Project Mercury: America’s 1st Manned Space Program
April 9, 1959, just six-months after the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, formed the Mercury 7 astronauts (formerly Argonauts after the Greek work for explorers) called Project Mercury (Space.com, 2014). The original Mercury astronauts are pictured (above) around a table admiring an Atlas model. Standing, left to right, are Alan B. Shepard Jr., Walter M. Schirra Jr., and John H. Glenn Jr.; sitting, left to right are Virgil I. Grissom, M. Scott Carpenter, Donald Slayton, and L. Gordon Cooper Jr.
Looking Back: The Mercury 7
Freedom 7 Liftoff
Astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr. lifts off in the Freedom 7 Mercury spacecraft on May 5, 1961. This third flight of the Mercury-Redstone (MR-3) vehicle, developed by Dr. Wernher von Braun and the rocket team in Huntsille, Alabama, was the first manned space mission for the United States.
Gus Grissom’s Liberty Bell 7 performed relatively well on the 15-minute suborbital hop until splashdown, when the door unexpectedly blew open.Sadly, Grissom died in a launch pad fire aboard Apollo 1; one factor in his death was a hatch door his three-person crew could not open.