NASA's Mercury Project

NASA's Mercury Project

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Three days after the Soviets launched their first satellite, Sputnik 1, the United States launched the Mercury Program. It was October 7, 1958, and NASA sought to break the leadership of the Soviet Union in space.

American engineers designed a bullet-shaped capsule. With it they intended to launch an astronaut to Earth's orbit. For their safety they took into account the high speeds, the vacuum, the sudden changes in temperature and the radiation in the space. For re-entry into the atmosphere they designed a thermal shield that would burn during this stage.

The Mercury Project rockets

The propulsion of Mercury Project ships was in charge of two types of rockets. In the first suborbital flights they used the Redstone rockets, designed by Werner von Braun's team. Subsequently, they used Atlas-D rockets on orbital flights. It was a modified rocket of a ballistic missile.

Inside the capsule of the Mercury Project, with capacity for a single astronaut, there were 120 commands, 55 electrical switches, 30 fuses and 35 mechanical levers.

The Mercury Project astronauts

Once designed the ship gave way to the selection of its crew. Initially seven astronauts were chosen from among 110 shortlisted military pilots: Alan Shepard, Virgil I. Grissom, Gordon Cooper, Walter Schirra, Deke Slayton, John Glenn and Scott Carpenter. Finally, only six of them got to fly, since Deke Slayton was removed from the project because of an ear infection.

The first manned space program in the United States, Mercury, was running from 1961 to 1963. Initially the capsule was tested with a monkey and then with a chimpanzee named Ham. They also did a test with an electronic dummy that breathed.

Finally, the first American to arrive in space was Alan Shepard. He did so on May 5, 1961 aboard the Freedom 7 ship. Shepard was followed nine months later by John Glenn, who became the first American astronaut to orbit around Earth on February 20, 1962. In total, the Mercury Project launched six missions to space. The last was that of Gordon Cooper, on May 15, 1963.

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