Project Mercury, the first manned U.S. space project, became an official
NASA program on October 7, 1958. The Mercury Program was given two main but
broad objectives: 1. to investigate man's ability to survive and perform in
the space environment and 2. to develop basic space technology and hardware for
manned space flight programs to come.
NASA also had to find astronauts to fly the spacecraft. In 1959 NASA
asked the U.S. military for a list of their members who met certain
qualifications. All applicants were required to have had extensive jet aircraft
flight experience and engineering training. The applicants could be no more
than five feet eleven inches tall, do to the limited amount of cabin space that
the Mercury modules provided. All who met these requirements were also required
to undergo numerous intense physical and psychological evaluations. Finally,
out of a field of 500 people who met the experience, training, and height
requirements, NASA selected seven to become U.S. astronauts. There names,
Lieutenant M. Scott Carpenter; Air Force Captains L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., Virgil "
Gus" Grissom, and Donald K. "Deke" Slayton; Marine Lieutenant Colonel John H.
Glenn, Jr.; and Navy Lieutenant commanders Walter M. Schirra, Jr., and Alan B.
Shepard, Jr. Of these, all flew in Project Mercury except Deke Slayton who was
grounded for medical reasons. He later became an American crewmember of the
Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.
The Mercury module was a bell shaped craft. Its base measured exactly
74.5 inches wide and it was nine feet tall. For its boosters NASA chose two U.S.
military rockets: the Army's Redstone, which provided 78,000 pounds of thrust,
was used for suborbital flights, and the Air Force Atlas, providing 360,000
pounds of thrust, was used for orbital fights. The Mercury craft was fastened
to the top of the booster for launch. Upon reaching the limits of Earth's
atmosphere the boosters were released from the module, and... [continues]
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