|Result||Accomplished goal but no firsts|
US flight firsts:
|Rockets||Atlas D, Redstone and Little Joe|
|Contractor||McDonnell Aircraft (spacecraft)|
|Cost||$1.68 billion (current prices)|
|Followers||Gemini and Apollo|
|Rival||Vostok program (Soviet)|
Project Mercury was the first human spaceflight program of the UnitedStates lead by its newly created space agency NASA. It ran from 1959through 1963 with the goal of putting a human in orbit around the Earth,and doing it before the Soviet Union, as part of the early space race. Itinvolved 7 astronauts flying a total of 6 solo trips. On 5 May 1961, AlanShepard became the first American in space in a suborbital flight after theSoviet Union had put Yuri Gagarin into space and orbit one month earlier. John Glenn became the first American to reach orbit on 20February 1962, he was the third person to do so, after soviet Gherman Titov had made a day long flight in August 1961. When the project endedin May 1963 USA was still behind Soviet but the gap was seen as closingand a race to the Moon had begun.
The space race started in 1957 by the launch of the Soviet satelliteSputnik I. This came as a shock to the American public and lead to thecreation of NASA to gather the efforts in space exploration alreadyexisting in USA. After the launch of the first American satellite in 1958,manned space flight became the next goal. The spacecraft was producedby McDonnell Aircraft. It was cone shaped with room for one persontogether with supplies of water, food and oxygen in a pressurized cabin.It was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida by modified militarymissiles, most importantly Atlas D, and had a rescue tower for protectionfrom a failing rocket. The whole flight could be controlled from the groundthrough a network of tracking stations which also allowed communicationwith the astronaut. If necessary, the astronaut could override commandsfrom the ground. For reentry into Earth's atmosphere, small rockets wereused to bring the spacecraft out of its orbit. A heatshield would protectthe spacecraft from the friction of the air and, a parachute would slow thecraft for a water landing. Here both astronaut and spacecraft were pickedup by helicopter and brought to a ship.
From a slow start with humiliating mistakes the Mercury Project becamepopular and the manned flights were watched by millions on radio and TVnot only in USA but around the world. Apart from the manned missions,Mercury had a total of 20 unmanned launches as a part of thedevelopment of the project. This also involved test animals, mostfamously the chimpanzees Ham and Enos. Mercury laid the groundworkfor Project Gemini and the follow-on Apollo moon-landing program, whichwas announced a few weeks after the first manned flight. The astronautswent under the name Mercury Seven and they named their spacecraftwith a "7" to the name. The project name was taken from Mercury, a Roman god. It is estimated to have cost $1.68 billion and have involvedthe work of 2 million people.