – 1959

by Candace RichComment — Updated August 3, 2023
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The Mercury Story
7 Mercury Astronauts The 7 Mercury Astronauts

M. Scott Carpenter (Navy)

L. Gordon Cooper , Jr. (Air Force)

John H. Glenn, Jr. (Marine Corps)

Virgil I.Grissom
(Air Force)

Walter M.Schirra, Jr.

Alan B. Shepard, Jr.

Donald K. Slayton
(Air Force)

NASA’s first high profile program was Project Mercury, an effort to learn if humans could survive in space. And the pressure was on to pick the best candidates.

Originally, they had more academic types in mind, but President Eisenhower thought that active duty military personnel made the best candidiates.

NASA required astronaut candidates to be male, not older than 40 years of age, not more than 5-foot, 11-inches in height and in excellent physical condition. They were required to be a graduate of test pilot school and be a qualified jet pilot in possession of at least 1,500 hours of flight experience. Astronaut candidates were also required to possess a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent in experience.

110 applied. Never before had human beings been so thoroughly screened and tested. Finally the number was culled to seven.

Mercury Astronauts Wives Once the Mercury Astronauts had been chosen, they were famous. Very famous. Even their wives (left) got publicity.
Not everyone thought this was the greatest job. Some veteran test pilots, such as the legendary Chuck Yeager, took exception with original Project descriptions which made the astronauts sound like nothing more than crash test dummies who wouldn’t actually fly the remotely controlled craft. Yeager didn’t try out for the program.

The job did carry great risk. Rockets were far more volatile back then. That is, they tended to explode. Rare is the person willing to sit atop 350,000 pounds of liquid oxygen as it is ignited.

The Astronauts
Alan Shepard's patch ALAN SHEPARD
On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American in space. He successfully piloted a suborbital flight for 15 minutes aboard the Mercury Freedom 7 Spacecraft and splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean. Shepard’s career would lead him to eventually walk on the moon as commander of Apollo 14 in 1971. Shepard died of leukemia in 1998.
Gus Grissom flew the second mission about the Liberty Bell 7. Among the many changes to the craft was a newly designed explosive hatch. His suborbital flight ended approximately fifteen minutes after lift-off when Liberty Bell 7 popped its chutes and landed safely in the Atlantic Ocean.What happened next is speculative. Either way, the hatch blew off and water flooded the cabin. Although Grissom was saved, the craft sank. Liberty Bell 7 was recently been recovered from the bottom of the sea and is being studied to find the cause of the hatch blowing.In 1965, Grissom commanded the 2 man Gemini project’s Molly Brown on a fully successful mission.

Moving closer to putting a man on the moon, in 1967, NASA selected the three men who would fly the maiden Apollo voyage scheduled for February 1967. Commander Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee. On January 27, 1967, a flash fire occurred in command module 012 during a launch pad test of the Apollo/Saturn space vehicle. All three astronauts were killed.

“Godspeed, John Glenn.”

On Feb. 20, 1962 John Glenn circled the Earth three times spending five hours in orbit in the craft, Friendship 7. This flight made Glenn a hero, such a national treasure in fact, that they could not risk allowing him into space again. That is, until 1998 when he flew on Shuttle Discovery at 76 years old.

May 24, 1962, Scott Carpenter would go up next in the Aurora 7 for another 3 orbit, 4 hour flight. He never flew again.

October 3, 1962, Schirra made 6 orbits spending 9 hours in Sigma 7. He would go on to fly on Gemini 6 and Apollo 7 accumulating 295 hours of spaceflight.

May 15, 1963, Cooper flew Faith 7 on the last of the Mercury missions. He made 22.5 orbits and was in space for 1 day and 10 hours. Coope would fly again on Gemini 5 for a cummulative total in space of 225 hours.

Although he never flew a Mercury Mission, he accumulated over 217 hours in space as part of the Apollo-Soyuz Test project. Slayton died in 1993 from complications of a brain tumor.

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