“I am in a big mass of some very small particles, they’re brilliantly lit up like they’re luminescent. I never saw anything like it! They round a little: they’re coming by the capsule and they look like little stars. A whole shower of them coming by. They swirl around the capsule and go in front of the window and they’re all brilliantly lighted.” John Glenn – Friendship 7
Following the successful suborbital missions of Allan Shepard and Gus Grissom, NASA believed the Mercury capsule was ready for an orbital mission. But, there was a problem, the Redstone booster did not have the power to place the Mercury capsule into orbit. The Atlas booster had the power to put the capsule in orbit but not the confidence of NASA. By September of 1961 Four launches of the mercury-atlas had been made with only a 50 percent success rate…
Mercury-Redstone 4 was the fourth mission in the Mercury-Redstone series and the second U.S. manned suborbital spaceflight. The mission was essentially a repeat of Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 flight. So why was it necessary to launch another sub-orbital mission? Why not proceed with an orbital flight to match the Soviet Vostok 1? Among other things the U.S. needed more space experience to corroborate the “Man-in-Space” concept. Also the Redstone was the only booster NASA had that was approved for manned launches. The Atlas booster was available but not ready. Atlas was capable of putting a Mercury Capsule into orbit, but it had been launched three times with unmanned capsules, and it had exploded on 2 of the 3 attempts.
“We have been plunged into a race for the conquest of outer space. As a reason for this undertaking some look to the new and exciting scientific discoveries which are certain to be made. Others feel the challenge to transport man beyond frontiers he scarcely dared dream about until now. But at present the most impelling reason for our effort has been the international political situation which demands that we demonstrate our technological capabilities if we are to maintain our position of leadership. For all of these reasons we have embarked on a complex and costly adventure. It is the purpose of this report to clarify the goals, the missions and the costs of this effort in the foreseeable future, particularly with regard to the man-in-space program.” From 1960 Ad Hoc Panel on Man-In-Space.
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.