Tag Archives: Project Mercury

15 May 1963, 13:04:13.106 UTC, T plus 00:00:00.106

Mercury Atlas 9 (MA-9), consisting of  Faith 7 and Atlas 130-D, lifts off from Launch Complex 14 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 13:04:13 UTC, 15 May 1963. (NASA)

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).

Major L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., United States Air Force. NASA Astronaut. (March 6, 1927 – October 4, 2004). Major Cooper is wearing a modified U.S. Navy Mark IV full-pressure suit produced by B.F. Goodrich. (NASA)

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).

Mercury spacecraft profile with dimensions. (NASA)

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.

Mercury-Atlas 9 at Laucnh Complex 14. The gantry has been pulled back, but the rocket has not been filled with propellants. (NASA)
Mercury-Atlas 9 at Launch Complex 14. The gantry has been pulled back, but the rocket has not been filled with propellants. Two men at the lower right of the image provide scale.(NASA)

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).

Diagram of Atlas LV-3B with Metric dimensions. (Space Launch Report)

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.

Mercury-Atlas 9 at Launch Complex 14. (NASA GPN-2000-000609)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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5 May 1961, 13:34:13.48 UTC, T plus 00:00:00.48

Mercury-Redstone 3 lifts off from LC-5, 09:34:13 EST, 5 May 1961. (NASA)
Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr., astronaut. (NASA)
Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr., Astronaut. (NASA)

At 09:34:13.48 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, 5 May 1961, Mercury-Redstone 3 lifted off from Launch Complex 5 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida. On board was a NASA Astronaut, Commander Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr., United States Navy. Shepard had named his spacecraft Freedom 7.

This was the very first time that an American astronaut had been carried into space aboard a rocket and came 23 days after Soviet Union Cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin had completed one orbit of the Earth.

During the launch, acceleration reached 6.3 gs. The Redstone’s engine shut down at T+02:21.3, with the rocket having reached a velocity of 7,388 feet per second (2,251.9 meters per second). 10 seconds later, the Mercury spacecraft separated from the Redstone booster. The spacecraft’s maximum speed was 5,134 miles per hour (8,262.4 kilometers per hour). For the next 5 minutes, 4 seconds, Alan Shepard was “weightless.” Freedom 7 reached a peak altitude of 101.2 nautical miles (116.46 statute miles/187.42 kilometers), 0.9 nautical miles (1.7 kilometers) higher than planned.

Alan B. Shepard, Jr., seated in the cockpit of Freedom 7 before launch, 5 May 1961. (NASA)

Alan Shepard’s flight was suborbital. The rocket launched the capsule on a ballistic trajectory. Shepard experienced “weightlessness” for approximately 5 minutes. During the flight, Shepard demonstrated the use of manually controlled thrusters to orient the Mercury capsule in three axes.

Freedom 7 began reentry to the atmosphere at T+07:38. Deceleration forces reached 11.0 gs. Shepard manually controlled the vehicle’s attitude, and once correctly oriented for reentry, reverted to automatic control. With the blunt (bottom) end of the spacecraft forward, aerodynamic drag slowed the capsule. A spherical-segment ablative Beryllium heat shield protected the space ship and its passenger.

On reaching the lower atmosphere, the capsule’s speed was reduced by a 63-foot (19.2 meter) diameter ring-sail parachute, and a “landing bag” deployed from the base of the spacecraft to provide an impact cushion. The landing, or “splash down,” took place in the Atlantic Ocean, 263.1 nautical miles (302.8 statute miles/487.3 kilometers) down range, 6.8 nautical miles (7.8 miles/12.6 kilometers) farther than planned. (N. 75° 53′, W. 27° 13.7′)

The total duration of Alan Shepard’s flight was 15 minutes, 28 seconds. All mission objectives were accomplished and no malfunctions occurred.

Alan B. Shepard, Jr., being hoisted aboard the Sikorsky HUS-1 Seahorse helicopter, N. 75° 53′, W. 27° 13.7′, in the Atlantic Ocean, 5 May 1961. (NASA)

Eleven minutes after splash down, Commander Shepard was hoisted from the capsule to a hovering U.S. Marine Corps HUS-1 Sea Horse (Sikorsky S-58) helicopter of Marine Helicopter Transport Squadron (Light) 262 (HMR(L)-262).¹ The helicopter then lifted the Mercury capsule and flew to the nearby U.S. Navy Ticonderoga-class anti-submarine aircraft carrier, USS Lake Champlain (CVS-39). The Mercury capsule returned to Cape Canaveral for inspection and found to be in excellent condition.

U.S. Marine Corps HUS-1 Seahorse (Sikorsky S-58) Bu. No. 148767 of HMR(L)-262 hovers while hoisting Alan Shepard from Freedom 7 after his sub-orbital flight, 5 May 1961. The Mercury capsule will also be lifted from the ocean by the helicopter and carried to USS Lake Champlain (CVS-39). (NASA)
USS Lake Champlain (CVS-39), 1 July 1960. (U.S. Navy)

Freedom 7 was the seventh of twenty Mercury capsules built by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation at St. Louis, Missouri, which would also build the follow-on, two-place Gemini spacecraft. It was delivered to Cape Canaveral 9 December 1960.

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). At launch, Freedom 7 weighed 4,040.28 pounds (1,832.64 kilograms).

Project Mercury spacecraft under construction at McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri. (NASA)

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 (0.38 Bar) with 100% oxygen. The astronaut wore a B.F. Goodrich Mark IV Model 3 Type I full-pressure suit and flight helmet for protection in the event that cabin pressure was lost.

Mercury-Redstone Launch Vehicle with dimensions. (NASA)

The Redstone MRLV rocket was a redesigned, “man rated” version of the Chrysler Corporation Missile Division-built United States Army M8 Redstone nuclear-armed medium range ballistic missile (MRBM). It was lengthened to provide greater fuel capacity, a pressurized instrumentation section was added, the control systems were simplified for greater reliability, and an inflight abort sensing system was installed. The rocket fuel was changed from hydrazine to ethyl alcohol.

The cylindrical booster was  59.00 feet (17.983 meters) long and 5 feet, 10 inches (1.778 meters) in diameter. The rocket had four guidance fins with rudders mounted at the tail section. (Interestingly, the Redstone stood freely on the launch pad. No hold-downs were used. The guidance fins supported the entire weight of the vehicle.)

Compare the U.S. Army M8 Redstone medium-range ballistic missile in this photograph to the Mercury-Redstone launch vehicle in the photograph above. This rocket, CC-1002, was the first Block 1 tactical rocket, photographed at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, 16 May 1958. (NASA)

The Redstone MRLV was powered by a single liquid-fueled NAA 75-110-A7 rocket engine built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation, Inc., at Canoga Park, California. The MR-3 A7 produced 78,860 pounds of thrust (350.79 kilonewtons) at Sea Level, and approximately 89,000 pounds (395.89 kilonewtons) in vacuum, burning ethyl alcohol with liquid oxygen.

The total vehicle height of Mercury-Redstone 3, including the booster, adapter, capsule and escape tower, was 83.38 feet (25.414 meters). The total MR-3 vehicle launch weight was 66,098 pounds (29,982 kilograms).

Alan B. Shepard, Jr. is credited with two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for this flight:

FAI Record File Num #9519 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – current record
Region: World
Class: K (Space records)
Sub-Class: K-1 (Suborbital missions)
Category: Spacecraft with one astronaut
Group: General category
Type of record: Altitude
Performance: 186.307 km
Date: 1961-05-05
Course/Location: Cape Canaveral, FL (USA)
Claimant Alan B. Shepard, Jr (USA)
Spacecraft: NASA Mercury Redstone MR-7 / Capsule Mercury Spacecraft n°7

FAI Record File Num #9520 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – current record
Region: World
Class: K (Space records)
Sub-Class: K-1 (Suborbital missions)
Category: Spacecraft with one astronaut
Group: General category
Type of record: Greatest mass lifted to altitude
Performance: 1 832.51 kg
Date: 1961-05-05
Course/Location: Cape Canaveral, FL (USA)
Claimant Alan B. Shepard, Jr (USA)
Spacecraft: NASA Mercury Redstone MR-7 / Capsule Mercury Spacecraft n°7

The flight of Freedom 7 was the first manned spaceflight in the 50-year history of the NASA program.¹ Alan Shepard would later command Apollo 14, the third successful manned lunar landing mission, in 1971.

Alan Shepard’s Mercury spacecraft, Freedom 7, is on display at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, Massachusetts.

Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 on display at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, Massachusetts.

¹ Sikorsky HUS-1 Sea Horse, Bu. No. 148767, modex ET-44. Sikorsky serial number 581318.

²  From the liftoff of Mercury-Redstone 3 until wheel stop of Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-135), the era of NASA’s Manned Spaceflight Programs lasted 50 years, 2 months, 15 days, 20 hours, 23 minutes, 41 seconds.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 April 1959

The Mercury 7: Front row, left to right, LCDR Walter Marty Schirra, USN; CAPT Donald Kent Slayton, USAF; LCOL John Herschel Glenn, Jr., USMC; LT Malcolm Scott Carpenter, USN. Back row, left to right, LCDR Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr., USN; CAPT Virgil Ivan Grissom, USAF; CAPT Leroy Gordon Cooper, Jr., USAF. (NASA)
The Mercury 7: Front row, left to right, LCDR Walter Marty Schirra, USN; CAPT Donald Kent Slayton, USAF; LCOL John Herschel Glenn, Jr., USMC; LT Malcolm Scott Carpenter, USN. Back row, left to right, LCDR Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr., USN; CAPT Virgil Ivan Grissom, USAF; CAPT Leroy Gordon Cooper, Jr., USAF. (NASA)

“The selection procedures for Project Mercury were directed by a NASA selection committee, consisting of Charles Donlan, a senior management engineer; Warren North, a test pilot engineer; Stanley White and William Argerson, flight surgeons; Allen Gamble and Robert Voas psychologists; and George Ruff and Edwin Levy, psychiatrists. The committee recognized that the unusual conditions associated with spaceflight are similar to those experienced by military test pilots. In January 1959, the committee received and screened 508 service records of a group of talented test pilots, from which 110 candidates were assembled. Less than one month later, through a variety of interviews and a battery of written tests, the NASA selection committee pared down this group to 32 candidates.

“Each candidate endured even more stringent physical, psychological, and mental examinations, including total body x-rays, pressure suit tests, cognitive exercises, and a series of unnerving interviews. Of the 32 candidates, 18 were recommended for Project Mercury without medical reservations. On April 1, 1959, Robert Gilruth, the head of the Space Task Group, and Donlan, North, and White selected the first American astronauts. The “Mercury Seven” were Scott Carpenter, L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., John H. Glenn, Jr., Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Alan B. Shepard, Jr., and Donald K. “Deke” Slayton.”

40th Anniversary of the Selection of the Mercury Seven http://history.nasa.gov/40thmerc7/intro.htm

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21 February 1961

Project Mercury astronauts with Convair F-106B-75-CO Delta Dart 59-0158. (NASA)
Project Mercury astronauts with Convair F-106B-75-CO Delta Dart 59-0158. (NASA)

21 February 1961: Final training begins for Mercury 7 astronauts. Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom and John Glenn are selected for the initial flights. Left-to-Right: Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton.

The aircraft in the photograph is a Convair F-106B-75-CO Delta Dart, 59-0158, a two-place supersonic interceptor trainer.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes
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20 February 1962, 14:47:39 UTC

Launch of Friendship 7 from Launch Complex 14, Kennedy Space Center, 14:47:39 UTC, 20 February 1962. (NASA)

20 February 1962: At 9:47:39 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, NASA’s Mercury-Atlas 6 lifted off from Launch Complex 14, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida. This was the third launch of a manned Mercury spacecraft, and the first time that an Atlas rocket had been used.

Aboard the spacecraft was Lieutenant Colonel John Herschel Glenn, Jr., United States Marine Corps, an experienced fighter pilot and test pilot.

John Herschel Glenn, Jr., NASA Project Mercury Astronaut. (Ralph Morse/LIFE Magazine)

In his post-flight mission report, Glenn wrote,

When the countdown reached zero, I could feel the engines start. The spacecraft shook, not violently but very solidly. There was no doubt when lift off occurred, When the Atlas was released there was an immediate gentle surge to let you know you were on your way.

Results of the First United States Orbital Space Flight (NASA-TM-108606), Manned Spacecraft Center, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, at Page 120, Column 1

2 minutes, 9.6 seconds after liftoff, the booster engines cut of and were jettisoned. 23 seconds later, the escape tower, no longer needed, was also jettisoned. The Atlas sustainer engine continued to burn until T+00:05:01.4. The spacecraft had now reached 17,544 miles per hour (28,234 kilometers per hour) and was in an elliptical orbit around the Earth. At T+00:05:03.6 the Mercury spacecraft separated from the Atlas booster. During the climb to orbit, John Glenn experienced a maximum acceleration of 7.7 gs.

Glenn’s orbit had an apogee of 162.2 statute miles (261 kilometers) and perigee of 100 miles (161 kilometers). The orbit was inclined 32.54° relative to Earth’s orbital plane. Friendship 7 completed an orbit every 88 minutes, 29 seconds.

Analysis showed that the Atlas had placed Friendship 7 in orbit at a velocity with 7 feet per second (2.1 meters per second) less than nominal. However, computer analysis showed that the orbital trajectory was good enough for nearly 100 orbits.

This photograph of Friendship 7’s cockpit was taken in orbit around the Earth, 20 February 1962. Astronaut John Glenn’s hands and legs are visible at the lower edge of the image. (Ohio State University)

During the 4 hour, 55 minute, 23 second flight, the Mercury capsule orbited the Earth three times. John Glenn was the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth.  (Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had orbited the Earth 12 April 1961.)

Friendship 7 is hoisted aboard USS Noa (DD-841). (U.S. Navy)

After re-entry, the capsule parachuted into the Atlantic Ocean, only six miles from the recovery ship, USS Noa (DD-841).

Mercury spacecraft profile with dimensions. (NASA)

The Mercury spacecraft, Friendship 7, was built by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri. It was the 13th Mercury capsule built. Designed to carry one pilot, it could be controlled in pitch, roll and yaw by steam thrusters fueled by hydrogen peroxide. The Mercury was 7 feet, 2.83 inches (2.206 meters) long, not including its retro rocket pack. The spacecraft was generally conical, and had a maximum diameter of 6 feet, 2.50 inches (1.885 meters). It weighed 2,700 pounds (1,224.7 kilograms) at launch.

Diagram of Atlas LV-3B (Space Launch Report)

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 (118,000 kilograms) and could place a 3,000 pound (1,360 kilogram) payload into low Earth orbit.

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.

Friendship 7 is displayed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

John Glenn's Mercury spacecraft, Friendship 7, on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.)
John Glenn’s Mercury spacecraft, Friendship 7, on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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