Project Mercury

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Mercury-Atlas 9 on the launchpad.
Started in 1958 and completed in 1963, Project Mercury was the United States' first human-in-space program. The objectives of the program, which made six manned flights from 1961 to 1963, were to orbit a manned spacecraft around Earth, to investigate human ability to function in space, and to recover both man and spacecraft safely. Project Mercury was a success and led to Project Gemini.

The Mercury Seven

The Mercury Seven were the original seven astronauts designated to fly in Project Mercury. They were M. Scott Carpenter, L. Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Walter "Wally" Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Donald "Deke" Slayton. Selected for their performance in the Air Force, several of these pioneer astronauts (including Wally Schirra) flew in all NASA rocket spacecraft - from Mercury to Gemini to Apollo.

The successful mission of Apollo 11 could not have been conducted without their efforts, for which one (Gus Grissom) gave his life in the Apollo 1 tragedy, alongside fellow astronauts Ed White and Roger Chaffee.

Mercury Missions

Project Mercury Designation Mission Mission Date Notes/Pilot name
Mercury-Jupiter Test of Jupiter missile. Cancelled
Little Joe 1 Test of launch escape system during flight. August 21, 1959
Big Joe 1 Test of heat shield and Atlas rocket. September 9, 1959
Little Joe 6 Test of Mercury capsule aerodynamics and stability. October 4, 1959
Little Joe 1A Second test of launch escape system during flight. November 4, 1959
Little Joe 2 Carried a monkey 52.8 miles in altitude. December 4, 1959
Little Joe 1B Carried a monkey 9.3 miles in altitude January 21, 1960
Beach Abort Test of the Off-The-Pad abort system. May 9, 1960
Mercury-Atlas 1 First test flight of Mercury spacecraft and Atlas rocket. July 29, 1960
Little Joe 5 First flight of a standard Mercury capsule. November 8, 1960
Mercury-Redstone 1 First test flight of Mercury spacecraft and Redstone rocket. (Failure) November 21, 1960 The "Popped Cork" Incident
Mercury-Redstone 1A First test flight of Mercury spacecraft and Redstone rocket. December 19, 1960
Mercury-Redstone 2 Carried a chimpanzee 129.8 miles in altitude. January 31, 1961
Mercury-Atlas 2 Second test flight of Mercury spacecraft and Atlas rocket. February 21, 1961
Little Joe 5A Third test of the launch escape system. March 18, 1961
Mercury-Redstone BD Redstone rocket upgrade test flight. March 24, 1961
Mercury-Atlas 3 Third test flight of Mercury spacecraft and Atlas rocket. April 25, 1961
Little Joe 5B Fourth test of the launch escape system. April 28, 1961
Mercury-Atlas 4 First orbital spaceflight of Mercury spacecraft and Atlas rocket. September 13, 1961
Mercury-Scout 1 Test of Mercury tracking network. (Failure) November 1, 1961
Mercury-Redstone 3 Carried first American to make a suborbital flight into space. May 5, 1961 Alan Shepard
Mercury-Redstone 4 Carried second American to make a suborbital flight into space. July 21, 1961 Virgil I. Grissom
Mercury-Atlas 6 Carried first American to orbit the Earth. February 20, 1962 John Glenn
Mercury-Atlas 7 Manned spaceflight-3 orbits. May 24, 1962 Scott Carpenter
Mercury-Atlas 8 Manned spaceflight-6 orbits. October 3, 1962 Walter Schirra
Mercury Atlas 9 Carried first American in space for over a day and last American to fly alone in Earth orbit. May 15-May 16, 1963 Gordon Cooper
Mercury 10 3 day manned spaceflight mission. Cancelled

Donald K. Slayton did not fly a Mercury mission. The flight surgeons grounded him for nearly a decade and a half after finding that he suffered from an occasional dysrhythmia of the heart. The other six astronauts then recommended to NASA administration that the astronaut corps should have a permanent chief, chosen among their number, and chose Slayton to fill that position. Slayton was the only chief that the astronaut corps ever had. He would finally fly the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project mission in 1975, the last mission flown with Project Apollo hardware.