The goals of the Mercury program were fairly simple, even if their accomplishment was not. They were:
- To orbit a manned spacecraft around Earth
- To investigate man's ability to function in space
- To recover both man and spacecraft safely
No one is exactly sure when mankind first dreamed of space travel. Perhaps it was with Johannes Kepler
's book "Somnium." Perhaps it was earlier. However, it wasn't until the middle of the 20th cerntury that technology had developed to the point where man could actually transform his ideas into hardware to achieve space flight.
Initiated in 1958, completed in 1963, Project Mercury was the United States' first man-in-space program.
After setting the above goals for the project, guidelines were put into place that would help insure that the most expedient and safest approach for attainment of the objectives was followed. They were:
- Existing technology and off-the-shelf equipment should be used wherever practical.
- The simplest and most reliable approach to system design would be followed.
- An existing launch vehicle would be employed to place the spacecraft into orbit.
- A progressive and logical test program would be conducted.
This led to more detailed requirements for the spacecraft:
- The spacecraft must be fitted with a reliable launch-escape system to separate the spacecraft and its crew from the launch vehicle in case of impending failure.
- The pilot must be given the capability of manually controlling spacecraft attitude.
- The spacecraft must carry a retrorocket system capable of reliably providing the necessary impulse to bring the spacecraft out of orbit.
- A zero-lift body utilizing drag braking would be used for reentry.
- The spacecraft design must satisfy the requirements for a water landing.
In keeping with the mandate, most of the equipment used was derived from off-the-shelf equipment or through the direct application of existing technology with two exceptions:
- An automatic blood-pressure measuring system for use in flight.
- Instruments for sensing the partial pressures of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the oxygen atmosphere of the cabin and suit, respectively.
The decision was made that the military services could provide the pilots for this new endeavor, so from a total of 508 service records screened in January 1959 by Stanley C. White, Robert B. Voas, and William S. Augerson at the military personnel bureaus in Washington, 110 men were found to meet the minimum standards. This list of names included five Marines, 47 Navy men, and 58 Air Force pilots. Although several Army pilots had been screened, none were graduates of a test pilot school.
This group of 110 was divided into three groups, but by the completion of round two there were enough volunteers that group three was never called. Through testing, these 69 men were further pared down to 32 and then to 18. Then, by the middle of April the names of America's firt 7 astronauts were known.
Biographies of Original Mercury 7 Astronauts