Over 52 years ago, in the early hours of May 5th, 1961 the US prepared to launch its first man into space. Three weeks earlier, the Soviet Union had sent Yuri Gagarin on an orbital mission. This was a suborbital mission planed to last only 15 minutes. For the moment that did not matter, the entire nation held its breath while Alan Shepard became America’s first man in space.
The objectives of the Mercury Project, were as follows:
1. Place a manned spacecraft in orbital flight around the earth.
2. Investigate man’s performance capabilities and his ability to function in the environment of space.
3. Recover the man and the spacecraft safely.
After the objectives were established for the project, a number of guidelines were created to insure that the most expedient and safest approach for attainment of the objectives was followed. The basic guidelines that were established are as follows:
1. Existing technology and off-the-shelf equipment should be used wherever practical.
2. The simplest and most reliable approach to system design would be followed.
3. An existing launch vehicle would be employed to place the spacecraft into orbit.
4. A progressive and logical test program would be conducted.
“Dear friends, you who are close to me, and you whom I do not know, fellow Russians, and people of all countries and all continents: in a few minutes a powerful space vehicle will carry me into the distant realm of space. What can I tell you in these last minutes before the launch? My whole life appears to me as one beautiful moment. All that I previously lived through and did, was lived through and done for the sake of this moment.” Yuri Gagarin prior to launch of Vostok 1.
When the 20 Cosmonaut candidates were asked to anonymously vote for which candidate they would like to see fly first, all but three chose Gagarin. The consensus was, Gagarin was very focused, and demanding of himself and others when necessary.
“Who can say what contraption the future will bring?
There can be not a doubt, some more wonderful thing.
And if anyone ventures the future to scan,
Why indeed should it not be your old Weather Man?
Have you noticed how often in times that are past
We have used new inventions to improve the forecast?
Television is coming, it is not far away;
We’ll be using that too in a not distant day.
Photographs will be made by the infra red light
That will show us the clouds both by day and by night.
From an altitude high in the clear stratosphere
Will come pictures of storms raging far if not near
Revealing in detail across many States
The conditions of weather affecting our fates….” By George Mindling (Weather Bureau), 1939
“The designers made the Little Joe booster assembly to approximate the same performance that the Army’s Redstone booster would have with the capsule payload. But in addition to being flexible enough to perform a variety of missions, Little Joe could be made for about one-fifth the basic cost of the Redstone, would have much lower operating costs, and could be developed and delivered with much less time and effort. And, unlike the larger launch vehicles, Little Joe could be shot from the existing facilities at Wallops Island.”
While the Mercury 7 were fulfilling their roles as symbols of space exploration, Korolev once again was offering the real thing. He now prepared to undertake the most demanding mission yet. The mission that would accomplish the next step in Korolev’s program of lunar exploration. He would attempt to photograph the far side of the moon.