Research and Development Phase of Project Mercury

October 3, 1958 through December 1959


October 3-7

Studies and plans of the manned satellite project were presented to Advanced Research Projects Agency on October 3 and to Dr. T. Keith Glennan, NASA Administrator, on October 7. On October 7, 1958, Dr. Glennan approved the project by saying, in effect, "Let's get on with it." (See fig. 2)

Spacecraft in orbit
Figure 2. Mercury spacecraft in orbit: Artist's conception.

October 6

Personnel from the Langley Research Center visited the Army Ballistic Missile Agency to open negotiations for procuring Redstone and Jupiter launch vehicles for manned satellite projects.

October 7-8

Personnel from the Space Task Group involved in the study of reentry methods visited the Air Force Wright Air Development Center, Dayton, Ohio, for the purpose of preparing test specimens. Along with individuals from the center and the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division, the group then met at the Chicago Midway Laboratories, Chicago, Illinois, to investigate various ablation methods of reentry. Concurrently, these same methods were being investigated at high-temperature test facilities at Langley.

October 9

In behalf of the manned satellite project, an air drop program for full-scale parachute and landing system development was started at Langley.

October 14

The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Supply and Logistics invited the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to submit nominations for materiel procurement urgency (commonly known as the DX priority rating).

October 17-18

Langley Research Center personnel visited the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division, Inglewood, California, to open negotiations for procuring Atlas launch vehicles for the manned satellite project.

October 21

A bidders' briefing for the Little Joe launch vehicle was held. As earlier mentioned, this launch vehicle was to be used in the development phase of the manned satellite project. (See January 16, 1958, entry). The Little Joe launch vehicle was 48 feet in height, weighed (at maximum) 41,330 pounds, was 6.66 feet in diameter, consisted of four Pollux and four Recruit clustered, solid-fuel rockets, could develop a thrust of 250,000 pounds, and could lift a maximum payload of 3,942 pounds. (See fig. 3.)

Little Joe
Figure 3. Little Joe on launcher at Wallops during checkout.

October 23

Preliminary specifications for a manned spacecraft were established to industry. These specifications outlined the program and suggested methods of analysis and construction.

October 27

A special Committee on Life Sciences was established at Langley to determine qualifications and attributes required of personnel to be selected for America's first manned space flight and to give advice on other human aspects of the manned satellite program.

October (during the month)

Drop tests of full-scale capsules from a C-130 airplane were started to check parachute deployment and spacecraft stability. Preliminary drops of the parachute system were made from a NASA helicopter at West Point, Virginia. These drops involved the use of a concrete-filled drum attached to an operating canister system. The purpose of this phase was to demonstrate the adequacy of the mechanical system of deploying the parachutes. Subsequently, the drops were made by the C-130's at Pope Field, North Carolina, from low levels to perfect a means of extracting the spacecraft from the aircraft. Full-scale spacecraft and operating parachutes were used in these drops, and all operational features of the drop-test program were worked out. The next phase was the research and development drops offshore of Wallops Island, Virginia, and the objectives here were as follows: to study the stability of the spacecraft during free fall and with parachute support; to study the shock input to the spacecraft by parachute deployment; and to study and develop retrieving operations.

Design work was started on the Little Joe vehicles and test model spacecraft.

Dr. W. Randolph Lovelace II was appointed by NASA Headquarters as Chairman of a Special Committee on Life Sciences by T. Keith Glennan, the NASA Administrator. After prospective astronaut candidates were interviewed in Washington, D. C., those chosen for further consideration received medical examinations at the Lovelace Clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico (see Feb. 1-14, 1959, entry).

November 3

The initial contingent of military service aeromedical personnel reported for duty and began working on human factors, crew selection, and crew training plans for the manned spacecraft program.

November 5

The Space Task Group, unofficially established on October 8, 1958, was officially formed at Langley Field, Virginia, to implement a manned satellite project. Robert R. Gilruth and Charles J. Donlan were appointed as Project Manager and Assistant Project Manager, respectively. The memorandum of establishment listed a total of 35 people from Langley assigned to the Space Task Group. The following personnel were transferred from the Langley Research Center to the newly established Space Task Group: *Robert R. Gilruth, Charles J. Donlan, *Paul E. Purser, *Maxime A. Faget, Charles H. Zimmerman, *William M. Bland, *Aleck C. Bond, Alan B. Kehlet, *Charles W. Mathews, *Edison M. Fields, *Robert G. Chilton, *Jerome B. Hammack, *Jack C. Heberlig, *Claiborne R. Hicks, Ronald Kolenkiewicz, *Christopher C. Kraft, *Howard C. Kyle, *William T. Lauten, *John B. Lee, *George F. MacDougall, *John P. Mayer, *William C. Muhley, *Herbert G. Patterson, Harry H. Ricker, Frank C. Robert, Joseph J. Rollins, Ronelda F. Sartor, Paul D. Taylor, Shirley J. Hartley, Norma L. Livesay, Betsy F. Magin, Jacquelyn B. Stearn, *Julia R. Watkins, *Nancy C. Lowe, and Shirley P. Watkins. ( * Assigned to Manned Spacecraft Center as of November 1962). Personnel detailed from the Lewis Research Center to the Space Task Group and Project Mercury were as follows: E. H. Buller, A. M. Busch, W. R. Dennis, M. J. Krasnican, *Glynn S. Lunney, *Andre J. Meyer, W. R. Meyer, W. J. Nesbitt, *Gerald J. Pesman, and Leonard Rabb. Individuals from Lewis remained on a detailed status until 1959 when they were permanently reassigned to the Space Task Group. The 45 people listed above were the embryo work force of Project Mercury.
As a note of interest, on the fourth anniversary of the activation document, 21 of the original Langley reassignees and 3 of the Lewis group were members of the Manned Spacecraft Center, the successor of the Space Task Group.

November 7

A contractor briefing, attended by some 40 prospective bidders on the manned spacecraft, was held at the Langley Research Center. More detailed specifications were then prepared and distributed to about 20 manufacturers who had stated an intention to bid on the project.

November 14

Specifications for the manned spacecraft (Specification Number S-6) were issued, and final copies were mailed on November 17, 1958, to 20 firms which had indicated a desire to be considered as bidders.

The highest national procurement priority rating (DX) was requested for the manned spacecraft project.

Twenty firms notified the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of their intention to prepare proposals for the development of the manned spacecraft. NASA set the deadline for proposal submission as December 11, 1958.

November 20

The three military services were invited to send one man each to the Space Task Group tp perform liaison duties for the manned spacecraft project. These posts were filled in January 1959 by Lt. Colonel Martin Raines, Army; Lt. Colonel Keith Lindell, Air Force; and Commander Paul Havenstein, Navy.

November 24

The Space Task Group placed an order for one Atlas launch vehicle with the Air Force Missile Division, Inglewood, California, as part of a preliminary research program leading to manned space flight. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration Headquarters requested that the Air Force construct and launch one Atlas C launch vehicle to check the aerodynamics of the spacecraft. It was the intention to launch this missile about May 1959 in a ballistic trajectory. This was to be the launch vehicle for the Big Joe reentry test shot, but plans were later changed and an Atlas Model D launch vehicle was used instead.

November 26

The manned satellite program was officially designated Project Mercury.

Space Task Group personnel presented a proposed program for Langley Research Center support in the Little Joe phase of Project Mercury. Langley was favorably inclined, and after a survey of manpower and facility availability, notified Space Task Group on December 5, 1958, of its willingness to support the program. Langley tasks involved contracting for engineering, construction, services, data processing, analysis, and reporting research results.

November 28

Less than 18 months after the first flight, an Atlas launch vehicle was launched 6,300 miles down range from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

November (during the month)

A scale model of the Mercury spacecraft (without escape tower), oriented for the reentry phase, was tested at transonic Mach numbers in a 1-foot transonic test tunnel at the Arnold Engineering Development Center, Tullahoma, Tennessee.


Study was started on spacecraft recovery operations. During this study period, it was learned that the retrieving operation could be very difficult; but with properly designed equipment, helicopter pickup could be used and appeared to be the most favorable method.

December 1

Design of the Big Joe spacecraft for the Project Mercury reentry test (the spacecraft would be boosted by an Atlas launch vehicle over a ballistic trajectory) was accomplished by the Space Task Group. Construction of the spacecraft was assigned as a joint task of the Langley and Lewis Research Centers under the direction of the Space Task Group. The instrument package was developed by Lewis personnel assigned to the Space Task Group, and these individuals later became the nucleus of the Space Task Group's Flight Operations Division at Cape Canaveral.

December 2

Space Task Group officials visited the Army Ballistic Missile Agency to determine the feasibility of using the Jupiter launch vehicle for the intermediate phase of Project Mercury, to discuss the Redstone program, and to discuss the cost for Redstone and Jupiter launch vehicles.

December 8

The Space Task Group indicated that nine Atlas launch vehicles were required in support of the Project Mercury manned and unmanned flights and these were ordered from the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division.

December 9

An aeromedical selection team composed of Major Stanley C. White, Air Force; Lt. Robert B. Voas, Navy; and Captain William Augerson, Army, drafted a tentative astronaut selection procedure. According to the plan, representatives from the services and industry would nominate 150 men by January 21, 1959; 36 of these would be selected for further testing which would reduce the group to 12; and in a 9-month training period, a hard core of 6 men would remain. At the end of December 1958, this plan was rejected.

December 10

The Space Task Group appointed a Technical Assessment Committee, with Charles H. Zimmerman serving as chairman, to assist the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Source Selection Board. This group provided the board with technical ratings on contractor proposals. Technical specialists throughout the Space Task Group supplied specific component assessment information to the committee.

December 11

The Lewis Research Center presented its funding requirements for the attitude control and instrumentation systems for the Big Joe flight test spacecraft. Confirmation of agreements and fund transfer were forwarded by the Space Task Group to Lewis on February 17, 1959.

Eleven firms submitted proposals for the development of a manned spacecraft. These were AVCO, Chance-Vought, Convair, Douglas, Grumman, Lockheed, Martin, McDonnell, North American, Northrop, and Republic. In addition, Winzen Research Laboratories submitted an incomplete proposal.

December 12

Robert R. Gilruth, Mercury Project Manager, requested that the Lewis Flight Research Branch provide technical support for Project Mercury. The Space Task Group was particularly interested in Lewis' instrumentation facilities for use in research and development tests of Big Joe.

Space Task Group personnel began technical assessment of manned spacecraft development proposals submitted by industry. Charles Zimmermann headed the technical assessment team.

Space Task Group received a "Development and Funding Plan" from the Army Ordnance Missile Command in support of Project Mercury.

December 13

Gordo, a primate, was launched into space aboard an Army Jupiter missile nose cone. Although nose cone recovery efforts failed because the float mechanism attached to the nose cone did not function, telemetry data provided useful biomedical information and disclosed that the Navy-trained squirrel monkey had withstood the space flight and reentry phase without any adverse physiological effects. Gordo was in a weightless state for 8.3 minutes, he experienced a 10g pressure in takeoff, and a 40g pressure upon reentry at 10,000 miles per hour.

December 17

Dr. T. Keith Glennan referred to the manned satellite project as Project Mercury in a policy speech for the first time.

December 29

A contract was awarded to North American Aviation for design and construction of the Little Joe air frame.

December 30

Space Task Group's technical assessment teams completed the evaluation of industry proposals for design and construction of a manned spacecraft and forwarded their findings to the Source Selection Board, NASA Headquarters.

December 31

The letter-of-intent was placed with North American Aviation for the fabrication of the Little Joe Test vehicle air frame. Delivery of the air frames for flight testing was scheduled to occur every three weeks beginning in June 1959. Space Task Group had ordered all the major rocket motors, which were scheduled for delivery well ahead of the Little Joe flight test schedule. The spacecraft for this phase of the program was being designed and construction would start shortly. Thus the Little Joe program should meet its intended flight test schedule.

December (during the month)

A draft checklist entitled "Overall Technical Assessment of Proposals for Manned Space Capsule," was prepared by the Space Task Group for use by the Source Selection Board.


January 5

Qualifications were established for pilot selection in a meeting at the NASA Headquarters. These qualifications were as follows: age, less than 40; height, less than 5 feet 11 inches; excellent physical condition; bachelor's degree or equivalent; graduate of test pilot school; 1,500 hours flight time; and a qualified jet pilot.

January 6

A meeting was held at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Headquarters to discuss the method for spacecraft heat protection. Two plans were considered: beryllium heat sink and ablation. Based on this meeting a decision was made to modify the spacecraft structure in order to accomodate interchangeably ablation heat shields and beryllium heat sinks , and orders were placed for 12 and 6, respectively. The material chosen for the ablation heat was Fiberglas bonded with a modified phenolic resin. This material was found to have good structural properties even after being subjected to reentry heating.

January 9

The Source Selection Board at NASA Headquarters composed of Abe Silverstein, Ralph Cushman, George Low, Walter Schier, DeMarquis Wyatt, and Charles Zimmerman, completed their findings and reported to Dr. T. Keith Glennan, the Administrator. McDonnell Aircraft Corporation was selected as the prime contractor to develop and produce the Mercury spacecraft.

Representatives of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Department of Defense met to coordinate requirements of the two agencies and arrived at an agreement for a "National Program to Meet Satellite and Space Vehicle Tracking Requirements for FY59 and FY60." This meeting led to the formation of a continuing NASA-DOD Space Flight Tracking Resources Committee.

January 14

Preliminary negotiations were started with McDonnell on the technical and legal aspects of the Mercury spacecraft research and development program.

January 16

NASA requested the Army Ordnance Missile Command, Huntsville, Alabama, to construct and launch eight Redstone launch vehicles and two Jupiter launch vehicles in support of Project Mercury manned and unmanned flights.

During a meeting of the Space Task Group, it was decided to negotiate with McDonnell for design of spacecraft that could be fitted with either a beryllium heat sink or an ablation heat shield. Robert R. Gilruth, the project director, considered that for safety purposes, both should be used. He also felt that the recovery landing bag should be replaced by a honeycombed crushable structure. At this same meeting, a tentative decision was also made that design, development, and contract responsibilities for the Mercury tracking network would be assigned to the Langley Research Center.

January 21

The screening of records for prospective astronauts began.

January 23

Funds in the amount of $1,556, 200 were made available to the Langley Research Center for the Little Joe development program. The remaining funds of total program costs ($3, 946,000) had already been made available to Langley in a previous transfer of funds.

January 25

The pilot egress trainer was received from McDonnell and rough water evaluation of the equipment was started immediately by Space Task Group personnel. (See fig. 4.)

Figure 4. Pilot egress trainer.

January 26

NASA completed contract negotiations with McDonnell for the design and development of the Mercury spacecraft. (See fig. 5.) At that time, McDonnell estimated that the first 3 spacecraft could be delivered in 10 months. Spacecraft refinements slipped this estimated goal by only 2 months.

McDonnell plant
Figure 5. Manufacture of Mercury spacecraft at McDonnell plant, St. Louis, Mo.

January 29

The Little Joe flight test program was drafted. This plan was updated on April 14, 1959. Primary objectives of the test were to investigate flight dynamics, check drogue parachute operations, determine physiological effects of acceleration on a small primate, and, to some extent, check the spacecraft aerodynamic characteristics.

January 30

Admiral Arleigh Burke, Chief of Naval Operations, advised Dr. T. Keith Glennan that Navy candidates for Project Mercury had started in the first selection process.

January (during the month)

McDonnell, as prime contractor, selected Minneapolis-Honeywell as subcontractor for the Mercury stabilization system. At that time, other subcontractors were under consideration for the fabrication of various components: Bell Aircraft Rockets Division, reaction control system; and General Electric, Barnes Instruments, and Detroit Controls were being considered for fabrication of the horizon scanner. Later Bell and Barnes were awarded contracts for respective components.

Balloon flights were planned for high-altitude qualification tests of the complete spacecraft, including all instrumentation, retrorockets, drogue parachute system, and recovery. Later balloon flights would be manned to provide as much as 24 hours of training followed by recovery at sea. The Space Task Group made surveys of organizations experienced in the balloon field and recommended that the Air Force Cambridge Research Center be given responsibilities for designing, contracting, and conducting the balloon program.

Development of the Mercury pressure suit was started.

Animal payloads, including pigs and small primates, were planned for some of the Little Joe test flights.


Study contracts were awarded to Aeronutronics, Space Electronics, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory for assistance in developing plans for tracking and ground instrumentation for Project Mercury.


Investigations were conducted at the Arnold Engineering Development Center, Tullahoma, Tennessee, in support of Project Mercury. Models of the Mercury spacecraft were tested at speeds of Mach 8, 16, and 20 to investigate stability, heat transfer, and pressure distribution of Mercury components.

February 1-14

Some 508 records were reviewed for prospective pilot candidates of which about 110 appeared to qualify. The special committee on Life Sciences decided to divide these into two groups and 69 prospective pilot candidates were briefed and interviewed in Washington. Out of this number, 53 volunteered for the Mercury program, and 32 of the 53 were selected for further testing. The committee agreed there was no further need to brief other individuals, because of the high qualities exhibited in the existing pool of candidates. These 32 were scheduled for physical examination at the Lovelace Clinic, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

February 5

The Navy agreed to perform field service functions in procurement and supply in support of Project Mercury at the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation plant site.

NASA personnel visited the Wright Air Development Center to investigate its methods and facilities for measuring airborne noise and vibrations.

February 6

Following industry-wide competition, a formal contract for research and development of the Mercury spacecraft was negotiated with the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation. The contract called for design and construction of 12 Mercury spacecraft, but it did not include details on changes and ground support equipment which were to be negotiated as the project developed. Later, orders were placed with the company for eight additional spacecraft, two procedural trainers, an environmental trainer, and seven checkout trainers. McDonnell had been engaged in studying the development of a manned spacecraft since the NACA presentation in mid-March of 1958.

February 7

At the Lovelace Clinic, Albuquerque, New Mexico, the medical tests for the Mercury astronaut selection were started.

February 10

Wiind tunnel tests of Project Mercury configuration models were started. By the end of the year, over 70 different models had been tested by facilities at the Air Force's Arnold Engineering Development Center and the NASA Langley, Ames (fig. 6.), and Lewis Research Centers.

Figure 6. Shadowgraph of spacecraft model in Ames Supersonic Free-Flight Pressurized Range.

February 11

Space Task Group and Army Ballistic Missile Agency personnel met at Huntsville, Alabama, to discuss Redstone and Jupiter flight phases of Project Mercury. During the course of the meeting the following points became firm: (1) Space Task Group was the overall manager and technical director of this phase of the program, (2) ABMA was responsible for the launch vehicle until spacecraft separation, (3) ABMA was responsible for the Redstone launch vehicle recovery (this phase of the program was later eliminated since benefits from recovering the launch vehicle would have been insignificant), (4) Space Task Group was responsible for the spacecraft flight after separation, (5) McDonnell was responsible for the adapters for the Mercury-Redstone configuration, and (6) ABMA would build adapters for the Mercury-Jupiter configuration. Because many points could only be settled by detailed design studies, it was decided to establish several working panels for later meetings.

February 12

Search and recovery support by the Navy was discussed in a meeting with officials of that service and NASA. At the end of the conference, a NASA-Navy Committee was formed to work out a detailed plan. NASA members included E. C. Buckley, C. W. Mathews, and G. M. Low. The Navy was represented by Captain J. W. Gannon, with other members to be chosen at a later date.

February 12-13

Discussions were held at Langley Field between the Space Task Group and the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division covering aspects of the use of Atlas launch vehicles in Project Mercury. Specifically discussed were technical details of the first Atlas test flight (Big Joe), the abort sensing capability for later flights, and overall program objectives.

February 15

The medical examinations at the Wright Air Development Center for the final selection of the Mercury astronauts were started.

February 17

The first formal meeting of the Navy-NASA Committee on Project Mercury search and recovery operations was held. They decided that joint recovery exercises would be initiated as soon as possible. The committee members determined that the Navy, particularly the Atlantic fleet, could support operations from Wallops Island; could perform search and recovery operations along the Atlantic Missile Range, using of the selected Project Mercury vehicles; and that naval units could support operations in the escape area between Cape Canaveral and Bermuda.

Members of the Space Task Group, Langley, Ames, McDonnell and NASA Headquarters drafted a coordinated program for wind tunnel and free-flight tests in support of Project Mercury.

February 19

In a speech, Dr. T. K. Glennan estimated that Project Mercury would cost over $200 million. The cost, he said in effect, was high because a new area of technology was being explored for the first time and there were no precedents or experience factors from which to draw, and because the world-wide tracking network construction was a tremendous undertaking.

February 20

Responsibility for planning and contracting for Project Mercury tracking facilities was formally assigned to the Langley Research Center (see January 16, 1959, entry).

February 24

Mercury-Redstone-Jupiter Study Panel Number IV (choice of trajectory, aerodynamics, and flight loads) met at Redstone Arsenal. Subjects studied included pilot safety, simulation of entry from orbit, length of zero-g time, missile stability and aerodynamics, ascent accelerations, and range. This group reconvened on March 13, 1959.

February 26

Panel Number I (Design Subcommittee) met at Redstone Arsenal for the first time to discuss integration requirements for the Mercury spacecraft with the Redstone and Jupiter launch vehicles.

Space Task Group and Langley Research Center personnel visited the Arnold Engineering Development Center, Tullahoma, Tennessee, to ascertain if the AEDC facilities were equipped to perform tests on scale models of the Mercury spacecraft and to arrange a testing schedule.

February 27

Space Task Group personnel established the design trajectory for the Big Joe flight test. Convair Astronautics and Space Technology Laboratories personnel provided consultation and advice on ways in which these trajectory requirements could be met.

February (during the month)

During a meeting between personnel of the Space Task Group and the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division, the responsibilities of the two organizations were outlined for the first two Atlas firings. Space Technology Laboratories, under Air Force Ballistic Missile Division direction, would select the design trajectories according to the specifications set forth by the Space Task Group. These specifications were to match a point in the trajectory at about 450,000 feet, corresponding to a normal reentry condition for the manned spacecraft after firing of the retrorockets at an altitude of 120 nautical miles. Space Technology Laboratories would also provide impact dispersion data, data for range safety purposes, and the necessary reprograming of the guidance computers. The spacecraft for the suborbital Atlas flights would be manufactured under the deriction of the Lewis Research Center, based on Space Task Group designs. Space Task Group was developing the spacecraft instrumentation, with a contingent of personnel at the Lewis Research Center. The attitude control system was being developed by Lewis.

Six working panels concerned with various aspects of the Mercury-Redstone program were formed to resolve problem areas that might arise. Later the number of panels was reduced to four, and then to three. Typical areas of study included design coordination, pilot safety, and aerodynamics, to name a few.

March 6

Space Task Group and McDonnell officials met in St. Louis, Missouri, to discuss spare part and ground support equipment requirements for Project Mercury. Shortly thereafter, McDonnell submitted a preliminary plan for spare parts and check-out equipment to Space Task Group and NASA Headquarters for review.

March 8

An abort test was conducted at Wallops Island on a full-scale model of the spacecraft with the escape tower, using a Recruit escape rocket. The configuration did not perform as expected (erratic motion), and as a result, the Langley Research Center was requested to test small-scale flight models of the abort system to determine its motion in flight.

March 9

The Langley Research Center began exploratory noise transmission tests. The Center had also completed a report on rocket engine noise for use in determining the level of noise to which the prototype Mercury spacecraft would be subjected.

Tests were in progress at Langley and Wallops Island on several types of ablating materials under environmental conditions that would be experienced by a spacecraft reentering from orbit.

March 10

The Space Task Group was notified by McDonnell that several of its subcontractors were experiencing difficulties in procuring material necessary to fabricate Project Mercury components. This delay was being caused by the lack of a DX priority procurement rating.

March 11

Langley's Pilotless Aircraft Research Division conducted, at Wallops Island, the first full-scale test simulating a pad-abort situation. A full weight and size spacecraft was used. For the first 50 feet the flight was essentially straight, indicating the successful functioning of the abort rocket. Thereafter, the spacecraft pitched through several turns and impacted a short distance from the shore. The malfunction was traced to the loss of a graphite insert from one of the three abort rocket nozzles, which caused a misalignment of thrust.

March 16

Purchase approval in the amount of $125,000 was requested by the Space Task Group from NASA Headquarters for the procurement of five developmental pressure suits for Project Mercury.

March 17

Funds were requested to purchase 6 main parachute and 12 drogue parachute canisters (fig. 7) from the Goodyear Aircraft Corporation in support of the Little Joe and Big Joe phases of Project Mercury.

Parachute canister
Figure 7. Equipment installation in the parachute canister.

March 17-18

A Mock-Up Inspection Board meeting was held at the McDonnell plant to review the completed spacecraft mock-up. (See fig. 8.) As a result of this meeting, the contractor was directed to restudy provisions made for pilot egress; rearrange crew space to make handles, actuators, and other instruments more accessible to the pilot; and modify the clock, sequence lights, and other displays. This same type of meeting was held on many subsequent occasions to review production spacecraft.

mock-up of Mercury spacecraft
Figure 8. McDonnell mock-up of Mercury spacecraft including Atlas adapter and escape system.

March 20

John H. Disher was appointed as coordinator of the study panels. The purpose of this function was to prepare a unified source of information for organizations involved in the Mercury Program. The objective was to bring program plans and proposals together at a central location.

Mercury-Redstone and Mercury-Jupiter test objectives were discussed in a meeting at Langley between Space Task Group and Army Ballistic Missile Agency personnel. At that time it was decided that the first flights of both the Redstone and Jupiter would be unmanned. The second flights would be "manned" with primates, and the Jupiter phase would end at that point. The six remaining Redstones would be used in manned flights for astronaut training.

Space Task Group personnel prepared a study on the "Recovery Operations for Project Mercury" covering plans for suborbital and orbital flights. This document was forwarded to the Department of Defense for comment and for briefing of appropriate units.

March 23

As of this date, the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation listed some 32 items that required a DX priority procurement rating in support of Project Mercury. This highest national priority procurement rating had been requested by NASA on November 14, 1958.

March 26

The Langley Research Center received approval for funds to conduct hypersonic flight tests for the Mercury spacecraft. Langley's Pilotless Aircraft Research Division would conduct tests on heat transfer rates at a velocity of mach 17, and dynamic behavior tests from a velocity of mach 10 to a subsonic speed.

Space Task Group, Langley Research Center, and Air Force School of Aviation Medicine personnel met to plan bio-pack experiments that would be placed in several of the Little Joe research and development test flights.

March 27

Dr. T. Keith Glennan, the NASA Administrator, provided instructions for the marking of vehicles launched for the NASA, including the Mercury spacecraft. He stated that policy would be to paint UNITED STATES in bold block form.

March 28

Space Task Group officials were involved in an investigation as to whether the escape system should be changed. In the original proposal, McDonnell's plan was to use eight small rockets housed in a fin adapter, but this plan was set aside for a NASA developed plan in which a single-motor tripod would be used. Later, during a test of the escape system, the escape rockets appeared to fire properly but the spacecraft began to tumble after launch. This tumbling action caused concern, and Space Task Group engineers felt that the tower-escape system might have to be discarded, and a "second look" was taken at the McDonnell proposal. The engineers concluded, however, that there were too many problems involved and the single-motor tripod concept was retained and has been proven to be quite effective. (See fig. 9.)

Figure 9. Escape rocket motor.

March 29

Studies were in progress to determine the optimum altitude for separation of the Little Joe spacecraft from its launch vehicle.

March 30

Space Task Group personnel visited the Atlantic Missile Range at the invitation of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency to observe a Jupiter launch vehicle firing and the procedures followed on the day preceding the firing. The group toured the blockhouse and received briefings on various recorders that might be used in the centralized control facility for Mercury-Redstone and Mercury-Jupiter flights.

March 31

Range Safety personnel at the Atlantic Missile Range were briefed by Space Task Group personnel on the description of the Mercury spacecraft, how it would function during a normal flight on an Atlas launch vehicle, and suggest methods for initiation of an abort during different powered phases of a flight. Atlantic Missile Range personnel discussed their past experience, and work was started to draft a Project Mercury range safety plan.

April 2

A preliminary briefing was conducted for prospective bidders on construction of the worldwide tracking range for Project Mercury. This meeting was attended by representatives from 20 companies. At this time the preliminary plan called for an orbital mission tracking network of 14 sites. Contacts had not been made with the governments of any of the proposed locations with the exception of Bermuda. It was planned that all the sites would have facilities for telemetry, voice communications with the pilot, and teletype (wire or radio) communications with centers in the United States for primary tracking. The tracking sites would provide the control center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, with trajectory predictions; landing-area predictions; and vehicle, systems, and pilot conditions.

Crew selection for Project Mercury was completed, resulting in the selection of seven astronauts to participate in the Mercury program.

April 2-16

NASA and the military services conducted meetings to draft final plans for the Project Mercury animal payload program. The animal program was planned to cover nine flights, involving Little Joe, Redstone, Jupiter, and Atlas launch vehicles.

An initial orientation was given to the seven Project Mercury astronauts, when they reported to the Space Task Group for duty.

After responsibility for the worldwide tracking range construction of Project Mercury had been assumed by the Langley Research Center, the following study contracts were placed: (1) Aeronutronics to study radar coverage and trajectory computation requirements, (2) RCA Service Corporation for specification writing, (3) Lincoln Laboratories for consultant services and proposal evaluations, and (4) Space Electronics for the design of the control center at Cape Canaveral.

The Chief of Naval Operations directed the Atlantic Fleet to support Project Mercury as follows: (1) landing and recovery systems in the area of Norfolk, Virginia, to develop spacecraft pickup and handling techniques for ships and helicopters, (2) recovery of capsules on solid rocket launch vehicle tests in the area of Wallops Island, and (3) Atlas launch vehicle development or ballistic flights from the Atlantic Missile Range. Details for orbital flight support had not been accomplished at that time.

April 9

At a press conference in Washington, D.C., Dr. T. Keith Glennan announced that seven pilots had been selected for the Mercury program. These were Lt. Commander Alan B. Shepard, Jr., Navy; Captain Virgil I. Grissom, Air Force; Lt. Colonel John H. Glenn, Jr., Marines; Lieutenant Malcolm Scott Carpenter, Navy; Lt. Commander Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Navy; Captain Donald K. Slayton, Air Force; Captain Leroy Gordon Cooper, Jr., Air Force. (See fig. 10.)

Figure 10. The seven Mercury astronauts: L to R: Carpenter, Cooper, Glenn, Grissom, Schirra, Shepard and Slayton.

April 9-10

Investigations of two escape configurations for Mercury spacecraft were conducted in a 16-foot transonic circuit at the Arnold Engineering Development Center, Tullahoma, Tennessee, for determination of static stability and drag characteristics of the configurations. (See fig. 11.)

Scale model
Figure 11. Scale model of escape tower configuration tested at Arnold Engineering Development Center.

April 10

Escape-motor canting-angle tests were completed at Wallops Island. Tests were conducted in 5 degree increments between 10 degrees to 30 degrees, and visually it appeared stability was better at the larger angle.

April 12

Tests were in progress at Langley in which an aluminium honeycomb structure was used partially to absorb the spacecraft impact load. (See fig. 12.) Robert R. Gilruth, Project Mercury Director, had stated his belief of this requirement on January 16, 1959.

Space Task Group conducted the second full-scale beach abort test on Wallops Island. A deliberate thrust misalignment of 1 inch was programed into the escape combination. Lift-off was effected cleanly, and a slow pitch started during the burning of the escape rocket motor. The tower separated as scheduled and the drogue and main parachutes deployed as planned. The test was fully successful.

Honeycomb structure
Figure 12. Honeycomb structure partially to absorb impact force.

April 13

Two small-scale spacecraft escape-tower combinations were launched successfully at Wallops Island, and on the next day a full-scale spacecraft escape system was launched. The complete sequence of events - escape system firing, escape tower jettisoning, parachute deployment, landing, and helicopter recovery - was satisfactory.

NASA placed a request with the Navy for the use of its Aviation Medical Acceleration Laboratory at Johnsville, Pennsylvania. NASA desired to use the laboratory's AMAL human centrifuge in support of the Mercury astronaut training program.

Rear Admiral J. W. Gannon was appointed by Donald A. Quarles, Deputy Secretary of Defense, to head a Department of Defense group to study with NASA the recovery aspects of Project Mercury.

April 15

Ground-instrumentation requirements for firing Little Joe test vehicles at Wallops Island were drafted. These requirements involved pulse radars, camera, Doppler radar, wind-monitoring instruments, telemetry equipment, and a ground destruct system.

April 16

NASA and the military services held a meeting to discuss the search and recovery aspects of Project Mercury. Admiral Gannon, the service spokesman, stated that the meeting was exploratory but that the Navy and other services would support the project.

Space Task Group, Langley Research Center, and Lewis Research Center personnel met to discuss development plans regarding construction and instrumentation of Big Joe Number I reentry spacecraft test vehicle. During the course of this meeting, milestone objectives of the work to be accomplished were drafted.

NASA requested that the Air Force furnish two TF-102B and two T-33 aircraft to be used by the Project Mercury astronauts. One of the requirements in the astronaut training program was to maintain proficiency in high performance aircraft.

April 22

In a meeting at Langley, NASA officials concluded that the tower configuration was the best escape system for the Mercury spacecraft and development would proceed using this concept. (See fig. 13.) However, limited studies of alternate configurations would continue (see March 28, 1959, entry).

Spacecraft configuration
Figure 13. Spacecraft and escape system configuration.

April 23-24

A meeting was held at Langley to coordinate the activities of individuals who would be engaged in handling, reducing, and analyzing data received from the Big Joe spacecraft. Procedures for data pickup and for supplying the information to the appropriate installation were established. A majority of the data reduction workload was carried out by the Lewis Research Center and the Space Task Group.

April 27

Project Mercury was accorded the DX priority procurement rating.

The seven Project Mercury astronauts reported for duty and their training program was undertaken immediately.

A tentative schedule of astronaut activities for the first months of training was issued. Actual training began the next day. Within 3 months the astronauts were acquainted with the various facets of the Mercury program. The first training week was as follows: Monday, April 27, check in; April 28, general briefing; April 29, spacecraft configuration and escape methods; April 30, support and restraint; May 1, operational concepts and procedures. These lectures were presented by specialists in the particular field of study. Besides the above, unscheduled activities involved 3 hours flying time and 4 hours of athletics.

April 27-28

The Department of Defense working group on Mercury search and recovery operations met at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, to establish service responsibilities and support for the first two Mercury-Atlas ballistic flights.

April (during the month)

In the recovery landing system, the extended-skirt main parachute was found to be unsafe for operation at altitudes of 10,000 feet and was replaced by a "ring-sail" parachute of similar size. This decision was made after a drop when the main parachute failed to open and assumed a "squidding" condition. Although little damage was sustained by the spacecraft on water impact, parachute experts decided that the ring-sail configuration should be adopted, and the air drop spacecraft were fitted.

May 1

A Little Joe Project Coordination Meeting, attended by personnel from Space Task Group, McDonnell, and Wallops Island, was held for the first time. The purpose of the meeting was to determine the status of various developmental phases and whether or not proper coordination was being effected with other related projects in the Mercury program (Big Joe, Mercury-Atlas, Mercury-Redstone, and Mercury-Jupiter). The important factor with regard to the latter item was whether or not a reasonable launch schedule could be established and maintained.

May 5

Space Task Group personnel held a meeting to discuss the complete recovery test program. Items of consideration included the availability of model spacecraft for the test, deciding the areas in which the tests would be held (Phase I - Wallops Island drops, and Phase II - Atlantic drops), and establishing the time schedule for the test program.

May 6

Pigs were eliminated as Little Joe flight test subjects when studies disclosed that they could not survive long periods of time on their backs. However, McDonnell did use a pig, "Gentle Bess," to test the impact crushable support, and the test was successful.

May 11

A spacecraft recovery study contract was awarded to Grumman Aircraft Corporation.

A NASA policy concerning Mercury astronauts was issued. The astronauts were subject to the regulations and directives of NASA, and information of unclassified nature reported by the astronauts would be disseminated to the public. These were but two examples in the policy statement.

May 12-14

An informal meeting of the Mock-Up Inspection Board was held at McDonnell to review changes to the spacecraft development program resulting from the March mock-up meeting. Besides the review, a number of suggestions were made for changes in the crew space layout to permit more effective use of the controls, particularly when the astronaut was in the pressure suit in a full-pressurized condition. Among suggested changes were the shoulder harness release, the spacecraft compression and decompression handles, the ready switch, and the spacecraft squib switch. Test subjects also found that when in the fully pressurized suit none of the circuit breakers could be reached. McDonnell was directed to act on these problem areas.

May 17

The Langley Research Center was in the process of preparing a one-fourteenth scale model of the Mercury spacecraft for launch from Wallops Island on a five-stage rocket to a speed of mach 18.

May 21

Langley Specification Number S-45, entitled "Specifications for Tracking and Ground Instrumentation System for Project Mercury," was issued. Proposals were received from seven contractor teams by June 22, 1959, and technical evaluations were started.

May 22

The Space Task Group, in the process of negotiations with the Army Ordnance Missile Command on the cost of Redstone and Jupiter boosters in support of Project Mercury, received revised funding estimates for study covering Contract HS-44 (Redstone) and HS-54 (Jupiter).

The Project Mercury balloon flight test program was canceled. The Space Task Group oficials determined that the spacecraft could be tested environmentally in the Lewis Research Center's altitude wind tunnel. This included correct temperature and altitude simulations to 80,000 feet. The pilot could exercise the attitude control system and retrorockets could be fired in the tunnel. Because an active contract did exist with the Air Force, it was decided the two balloon drop tests with unmanned boiler-plate spacecraft would be accomplished.

May 25

A meeting was held at Johnsville, Pennsylvania, to consider astronaut training programs on the centrifuge. (See fig. 14.) During this meeting, Space Task Group personnel reviewed a draft memorandum prepared by the Aviation Medical Acceleration Laboratory concerning the methods they felt should be used. Also, possible centrifuge training periods for the astronauts were discussed, and tentative dates were set for August 1959 and January 1960.

Figure 14. Human centrifuge at the Navy's Aviation Medical Acceleration Laboratory, Johnsville, Pennsylvania, used in Mercury astronaut training program.

May 28

North American Aviation delivered the first two Little Joe booster airframes, and noted that the four remaining were on fabrication schedule. The planned program was moving smoothly, for rocket motors to be used in the first flight were available at Wallops Station, Virginia, the test flight launching site. In addition, procurement of the test spacecraft incorporating Mercury flight items was on schedule, and the first spacecraft had been instrumented by Space Task Group personnel. Work was also in progress on other test spacecraft.

Primates Able and Baker, aboard an Army Jupiter missile nose cone, were launched 300 miles into space and landed 1,700 miles down range from the launch site at Cape Canaveral. Telemetry data disclosed that the responses of the animals were normal for the conditions they were experiencing. During the boost phase, when the higher g-loads were being sustained, body temperature, respiration, pulse rate, and heartbeat rose but were well within tolerable limits. During the weightless period along the trajectory arc, the physiological responses of Able and Baker approached normal - so near, in fact, that according to telemetry data, Baker appeared either to doze or to become drowsy. Upon reentry, the responses rose again, but at landing the animals were nearing a settled physiological state. This flight was another milestone proving that life could be sustained in a space environment.

A quick-release, side exit hatch was designed for the spacecraft. The design consisted of a continuous double explosive train to assure that all bolts were actually broken upon activation of the device.

During this period, the astronauts and other NASA personnel devoted a great deal of study to the Mercury spacecraft cockpit. The following factors were under particular scrutiny: (1) routine and emergency flight procedures; (2) anthropometric dimensions of the seven astronauts, which had demonstrated flight safety inadequacies in the early layout of the cockpit; and (3) layout requirements which were reviewed according to the dimensions of the astronauts while wearing a full-pressure garment, in both routine unpressurized and pressurized states, and according to the astronaut's ability to reach any control under both routine and emergency conditions. (See fig. 15.)

Figure 15. Spacecraft interior arrangement.

June 1

Personnel strength in support of Project Mercury included 204 at the Space Task Group, 98 at the Langley Research Center, 44 at the Lewis Research Center, and 21 on the Mercury tracking network, for a grand total of 363.

June 5

The drogue parachute configuration was changed from 19.5 percent porosity, flat circular ribbon chute to a 28 percent porosity, 30 degree conical canopy.

The Army Ballistic Missile Agency submitted a proposal (Report No. DG-TR-7-59) for a Mercury-Redstone inflight abort sensing system. This system would monitor performance of the control system (attitude and angular velocity), electrical power supply, and launch vehicle propulsion. If operational limits were exceeded, the spacecraft would be ejected from the launch vehicle and recovered by parachute.

Space Technology Laboratories and Convair completed an analysis of flight instrumentation necessary to support the Mercury-Atlas program. The primary objective of the study was to select a light-weight telemetry system. A system weighing 270 pounds was recommended, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration concurred with the proposal.

June 8

The Big Joe spacecraft for the reentry test was delivered to Cape Canaveral.

The Space Task Group advised the Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics of Government-furnished survival items that McDonnell would package in containers. (See fig. 16.) These included desalter kits, dye marker, distress signal, signal mirrors, signal whistle, first aid kits, shark chaser, PK-2 raft, survival rations, matches, and a radio transceiver. Navy assistance was requested in the procurement of these items.

Space Task Group officials met with representatives of the School of Aviation Medicine to discuss detailed aspects of the bio-packs to be used in the NASA Little Joe Flight program. The packs were to be furnished by the school. The purpose was to gather life support data that would be applicable to the manned flights of Project Mercury.

Figure 16. Astronaut survival equipment stowed in Mercury spacecraft.

June 12

A Source Selection Panel and a Technical Evaluation Board were organized and manned at the Langley Research Center to evaluate Mercury tracking and ground instrument action proposals. Technical evaluation of proposals was started on June 23, 1959, with seven companies under consideration. These were - in addition to Western Electric - Aeronutronics, Radio Corporation of America, Pan American Airways, Brown and Root, Chrysler Corporation, and Philco Corporation.

June 14-27

A visit was made to McDonnell and it was learned that the Mercury spacecraft was being designed structurally to withstand 149 decibels overall noise level. McDonnell, however, anticipated that the actual maximum level would not be above 128 decibels. Space Task Group personnel felt that even the 128 decibels were too high for pilot comfort, and extensive research toward the resolution of this matter was started.

June 18

A centrifuge program was conducted at Johnsville, Pennsylvania, to investigate the role of a pilot in the launch of a multi-stage vehicle. Test subjects were required to perform boost-control tasks, while being subjected to the proper boost-control accelerations. The highest g-force experienced was 15, and none of the test subjects felt they reached the limit of their control capability. As a note of interest, one of the test subjects, Neil Armstrong, was later selected for the Gemini program in September 1962.

June 19

The Mercury Capsule (spacecraft) Coordination Office was organized within the Space Task Group, with J. A. Chamberlin appointed head of the office. Duties were divided into four major categories as follows: (1) loads, thermodynamics, structures, and aerodynamics; (2) cabin, life support, and controls; (3) electronics, recovery, and sequencing; and (4) transportation and handling, schedules and testing, and standards and specifications. This action assured continuity of effort in monitoring the McDonnell contract. Also, this office arranged and coordinated meetings with McDonnell personnel and served as a clearing house for all NASA-McDonnell contracts. The committee, of course, received a majority of its data from technical sources within the formal Space Task Group organization.

A Capsule Review Board was established to review, at regular intervals, action taken by the Capsule Coordination Office. Paul E. Purser was appointed chairman, with division heads, Coordination Office head, and Project and Assistant Project Directors serving as members.

June 24

Against an original estimated cost of $15.5 million for eight Redstone launch vehicles in support of Project Mercury, the final negotiated figure was $20.1 million.

June 25

Navy surface vessels and aircraft were used in a recovery operation after an airdrop of a spacecraft off the coast from Jacksonville, Florida. The spacecraft was purposely dropped 40 miles away from the predicted impact point and 45 miles away from the nearest ship. Recovery was effected in 2 and one half hours.

June 28

Between the cited date and July 11, 1959, 12 heat-transfer tests were made in the Preflight Jet Test facility at Wallops Island on several ablation materials being considered for use on the spacecraft afterbody (not heat shield) for the Little Joe flights. Test conditions simulated those of actual Little Joe trajectories. Of the materials used, triester polymer and thermolag demonstrated the capability to protect the spacecraft against expected heat loads.

June 29

A longitudinal static stability investigation was carried out for the Mercury manned orbital spacecraft model in the 16-foot transonic circuit at the Arnold Engineering Development Center.

June (during the month)

The Space Task Group furnished several boilerplate spacecraft to DesFlotFour (naval unit involved in Project Mercury recovery plans) for use in developing detailed recovery techniques. (See fig. 17.)

McDonnell selected Northrop as the subcontractor to design and fabricate the landing system for Project Mercury. Northrop technology for landing and recovery systems dated back to 1943 when that company developed the first parachute recovery system for pilotless aircraft. For Project Mercury, Northrop developed the 63-foot ring-sail main parachute. (See fig. 18.)

Test spacecraft Parachute
Figure 17. Recovery test spacecraft showing recovery aids. Figure 18. Main 63-foot ringsail parachute.

July 1

The order for Jupiter launch vehicles in support of Project Mercury was canceled because the same or better data could be obtained from Atlas flights.

July 1-2

A pressure suit compatibility evaluation in the Mercury spacecraft mock-up was performed in suits submitted by the David Clark Company, B. F. Goodrich Company, and International Latex Company. Four subjects participated in the tests.

July 6

As a result of a discussion between Maxime A. Faget, Space Task Group, and John E. Naugle, Space Science Division, NASA Headquarters, it was concluded that there were several important scientific experiments in the field of energetic particles research that could be performed by placing packets of emulsion within the Mercury spacecraft. Work was started to determine a suitable packet location, along with other details associated with conducting such experiments.

Results of the technical and management evaluations of Mercury tracking network propsals were presented to the Langley Research Center Source Selection Board.

July 12

An agreement was made with the Air Force for Space Task Group to place microphone pickups on the skin of the Atlas launch vehicle as a part of the instrumentation to measure noise level during the Big Joe-Atlas launching. Distribution of the microphones was as follows: one inside the Mercury spacecraft, three externally about midway of the launch vehicle, and one on the Atlas skirt.

July 13

Spacecraft horizon scanner qualification tests were started.

The Western Electric Company and associates were announced as winner of the competition for construction of the Mercury tracking network.

July 20

Negotiations for construction of the Mercury tracking network were started with the Western Electric Company and their subcontractors (Bendix Aviation, International Business Machines, Bell Telephone Laboratories, and Burns and Roe), and a letter contract was signed on July 30, 1959, for the entire range. This included radar tracking; telemetry receiving, recording, and display; communications to both the spacecraft and surface stations; and the computing and control facilities.

The Space Task Group forwarded Big Joe postflight requirements to Pan American personnel at the Atlantic Missile Range for use in preparing their documents concerning postflight handling of the Mercury special test spacecraft.

July 21

Alterations to Building "S" at Cape Canaveral for Project Mercury support were discussed in a meeting at Cape Canaveral. (See fig. 19.) A target date of December 1, 1959, was set for project completion. Therefore, this meant that Vanguard activities would have to be phased out of the building.

White room
Figure 19. White room in Hanger S at Cape Canaveral.

July 22

The B. F. Goodrich Company was selected as the contractor to design and develop the Mercury astronaut pressure suit. Company technology in this field dated back to 1934, when it developed the first rubber stratosphere flying suit for attempts at setting altitude records.

A successful pad abort flight of a boilerplate spacecraft with a production version of the escape tower and rocket was made. (See fig. 20.) The escape rocket motor was manufactured by Grand Central Rocket, and the flight was the first operational test of this component.

The Space Task Group, McDonnell, and the Air Force Chart and Information Center held a meeting with regard to a map depicting Mercury spacecraft flight. At that time, it was decided that the chart would cover an area of 40 degrees latitude above and below the equator. The chart would show oceans and continents by colors to match probable visual characteristics. Orbit numbers and time since launch would be depicted and traced.

The Navy provided NASA with a list of reserve ships that might be used in direct support of Project Mercury, and on July 28, 1959, specific information was forwarded on ships that NASA might be interested in using.

Wallops Island
Figure 20. Spacecraft with McDonnell designed escape system ready for firing at Wallops Island.

July 28

A boilerplate spacecraft, instrumented to measure sound pressure level and vibration, was launched in the second beach abort test leading to the Little Joe test series. The purpose of the instrumentation was to obtain measurement of the vibration and sound environment encountered on the capsule during the firing of the Grand Central abort rocket.

July 30

Letter Contract NASA 1-430 was awarded to the Western Electric Company for construction of the Mercury tracking and ground instrumentation system. (See July 20, 1959 entry.)

July 31

Personnel from the Aeromedical Field Laboratory inspected the first animal couch fabricated by McDonnell to be used in the Mercury animal flight program. The objective of the animal program was to provide verification of successful space flight prior to manned missions; to aquire data on physical and mental demands which will be encountered by the astronauts during space flight; to provide dynamic test of technical procedures and training for support personnel in handling the aeromedical program for manned flight; and to evaluate spacecraft environmental control systems and bioinstrumentation under flight conditions.

July (during the month)

The Mercury astronauts completed disorientation flights on the three-axis space simulator at the Lewis Research Center.

Minneapolis-Honeywell delivered the first automatic stabilization and control system for the Mercury spacecraft to McDonnell. (See fig. 21.)

The Pilotless Aircraft Research Division of the Langley Research Center launched a 1/14th-scale model of the Mercury spacecraft at Wallops Island to a speed of Mach 3.5 and at an altitude of 40,000 feet. The model spacecraft went into a continuous tumble from separation to landing.

Specialty assignments were made to each of the Mercury astronauts. Thus they became participating members in the NASA-McDonnell coordination meetings and the Mercury-Redstone or Mercury-Atlas meetings in their specialty area. Assignments were as follows: Scott Carpenter, navigation and navigational aids; Gordon Cooper, Redstone launch vehicle; John Glenn, crew space layout; Virgil Grissom, automatic and manual attitude control system; Walter Schirra, life-support system; Alan Shepard, tracking and recovery operations; and Donald Slayton, Atlas launch vehicle.

A three-axis hand controller and a pilot restraint system were delivered to NASA at the Johnsville centrifuge for use in the Mercury astronaut training program.

Spacecraft RCS
Figure 21. Spacecraft reaction control system.

August 3

Major General Donald N. Yates was appointed as the Department of Defense representative for Project Mercury support operations.

August 4

Tests were started to check the operation of the redesigned Mercury drogue parachute. (See figs. 22 and 23.)

Test vehicle
Figure 22. Vehicle for drogue parachute test at NASA Flight Research Center.

Figure 23. Flight plan for drogue parachute tests at NASA Flight Research Center.

August 6

Four F-102 aircraft were made available for use by the Mercury astronauts to maintain proficiency in high performance vehicles.

August 14

NASA Headquarters approved a Space Task Group proposal that negotiations be undertaken with McDonnell for the fabrication of six additional Mercury spacecarft.

August 15

The astronauts began their initial centrifuge training at the Aviation Medical Acceleration Laboratory. During the first part of the month Space Task Group personnel had installed and checked out Mercury spacecraft simulation equipment at the Aviation Medical Acceleration Laboratory in preparation for the astronaut centrifuge training program.

August 21

During the countdown of the first programed Little Joe launching (LJ-1 beach abort test) at Wallops Island, the escape rocket fired prematurely 31 minutes before the scheduled launch. The spacecraft rose to an altitude of 2,000 feet and landed about 2,000 feet from the launch site. Premature firing was caused by a faulty escape circuit.

August 25

Testing was completed to check the effectiveness of the drogue parachute as a stabilizing device. The drogue parachute was fully qualified for deployment at speeds up to Mach 1.5 and altitudes of up to 70,000 feet. Ordinarily, during the operational phase of Project Mercury the drogue parachute was deployed at 40,000 feet, so the component well met operational requirements.

August 28

NASA Headquarters authorized the Space Task Group to enter into negotiations with the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division for the procurement of additional Atlas launch vehicles in support of Project Mercury. The authorization was to be incorporated into Contract No. HS-36.

August (during the month)

Qualification tests, which were started in May 1959, were completed for the 63-foot ringsail, main parachute. After this, complete parachute landing tests were initiated by spacecraft drops from a C-130 at Salton Sea, California.

McDonnell submitted its first monthly reliability report. The purpose of this report was to summarize the reliability efforts of McDonnell and its subcontractors in the design and development of the Mercury spacecraft.

September 1-7

McDonnell moved a segment of its Mercury effort to Cape Canaveral in preparation for the operational phase of the program. Personnel were immediately assigned to committees to develop the plans for Mercury-Redstone and Mercury-Atlas missions. The McDonnell office was located in Hanger S.

September 3

Ground rules for prelaunch preparations were forwarded by the Space Task Group to McDonnell to serve as a guideline in the design of Mercury checkout equipment. Items covered included blockhouse equipment, checkout trailer, and telemetry trailer.

September 9

A Big Joe Atlas boilerplate Mercury spacecraft model (fig. 24) was successfully launched and flown from Cape Canaveral, although booster-engine separation did not occur. Objectives of this test flight were to determine the performance of the ablation shield and measure afterbody heating; to determine the flight dynamics of the spacecraft during reentry; to evaluate the adequacy of the spacecraft recovery system and procedures; to familiarize operating personnel with Atlas launch procedures; to evaluate loads on the spacecraft while in the flight environment; to observe and evaluate the operation of the spacecraft control system; and to recover the spacecraft. The flight was considered to be highly successful, and a majority of the test objectives were attained. The heat shield temperatures (reaching a peak of 3,500 degrees F) were below those expected, but were close enough to provide data for the engineering design of the Mercury heat shield. Space Task Group officials were also pleased that the spacecraft could reenter the atmosphere at high angles-of-attack and maintain its heat shield in a forward position without using the control system. The spacecraft was picked up by the recovery force about 8 hours after lift-off. Because of the success of this flight, a similar launch was considered unnecessary and accordingly was canceled.

The Space Task Group provided McDonnell with guidance in the development of the "Astronauts' Handbook." Topics included such items as a descriptive resume of normal and emergency procedures to be followed on the check lists. The book was divided into three sections: "The Normal Operational Procedures," "The Emergency Operational Procedures," and "The Failure Analysis Procedures."

Big Joe
Figure 24. Big Joe on launch pad at Cape Canaveral for ballistic reentry flight test.

September 10-11

At a spacecraft mock-up review, the astronauts submitted several recommended changes which involved a new instrument panel (fig. 25), a forward centerline window, and an explosive side egress hatch.

Figure 25. Spacecraft instrument control panel.

September 11

After a preliminary study of the Mercury environment with regard to astronaut food and water requirements, Dr. Douglas H. K. Lee estimated that water use would be in the order of 500 cu cm/hr and that the caloric intake per day would be about 3,200 calories of food. Dr. Lee was a member of the Natick Quartermasters Research and Engineering Laboratory.

September 15

Walter C. Williams was appointed Associate Director for Project Mercury Operations, and also the prime NASA-Department of Defense contact for Mercury flight operations.

September 16

The Langley Research Center was in the process of conducting ablation heat-shield tests on nine model shields in support of Project Mercury. However, the Big Joe test of the week before demonstrated the feasibility of the ablation heat-shield concept for reentry and verified the suitability of the materials selected for such purposes.

September 19

An air launch of a Mark II parachute (drogue) test vehicle was conducted by the NASA Flight Research Center. This test, the 15th in the series, concluded the Project Mercury drogue parachute development and qualification tests.

September 21

Between this date and October 10, 1959, a research program was carried out by the Aviation Medical Acceleration Laboratory to measure the effects of sustained acceleration on the pilot's ability to control a vehicle. Various side-arm controllers were used, and it appeared that the three-axis type (yaw, roll, and pitch) was the most satisfactory. (See fig. 26.) Later this configuration was extensively evaluated and adopted for use in the control system of the Mercury spacecraft.

Hand controller
Figure 26. Three-axis hand controller.

September 22

A paper was issued covering "Results of Studies Made to Determine Required Retrorocket Capability." The intent of this study was to provide for pilot safety for landing during any emergency condition, as well as at the end of a normal mission.

September (during the month)

An operational analysis study report of possible recovery forces required for a three-orbit Mercury mission was received from the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation. By using this document, the Space Task Group was continuing to refine recovery requirements for all Mercury flights. This work involved the development of a satisfactory helicopter recovery technique and the conduct of tests to determine optimum spacecraft location aids.

October 1

On this date, funds were approved by NASA Headquarters for the following major changes to the Mercury spacecraft: egress hatch installation (CCP-58-1), astronaut observation window installation (CCP-73); rate stabilization and control system (CCP-61-2), main instrument and panel redesign (CCP-76), installation of reefed ringsail landing parachute (CCP-41), and nonspecification configurations of spacecraft (CCP-8). With reference to the last item, the original contract with McDonnell had specified only one spacecraft configuration, but the various research and development flight tests required changes in the configuration.

October 2

Specifications for the Mercury pressure suit were issued. The suit procurement program was divided into two phases: Phase I, operational research suits which could be used for astronaut training, system evaluation, and further suit development; and Phase II, Mercury pressure suits in the final configuration.

October 4

A Little Joe launch vehicle carrying a boilerplate spacecraft (LJ-6) was successfully launched from Wallops Island. Objectives of the flight were to check the integrity of the launch vehicle airframe and motor system, check the operations of the launcher, to check the validity of the calculated wind corrections, to obtain performance and drag data, and to check the operation of the destruct system. The flight, lasting 5 minutes 10 seconds, gained a peak altitude of 37.12 statute miles, and a range of 79.4 statute miles. The destruct packages carried on board the Little Joe launch vehicles were successfully initiated well after the flight had reached its apex. There was a slight malfunction in the Little Joe launch vehicle when ignition of the two second-stage Pollux motors fired before the exact time planned. Actually, the planned trajectory was little affected and the structural test of the vehicle, really greater than planned, was benefited.

October 13

Explorer VII achieved orbit on this date and began providing significant geophysical information on solar and earth radiation, magnetic storms, and micrometeorite penetration. This satellite also successfully demonstrated a method of controlling internal temperatures.

October 15

Space Task Group personnel held a meeting at Langley with representatives from the Lewis Research Center to clarify Project Mercury research support needs at Lewis. During the course of discussion, several test and support areas were agreed upon. As an example, Lewis would conduct separation tests in which full-scale hardware was used to determine if a satisfactory separation existed. In these tests separation would occur when the posigrade rockets were fired after burnout of the Atlas during an ordinary mission. Lewis would seek to determine if there were any harmful effects due to flame impingement either on the Atlas booster or on the wiring of the retrograde package. In addition, Lewis would determine the actual effective impulse of the posigrade rockets during separation. Lewis also agreed to support Space Task Group in developing pilot techniques in a special tunnel at Lewis. The objectives were to determine a pilot's capability to stabilize spacecraft attitudes in space. Lewis had a large gimballed system in the tunnel that would simulate the motions of space conditions, but in a sea-level environment. It was thought, however, that experience in the gamballed system would be beneficial to the pilots. A third area of support involved retrorocket calibration tests. At that time, Space Task Group was concerned that when the retrorockets were fired, the spacecraft would be considerably upset while in orbital flight. Lewis would use its high-altitude tunnel at maximum capability to determine the extent of the upset and assist in devising means to control the situation. Lewis also agreed to check the hydrogen-peroxide-fueled control system to obtain starting and performance characteristics of the reaction jets. In the last area of this series of studies and tests, Lewis was to study the escape rocket plume when the rocket was fired at high altitudes to determine the effect of the plume on the spacecraft. It was believed that the plume would completely envelop the spacecraft.

October 20

Requests were initiated to test the Mercury spacecraft afterbody shingles at the Navy's Dangerfield test facility for heat resistance and dynamic-pressure capabilities.

October 30

A meeting of Space Task Group, Wallops Station, and McDonnell personnel was held to review and evaluate Mercury escape-system qualification-test results. In the continuing efforts of this activity, the responsibility in attaining test objectives was apportioned among the three organizations.

October (during the month)

North American Aviation and Minneapolis-Honeywell were notified to proceed with the production of hardware for an air-supplied launch-vehicle control system.

McDonnell received the first ablative heat shield (fig. 27), designated for installation on Spacecraft No. 1. This particular heat shield was based on the Big Joe design, and was manufactured by General Electric.

Heat shield
Figure 27. Mercury spacecraft heat shield after recovery.

November 1

The "Handbook of Operation and Service Instructions, Horizon Scanner Test, Serial MDE 4590011" was published. This document was revised and reissued on June 6, 1960.

November 4

Little Joe 1-A (LJ-1A) was launched in a test for a planned abort under high aerodynamic load conditions. This flight was a repeat of the Little Joe (LJ-1) that had been planned for August 21, 1959 (escape rocket fired 31 min before the intended launch of the Little Joe launch vehicle). After lift-off, the pressure sensing system was to supply a signal when the intended abort dynamic pressure was reached (about 30 sec after launch). An electrical impulse was then sent to the explosive bolts to separate the spacecraft from the launch vehicle. Up to this point, the operation went as planned, but the impulse was also designed to start the igniter in the escape motor. The igniter activated, but pressure failed to build up in the motor until a number of seconds had elapsed. Thus the abort maneuver, the prime mission of the flight, was accomplished at a dynamic pressure that was too low. For this reason a repeat of the test was planned. All other events from the launch through recovery occurred without incident. The flight attained an altitude of 9 statute miles, a range of 11.5 statute miles, and a speed of 2,021.6 miles per hour.

November 5

The astronauts were fitted with pressure suits and indoctrinated as to use at the B. F. Goodrich Company, Akron, Ohio.

November 8

Between this date and December 5, 1959, the tentative design and layout of the Mercury Control Center to be used to monitor the orbiting flight of the Mercury spacecraft were completed. The control center would have trend charts to indicate the astronaut's condition and world map displays to keep continuous track of the Mercury spacecraft. (See fig. 28.)

Control center
Figure 28. Mercury control center at Cape Canaveral.

November 10

Space Task Group personnel visited McDonnell to monitor the molding of the first production-type couch for the Mercury spacecraft.

November 12

A NASA-Department of Defense agreement was signed by NASA Administrator T. Keith Glennan and Deputy Secretary of Defense Thomas Gates, relevant to the principles governing reimbursement of costs incurred by NASA or the Department of Defense in support of Project Mercury.

November 16-20

Wearing the Mercury pressure suits, the astronauts were familiarized with the expected reentry heat pulse at the Navy Aircrew Equipment Laboratory, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

November 20

At the fifth Mercury Coordination Meeting, the Army Ballistic Missile Agency proposed the installation of an open-circuit television system in the Mercury-Redstone second and third flights (MR-2 and MR-3). The purpose of the system was to observe and relay launch vehicle and spacecraft separation data.

November 27

The Arnold Engineering Development Center tested the Grand Central solid-fuel rocket motor used to propel the Mercury spacecraft escape system. The purpose of the test was to verify altitude ignition and to determine the combustion-chamber-pressure-time curve.

The Air Force School of Aviation Medicine agreed to provide a biopack experiment for the Little Joe 2 flight. Included in the pack were track plates of barley, nerve cells from a rat, tissue culture, and other specimens of that type.

November (during the month)

The first manned development system tests were completed at the AiResearch Manufacturing Division, Garrett Corporation. Tests were conducted in the altitude chamber to determine proper functioning of all system valves and components. A McDonnell subject was clothed in a Mercury-type presure suit for these tests. Preliminary data from these tests indicated that the system functioned satisfactorily.

Between November 1959 and January 1960, 10 developmental full-pressure suits were delivered to the astronauts and other subjects. These suits were used in various Mercury training and development programs. (See Oct. 2, 1959 entry). Several problem areas were denoted. One involved stretching which complicated the suit mobility problem. This matter was being investigated, and one of the solutions was felt to be undersizing to allow for a suit growth factor. In addition, modifications would have to be made in suit insulation to provide for better pilot mobility. These problems were to be expected in a developmental program.

Between November 1959 and January 1960, the general design of the Mercury couch was completed, and couches were molded for the astronauts and medical personnel associated with the program. (See fig. 29.)

Figure 29. Plaster forms used in construction of research and development versions of contour couches.

December 4

Little Joe 2 (LJ-2) was launched from Wallops Island to determine the motions of the spacecraft escape tower combination during a high-altitude abort, entry dynamics without a control system, physiological effects of acceleration on a small primate, operation of the drogue parachute, and effectiveness of the recovery operation. Telemetry was set up to record some 80 bits of information on the flight. The abort sequence was initiated by timers after 59 seconds of elapsed flight time at an altitude of about 96,000 feet and a speed of Mach 5.5. Escape motor firing occurred as planned and the spacecraft was whisked away at a speed of about Mach 6 to an apogee of 53.03 statute miles. All other sequences operated as planned, and spacecraft recovery was effected in about 2 hours from lift-off. The primate passenger, "Sam," an American-born rhesus monkey, withstood the trip and the recovery in good condition. All objectives of the mission were met.

December 7

Tenney Engineering Corporation was chosen by the Space Task Group to construct the Mercury altitude test chamber in Hanger S at Cape Canaveral. When completed, altitude pressure would simulate 225,000 feet. The chamber, a vertical cylinder with domed ends, was 12 feet in diameter and 14 feet high. The chamber was designed to allow a partial spacecraft functional check in a near-vacuum environment.

December 8

Two Thiokol retrorockets for the Mercury spacecraft were tested at the Arnold Engineering Development Center engine test facility. The test objectives were to evaluate ignition characteristics.

December 22

The Redstone launch vehicle for the first Mercury-Redstone mission (MR-1) was installed on the interim test stand at the Army Ballistic Missile Agency for static testing.

December 31

Thrust cut-off sensor reliability and qualification tests were accepted, because of the similarity to Lockheed functional environmental evaluation tests of similar units used in the Polaris program. This component, fabricated by the Donner Scientific Company, was accepted by NASA.

At the end of the year, NASA funds in support of Project Mercury had been obligated to the listed organizations as follows: Air Force Ballistic Missile Division, NASA Order HS-36, Atlas launch vehicles, $22,830,000; Army Ordnance Missile Command, NASA Order HS-44, Redstone launch vehicles, $16,060,000; and McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, NASA Order 5-59, Mercury spacecraft, $49,407,540.

Since being awarded the Mercury contract, McDonnell had expended 942,818 man-hours in engineering; 190,731 man-hours in tooling; and 373,232 man-hours in production.

The Mercury astronauts completed basic and theoretical studies of Project Mercury in their training program and began practical engineering studies. This phase of the program was designed to provide a background in basic astronautical sciences, and included such subjects as "Space Climate" and "Astronomy of the Universe." Shortly thereafter the astronauts began a practical training program involving egress training, methods of arresting rapid spacecraft motions, and familiarization with the weightless conditions of space flight.

December (during the month)

A weightless flying training program was started by the Mercury astronauts in the F-100 aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base, California. Eating, drinking, and psychomotor tests were conducted while the astronauts were in a weightless state.

The Space Task Group approved monitoring facilities proposed by the Stromberg-Carlson Division for the Mercury Control Center at Cape Canaveral and Bermuda.

In the development of the Mercury spacecraft reaction control system, Bell Aircraft Corporation started the preliminary flight rating test of the automatic subsystem. (See fig. 30.)

Figure 30. Reaction control thrust chamber.

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