Project Mercury was the United States' first attempt to send humans into space. It began in 1958. The project had three main objectives: to orbit a manned spacecraft around Earth, to see how well humans fared in space, and to recover both the spacecraft and its crew safely. Project Mercury made six manned flights from 1961 to 1963.
After the Soviet Union launched "Sputnik," the first artificial satellite, the United States decided to start a space program because they didn't want to be beaten by the communists.
The first U.S. spaceship was a cone-shaped one-man capsule with a cylinder mounted on top. It was 6 ft., 10 in. long, and 6 ft., 2 1/2 in. in diameter. A 19 ft., 2 in. escape tower was fastened to the cylinder of the capsule. The rounded, bottom end was covered with a heat shield to protect it against the 3,000 degree heat from atmospheric entry.
Before the United States launched any humans into space, they launched an unmanned test flight of the booster and capsule, which carried a chimpanzee.
Each astronaut in Project Mercury got to name his space capsule and added the number 7 to represent the original seven astronauts of Project Mercury.
The first man sent into space by the United States was Alan B. Shepard, Jr. He named his space capsule "Freedom 7." He was launched into space on May 5, 1961. He was in suborbital flight for 15 minutes and 28 seconds. Both Alan Shepard and the "Freedom 7" were recovered safely. Now, America was finally catching up to the Soviet Union's space technology.
President Kennedy awarded Alan Shepard, Jr. the Distinguished Service Medal on May 8, 1961. On May 25, President Kennedy committed the United States to a multi-billion dollar space program for at least the next nine years. President Kennedy has this goal for America, "before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth."
The United States' second man in space was Virgil I. Grissom. He was a 35 year-old test pilot for the Air Force who had flown 100 combat missions in the Korean War. His capsule was the "Liberty Bell 7." His suborbital flight on July 21, 1961, lasted for 15 minutes and 37 seconds. This flight was successful, except that the spacecraft sank into the ocean shortly after splashdown.
The next American launched into space was John H. Glenn, Jr. He manned the "Friendship 7," which was launched on February 20, 1962. He was the first American to orbit the Earth. His total flight time was 4 hours, 55 minutes, and 23 seconds. He spent three hours of that in orbit around the Earth.
Malcolm Scott Carpenter manned the fourth Mercury mission. He had a degree in Aeronautical Engineering and had flown U.S. Navy patrols during the Korean War. He had also attended the Navy Test Pilot School in 1954. His spacecraft was the "Aurora 7." It was launched on May 24, 1962. The Aurora carried out a few experiments during the 4 hours, 56 minutes, and 5...