Mercury program

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The Mercury program was a manned spaceflight program undertaken by the United States of America, conducted during the years (1959-1963). It was devoted to the goal of putting a man in orbit around the Earth. It was followed by the Gemini and Apollo programs.

Mercury spacecraft were one-man spacecraft. They were very cramped; it was said that the Mercury spacecraft were not ridden, they were worn.

The program included 20 unmanned launches. Not all of these were intended to reach space and not all were successful in their objectives. The fifth flight in 1959 launched a monkey named Sam into space. Other space-farers were Miss Sam the monkey and Ham and Enos, both chimpanzees.

The name Mercury comes from the Roman god (it is also the name of the innermost planet of the solar system).

Six manned flights took place under the Mercury program:

  • May 5, 1961 -- "Freedom 7": Suborbital flight. Astronaut: Alan Shepard -First American in space. The flight lasted 15 minutes, and the spacecraft traveled 300 miles from its launch point, ascending over 100 miles.
  • July 21, 1961 -- "Liberty Bell 7": Suborbital flight. Astronaut: Gus Grissom. The flight was identical to Shepard's, but an accident upon spashdown caused the loss of the spacecraft when it filled with seawater. Grissom escaped unhurt.
  • February 20, 1962 -- "Friendship 7": Three earth orbits. Astronaut: John Glenn -First American in orbit. Glenn returned safely despite the near-loss of the spacecraft's heat shield during liftoff.
  • May 24, 1962 -- "Aurora 7": Three earth orbits. Astronaut: Scott Carpenter. A targeting mishap during reentry tool the spacecraft 250 miles off course, delaying recovery of Carpenter and the craft.
  • October 3, 1962 -- "Sigma 7": Six earth orbits. Astronaut: Wally Schirra. The first flawless Mercury mission.
  • May 15, 1963 -- "Faith 7": Twenty-two earth orbits. Astronaut: Gordon Cooper.

A seventh flight was cancelled when astronaut Deke Slayton was disqualified for medical reasons.


Wolfe, Tom. The Right Stuff. Sentimental, from the astronaut viewpoint, not meant to be taken as a strict history, but fascinating anyway.

External links:

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