Project Mercury 1959 - 1963

The goal of Project Mercury was to get an American to orbit the Earth
and lasted from 1959 to 1963.
The Mercury space craft were just big enough for a single Astronaut
and was said to be warn rather than flown.

Project Mercury Mission Summary 1959 - 1963

Friendship 7
Mercury Redstone 3
Shepard1961-05-05015 mins
Liberty-Bell 7
Mercury Redstone 4
Grissom1961-07-21015 mins
Freedom 7
Mercury Atlas 6
Glenn1962-02-2035 hrs
Aurora 7
Mercury Atlas 7
Carpenter1962-05-2435 hrs
Sigma 7
Mercury Atlas 8
Schirra1962-10-0369 hrs
Faith 7
Mercury Atlas 9
Cooper1963-05-15221.5 days
The Mercury space craft was the American counterpart to the Soviet's Vostoks. But unlike the Soviet's secretive space program, the American launches were in full view of the public and world's media. Another difference was that Soviet space craft were all designed to land on solid ground whereas the American craft were designed to splash down at sea. Further differences between the super powers existed in their choice of animal test crews. Whereas the Soviets used dogs for testing their pre-manned flights, NASA used monkeys. Ham was the chimpanzee crew of the Mercury-Redstone 2 flight that paved the way for Alan Shepard's flight. Later, the first Mercury-Atlas flight MA-5 was crewed by a chimp Enos, who remained in space for two Earth orbits.

Mercury flights up to Mercury 4 were launched using a Redstone rocket and from Mercury 5 on the Atlas rocket was used (both Redstone and Atlas were converted ballistic missiles).

MERCURY 3: Freedom 7 was the first manned American space flight. During his 4.75 minutes in weightless space Shepard exercised the attitude thrusters making the first manoeuvres in space. It was not known at the time as the Americans believed the Vostoks also possessed the capability to manoeuvre in flight.
The suborbital flight and was described as a "flea hop compared to Vostok 1" by Soviet Premier Khruschev.

MERCURY 4: Liberty-Bell 7 Was a repeat performance of the first Mercury 3 suborbital flight, as it also used the underpowered Redstone launch vehicle. Liberty-Bell 7 had a number of improvements over Freedom 7 including an extra viewing window and a explosively operated side hatch for quick release. In a narrow escape for Grissom, the new hatch opened prematurely allowing water into the capsule. Within minutes the capsule flooded and Liberty-Bell 7 sank. Grissom's space suit then started taking on water from the open neck seal. Luckily rescue was at hand as the recovery crew arrived in time to save him.

MERCURY 6: Friendship 7 Originally planned to use a third Redstone launch vehicle, these plans were changed and the more powerful Atlas launch vehicle was used. This enabled its pilot, John Glenn, to be the first American in Earth orbit.
During the flight there were concerns that a heat shield may have coming loose so the retropacks were not jettisoned in the hope it would help hold the heat shield in place. The flight was originally scheduled for 20-December-1961 but numerous delays put the flight back two months and put the US space race efforts nearly a year behind the Soviets.

MERCURY 7: Aurora 7 Scott Carpenter's flight was marred by a series of mishaps stemming from a fault in the temperature control of the space suit which led to pilot error. This resulted in loss of fuel which in turn led an odd angle of re-entry and missing the designated landing zone by 250 miles. It took the recovery team some 36 minutes to locate the lost astronaut and a further hour and a half to recover him.

MERCURY 8: Sigma 7 The same temperature control issues with the space suit occurred for Walter Schirra, but he was able to overcome them. The flight of Sigma 7 was twice as long a the previous Mercury orbital flights, but the Soviets were moving ahead at a much faster rate.

MERCURY 9: Faith 7 With the Soviets routinely spending ever increasing durations in space the American space program set the task of their longest mission to Gordon Cooper's flight onboard Faith 7.

With the Soviets taking an early lead in the space race, achieving many world firsts and with Vostok 5 orbiting for just under 5 days, the public perception was that America was falling behind. Costing $392 million the six Mercury flights had delivered just 2.25 days in space compared to the Soviet's 16 days. The Kennedy speech of 1961 set America a goal, to which further Mercury flights would not achieve. Further one manned Mercury flights were cancelled in favour of a more sophisticated approach to building the skills and technologies to put a man on the moon.


First Day

and Medal sets

PNCs and

US Manned Space
Program Pins

Project Mercury