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Project Mercury - The First Americans in Space

Mercury space capsule Illustration
Mercury Space Capsule
Mercury Redstone and Atlas rocket Illustration
Mercury-Redstone and Mercury-Atlas rockets. (With human figure for scale.)

Mercury Program

Started in 1958, Project Mercury was the United States' first manned spacecraft program. The program included a number of unmanned test flights, some including primates, prior to flying human astronauts.

A total of six manned missions were flown. Two suborbital missions were followed by four orbital missions. Suborbital missions were launched using Redstone rockets, while orbital flights were made using Atlas launchers.



Manned Mercury Missions
NameLaunch
Date
DesignationLauncherOrbitsCrewMission
Objective
Freedom 7 5 MAY 1961 MR-3 Redstone (MR-7)--- Alan B. Shepard, Jr.Suborbital flight
Liberty Bell 721 JUL 1961 MR-4 Redstone (MR-8)--- Virgil "Gus" GrissomSuborbital flight
Friendship 7 20 FEB 1962 MA-6 Atlas (109-D) 3 John H. Glenn, Jr.Orbital flight
Aurora 7 24 MAY 1962 MA-7 Atlas (107-D) 3 M. Scott CarpenterOrbital flight
Sigma 7 3 OCT 1962 MA-8 Atlas (113-D) 6 Walter M. Schirra, Jr.Orbital flight
Faith 7 15 MAY 1963 MA-9 Atlas (130-D) 22 L. Gordon CooperOrbital flight
 

Mercury MR-4 Capsule

Mercury MR-4 (Liberty Bell 7) Capsule. Launched on July 21, 1961, astronaut Gus Grissom conducted a sub-orbital flight in this spacecraft. (Photos: John Karpiej, 2005)

Mercury Capsule Liberty Bell

Mercury MA-6 Capsule

Mercury MA-6 (Friendship 7) Capsule on display at the National Air and Space Museum. Launched on February 20, 1962, astronaut John Glenn conducted three orbits in this spacecraft. (Photos: Richard Kruse, 2008)

Mercury Capsule MA-6 Mercury Capsule MA-6 Mercury Capsule MA-6 Mercury Capsule MA-6 Mercury Capsule MA-6 Hatch detail

Mercury MA-7 Capsule

Mercury MA-7 (Aurora 7) Capsule on display at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. Launched on May 24, 1962, astronaut Scott Carpenter conducted three orbits in this spacecraft. (Photos: Richard Kruse, 2008)

Mercury Capsule MA-7 Mercury Capsule MA-7 Mercury Capsule MA-7 Interior Mercury Capsule MA-7 Nose Mercury Capsule MA-7 Parachute Compartment Mercury Capsule MA-7 Port Side Mercury MA-7 Heat Shield Mercury Capsule Heat Shield Mercury Heat Shield

Mercury MA-8 Capsule

Mercury MA-8 (Sigma 7) Capsule on display at the Astronaut Hall of Fame. Launched on October 3, 1962, astronaut Wally Schirra conducted six orbits in this spacecraft. (Photos: Richard Kruse, 2009)

Mercury Capsule MA-8 hatch side Mercury Capsule MA-8 Mercury Capsule MA-8 front Mercury Capsule MA-8 front Mercury Capsule MA-8 heat shield Mercury Capsule MA-8 heat shield Mercury Capsule MA-8 hatch detail Mercury Capsule MA-8 interior

Mercury MA-9 Capsule

Mercury MA-9 (Faith 7) Capsule on display at Space Center Houston. Launched on May 15, 1963, astronaut Gordon Cooper conducted 22.5 orbits in this spacecraft. (Photos: Kevin Barrett, 2009)

Mercury Capsule MA-9 Mercury Capsule MA-9 Mercury Capsule MA-9 Mercury Capsule MA-9 Mercury Capsule MA-9 Mercury Capsule MA-9

Mercury Capsule 12B (Unflown)

Mercury Capsule 12B on display at Kennedy Space Center. This spacecraft served as a backup for Wally Schirra's MA-8 (Sigma 7) mission. (Photos: Richard Kruse, 2009)

Mercury Capsule 12B Mercury Capsule 12B Mercury Capsule 12B hatch Mercury Capsule 12B

Mercury 15B Capsule (Unflown)

Mercury 15B (Freedom 7 II) Capsule on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center. (Photos: Richard Kruse, 2008)

Mercury Capsule MA-15B overview Mercury Capsule MA-15B Mercury Capsule MA-15B nose Mercury Capsule MA-15B other side Mercury Capsule MA-15B Mercury Capsule MA-15B front detail Mercury Capsule MA-15B Mercury Capsule MA-15B heat shield Mercury Capsule MA-15B heat shield Mercury Capsule MA-15B retro rocket package

Mercury Capsule 17 (Unflown)

Mercury Capsule on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Although this spacecraft is flight-rated, it was not flown. (Photos: Richard Kruse, 2007)

Mercury Capsule overview Mercury Capsule aft closeup Mercury Capsule forward closeup Mercury Capsule heatshield detail

Mercury-Redstone

The first successful Mercury-Redstone rocket flew on 19DEC1960. The rocket was used to launch Mercury capsules on suborbital trajectories into space. On 5MAY1961, a Mercury-Redstone launched America's first astronaut, Alan Sheppard, into space. On 21JUL1961, another Mercury-Redstone launched Virgil Gus Grissom into space.

 

Mercury-Redstone at the US Space and Rocket Center

(Photos: Richard Kruse, 2007)

Mercury-Redstone and launch escape system Mercury-Redstone rocket Mercury-Redstone rocket bottom half Mercury-Redstone rocket launch platform Mercury-Redstone rocket fins
 

Mercury-Redstone at the Kennedy Space Center Rocket Garden

(Photos: Richard Kruse, 2009)

Mercury-Redstone Mercury-Redstone Mercury-Redstone

Mercury-Atlas Rocket Photos

Atlas D (37D) Displayed in Mercury-Atlas configuration.

Atlas-D rocket on display at Kennedy Space Center. (Photos: Richard Kruse, 2009)

Atlas-D Rocket Atlas-D Rocket Atlas-D Rocket Atlas-D Rocket Atlas-D Rocket Atlas-D Rocket Atlas-D Rocket Atlas-D Rocket Atlas-D Rocket Atlas-D Rocket Atlas-D Rocket Atlas-D Rocket Atlas-D Rocket Atlas-D Rocket Atlas-D Rocket
Mercury Spacecraft
1Reentry CapsuleDrawing of Mercury Spacecraft
2Window
3Seperation rockets
and Retrorockets
4Heatshield
5Hatch
6Parachute
Compartment
 

References

Loyd S. Swenson Jr., James M. Grimwood, and Charles C. Alexander, This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury, NASA SP-4201. 1966.

James M. Grimwood, Project Mercury: A Chronology, NASA SP-4001, 1963.

Creative Commons License Images by Richard Kruse are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.
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Additional Material About Project Mercury


This New Ocean

This New Ocean:
A History of Project Mercury

Project Mercury Pocket Space Guide

Project Mercury
Pocket Space Guide
By Steve Whitfield.

Project Mercury

Project Mercury:
NASA's First Manned Space Programme
By John Catchpole.

Almost Astronauts

Almost Astronauts:
13 Women Who Dared to Dream
By Tanya Lee Stone.

The Mercury 13

The Mercury 13:
The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight
By Martha Ackmann.

Project Mercury Models


Project Mercury Model

1/12 Project Mercury
Academy Models

Mercury Capsule Model

Mercury Capsule - Signed Model
by Daron