15 May 1963: At 8:04:13.106 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, Mercury-Atlas 9, carrying NASA astronaut, L. Gordon Cooper aboard Faith 7, lifted off from Launch Complex 14, Cape Canaveral Air Force Base, Florida. Cooper reported, “The liftoff was smooth, but very definite, the acceleration was very pleasant. The booster had a very good feel to it and it felt like we were real on the go, there.” The maximum acceleration experienced during launch was 7.6 gs.
Faith 7 separated from the Atlas booster at T+00:05:05.5.3 and entered low Earth orbit with an apogee of 165.9 statute miles (267.0 kilometers) and perigee of 100.3 statute miles (161.4 kilometers). The orbital period was 88 minutes, 45 seconds. The spacecraft’s velocity was 25,714.0 feet per second (7,837.6 meters per second), or 17,532.3 miles per hour (28,215.5 kilometers per hour).
MA-9 was the final flight of Project Mercury. Gordon Cooper flew 22.5 orbits. Due to electrical system problems that began on the 21st orbit, he had to fly a manual reentry which resulted in the most accurate landing of the Mercury program.
The spacecraft’s three retrorockets fired 5 second intervals beginning at T+33:59:30. 34 hours, 19 minutes, 49 seconds after lift off, Faith 7 “splashed down” approximately 70 miles (112.7 kilometers) southeast of Midway Atoll in the North Pacific Ocean, just 4.4 miles (7.1 kilometers) from the primary recovery ship, the United States Navy Ticonderoga-class aircraft carrier USS Kearsarge (CV-33).
The Mercury spacecraft, which Cooper named Faith 7, was built by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri, which would also build the follow-on, two-place Gemini spacecraft. It was the 20th and final Mercury capsule to be built, and was one of four which were modified to support a day-long mission. Some items considered unnecessary were deleted and extra oxygen and battery capacity was added.
Designed to carry one pilot, the Mercury space craft could be controlled in pitch, roll and yaw by thrusters. The space capsule was truncated cone with sides angled 20° from the longitudinal axis. It was 6 feet, 10 inches (2.083 meters) long and had a maximum diameter of 6 feet, 2.50 inches (1.892 meters). The total height of the spacecraft, from the tip of the aero spike to the booster adapter, was 26 feet, 1.26 inches (7.957 meters). Faith 7 weighed 4,330.82 pounds (1,964.43 kilograms) at liftoff.
During flight outside the atmosphere, the Mercury spacecraft could be controlled in its pitch, roll and yaw axes by hydrogen peroxide-fueled reaction control thrusters. Both manual and automatic attitude control were available. It could not accelerate or decelerate (except for reentry) so it could not change its orbit.
The spacecraft cabin was pressurized to 5.5 psi with 100% oxygen. Gordon Cooper wore a modified B.F. Goodrich Mark IV full-pressure suit and flight helmet for protection in the event that cabin pressure was lost. Cooper’s suit varied considerably from those worn by previous Mercury astronauts.
The rocket, a “1-½ stage” liquid-fueled Atlas LV-3B, number 109-D, was built by the Convair Division of General Dynamics at San Diego, California. It was developed from a U.S. Air Force SM-65 Atlas D intercontinental ballistic missile, modified for use as a “man-rated” orbital launch vehicle.
The LV-3B was 65 feet (19.812 meters) long from the base to the Mercury adapter section, and the tank section is 10 feet (3.038 meters) in diameter. The complete Mercury-Atlas orbital launch vehicle is 93 feet (28.436 meters) tall, including the escape tower. When ready for launch it weighed approximately 260,000 pounds (117,934 kilograms).
The Atlas’ three engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation, Inc., at Canoga Park, California. Two Rocketdyne LR89-NA-5 engines and one LR105-NA-5 produced 341,140 pounds (1,517.466 kilonewtons) of thrust. The rocket was fueled by a highly-refined kerosene, RP-1, with liquid oxygen as the oxidizer.
Faith 7 is displayed at the Space Center Houston, the visitor center for the Johnson Space Flight Center, Houston, Texas.
© 2019, Bryan R. Swopesby