Research and Development Phase of Project Mercury

January 1960 through May 5, 1961


January 6

The Project Mercury data reduction plan was approved. Space Task Group's study entitled "Semi-Automatic Data Reduction" had been completed and submitted to NASA Headquarters for review on December 21, 1959.

January 11

A contract (NAS 1-430) was signed by NASA and the Western Electric Company in the amount of $33,058,690 for construction and engineering of the Mercury tracking network.

January 15

A document entitled "Overall Plan for Department of Defense Support for Project Mercury Operations" was reviewed and approved by NASA Headquarters and the Space Task Group.

Based on requirements listed in Space Task Group Working Paper No. 129, covering the Project Mercury recovery force, the Navy issued "Operation Plan COMDESFLOTFOUR No. 1-60." This plan provided for recovery procedures according to specified areas and for space recovery methods. Procedures for Mercury-Redstone and Mercury-Atlas missions were covered.

Qualification tests on a programer fabricated by the Wheaton Engineering Company for Project Mercury were started and completed by March 28, 1960.

January 18

Walter C. Williams proposed the establishment of a Mercury-Redstone Coordination Committee to monitor and coordinate activities related to Mercury-Redstone flight tests.

A proposal was made by Walter C. Williams, Associate Director of Project Mercury Operations, that the Mercury-Atlas flight test working group become an official and standing coordination body. This group brought together representation from the Space Task Group, Air Force Ballistic Missile Division, Convair Astronautics, McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, and the Atlantic Missile Range. Personnel from these organizations had met informally in the past on several occasions.

January 19

In keeping with a concept of using certain off-the-shelf hardware items that were available for the manufacture of Project Mercury components, companies around London, England, were visited throughout 1959. Potential English vendors of such items as the SARAH beacon batteries (later chosen), miniature indicators, time delay mechanisms, hydrogen-peroxide systems, and transducers were evaluated. A report of the findings was submitted on the cited date.

January 21

At a meeting to draft fiscal year 1962 funding estimates, the total purchase of Atlas launch vehicles was listed as 15, and the total purchase of Mercury spacecraft was listed as 26.

Little Joe 1-B (LJ-1B) was launched from Wallops Island with a rhesus monkey, "Miss Sam," aboard. (See fig. 31.) Test objectives for this flight were the same as those for Little Joe 1 (LJ-1) in which the escape tower launched 31 minutes before the planned launch, and Little Joe 1-A (LJ-1A), wherein the dynamic buildup in the abort maneuver was too low. A physiological study of the primate, particularly in areas applying to the effects of the rapid onset of reverse acceleration during abort at maximum dynamic pressure, was also made. In addition, the Mercury helicopter recovery system was exercised. During the mission, all sequences operated as planned; the spacecraft attained a peak altitude of 9.3 statute miles, a range of 11.7 statute miles, and a maximum speed of 2,021.6 miles per hour. Thirty minutes from launch time, a Marine recovery helicopter deposited the spacecraft and its occupant at Wallops Station. "Miss Sam" was in good condition, and all test objectives were successfully fulfilled.

Miss Sam
Figure 31. Rhesus monkey, "Miss Sam," being placed in container for LJ-1B flight.

January 25

McDonnell delivered the first production-type Mercury spacecraft to the Space Task Group at Langley in less than 1 year from the signing of the formal contract. (See fig. 32.) This spacecraft was a structural shell and did not contain most of the internal systems that would be required for manned space flight. After receipt, the Space Task Group instrumented the spacecraft and designated it for the Mercury-Atlas 1 (MA-1) flight.

McDonnell plant
Figure 32. Manufacture of Mercury spacecraft at McDonnell plant, St. Louis, Mo.

January 31

Six chimpanzees were rated as being trained and ready to support Mercury-Redstone or Mercury-Atlas missions. Other chimpanzees were being shipped from Africa to enter the animal training program.

January (during the month)

Specifications for equipment and systems to be used for the training of the remote-site flight controllers and Mercury control center operations personnel were forwarded to the Western Electric team. The remote-site training was divided into two stages: off-range and on-range. The off-range portion consisted of practice runs on a typical set of controllers' consoles tied into an astronaut procedures trainer. The on-range part was planned at two stations within the United States and from here, controllers would be assigned to tracking sites for full range rehearsals and a mission.

NASA presented its basic communications requirements for Project Mercury to Western Electric, and the Company's interim proposal to satisfy these requirements was accepted in February 1960.

Qualification tests were completed on the Mercury spacecraft pilot cameras and instrument viewing cameras.

February 1

Qualification tests of the Mercury spacecraft periscope were completed.

A study was completed on the "External and Internal Noise of Space Capsules." This study covered the acoustic environments of missile and space vehicles including noise generated by the rocket engines, air-boundary layers, and on-board equipment. Data used included noise measurements compiled from the Big Joe I and Little Joe 2 flight tests. These tests were a part of the internal and external noise study that had been in progress since early 1959. NASA officials were still of the opinion that the internal noise level was too high for pilot comfort. Space Task Group felt that data were needed on noise transmission through an actual production-model spacecraft structure.

February 5

A meeting was held to relay the decision that beryllium shingles would be used as the best heat protection material on the cylindrical section of the Mercury spacecraft.

Final design approval test of the Mercury telemetry equipment was completed, and reliability test of this equipment was completed on February 27, 1960.

Colonel George M. Knauf of the Air Force Surgeon General's office began the compilation of a medical-monitor training program in support of Project Mercury. The aims of this program were to brief the monitors on medical problems in space prior to their participation in support of Mercury flights. Colonel Knauf is now a member of NASA Headquarters Manned Space Flight Office.

February 8

Tests were started by the Army Ballistic Missile Agency for the mission abort sensing program to be integrated in the Mercury-Redstone phase of Project Mercury.

February 11

Responsibilities of the Mercury launch coordination office were specified by the Space Task Group. A few of the listed duties included responsibilities associated with Department of Defense support; overall coordination of launch activities; compilation of information related to launch support requirements; and representing Mercury at Atlas or Redstone Flight Test Group meetings. Walter C. Williams made a proposal for an activity along these lines on January 18, 1960.

February 12

With Project Mercury about to enter a heavy operational phase, an operations coordination group was established at the Atlantic Missile Range. Christopher C. Kraft, Jr. was appointed to head this group.

February 15

Mercury spacecraft battery qualification tests were completed.

Mercury landing system and post-landing equipment tests were completed. (See fig. 33.)

Figure 33. Landing shock attenuation system.

February 18

Mercury remote-site flight controllers were appointed, and training was inaugurated by a series of Space Task Group lectures that covered facilities, network systems, operations, and other details. In addition, a program was established for familiarization, orientation, and specialized instruction of the Department of Defense group of aeromedical staff personnel designated as members of flight controller teams.

February 22

Tests were completed on the Mercury spacecraft automatic stabilization and control system.

February 26

The establishment of a Project Mercury tracking site in Australia was sanctioned.

February 27

Design approval and reliability tests of the Mercury command receivers were completed.

February 29

The Space Task Group placed a requirement with NASA Headquarters for the purchase of an analog computing facility. Planned use of this facility was to establish and verify Mercury system requirements; it also could be used for Mercury follow-on programs such as a manned circumlunar vehicle program and other outer space program requirements of this nature. Cost of this facility was estimated to be $424,000.

February (during the month)

As part of their training program, the astronauts received 2 days of instruction in star recognition and celestial navigation presented by Dr. James Balten at the Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The purpose of this training was to assist the astronaut in correcting spacecraft yaw drifts. Practical experience was gained in this task by using a motorized trainer that simulated the view of the celestial sphere through the spacecraft observation window.


Agreements were signed with two Spanish firms to provide communications at the Grand Canary Island Mercury tracking site.

The Navy's School of Aviation Medicine modified a standard 20-man raft in such a way that it could be placed around the base of a floating spacecraft with impact skirt extended. When the device was inflated, the spacecraft rode high enough in the water to permit easy egress from the side hatch.

March 7-10

An indoctrination program in free-floating during weightless flight was conducted for the astronauts at the Wright Air Development Center. (See fig. 34.) The rear end of a C-131B aircraft was cleared and padded. Some 90 parabolas of 12 to 15 seconds of weightlessness each were flown. The objective was to present orientation problems of floating in space with the eyes opened and closed. Also, the astronauts made attempts to use tools and move weights while they were in a weightless condition.

Astronaut training
Figure 34. Astronauts in weightless flight in C-131 aircraft.

March 9

Position titles for Project Mercury operational flights were issued. During the flights, 15 major positions were assigned to Mercury Control Center, 15 in the blockhouse and 2 at the launch pad area. The document also specified the duties and responsibilities of each position.

March 11

Pioneer V, launched as a probe of the space between Earth and Venus, began to provide invaluable information on solar flare effects, particle energies and distributions and magnetic phenomena. Pioneer V continued to transmit such data until on June 26, 1960, when at a distance of 22.5 million miles from Earth, it established a new communications record.

The initial payment was made to the Australian Government by the Chase National Bank, New York City, on behalf of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for support of the Mercury network.

March 16

The Space Task Group published recovery requirements for the Mercury-Atlas 1 (MA-1) flight test.

March 19

An agreement between the United States and Spain on the Project Mercury tracking station in the Canary Islands was announced.

March 28

Between this date and April 1, 1960, the astronauts received their first open-water egress training in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, Florida, in cooperation with the Navy's School of Aviation Medicine. The training was conducted in conditions of up to 10-foot swells, and no problems were experienced. The average egress time was about 4 minutes from a completely restrained condition in the spacecraft to being in the life raft.

March 29

A decision was made by NASA Headquarters that the spacecraft prelaunch operation facility at Huntsville, Alabama, was no longer required. Spacecraft that were designated for Mercury-Redstone missions were to be shipped directly from McDonnell to Cape Canaveral, thereby gaining approximately 2 months in the launch schedule.

March (during the month)

Qualification tests were started on the escape tower rocket. These tests were completed at the end of July 1960. As a part of the qualification program, three escape-rocket motors were successfully fired on a spacecraft model at conditions corresponding to approximately 100,000 feet altitude in the Lewis Research Center altitude wind tunnel. One motor was tested on a four-component balance system to determine thrust misalignment of the rocket motor. According to test results, the rocket motor appeared to meet operational requirements.

The Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved the "Overall Plan for Department of Defense Support for Project Mercury Operations" submitted by their representative, Major General Donald N. Yates. Following this decision, the Space Task Group prepared a series of documents to establish the required operations support. One was an "Operations Prospectus" which set forth the management techniques by which NASA planned to discharge its overall program responsibility in the operations area. A second was a "Programs Requirements Document" directed toward continuing operational support.


The Mercury-Atlas working panels were reorganized into four groups: coordination, flight test, trajectory analysis, and change control. Each panel was composed of at least one representative from NASA (Space Task Group), McDonnell, Air Force Ballistic Missile Division, Space Technology Laboratory, and Convair-Astronautics.

April 1

The first McDonnell production spacecraft was delivered to NASA at Wallops Island for the beach-abort test.

April 5

The Space Task Group notified the Ames Research Center that preliminary planning for the modification of the Mercury spacecraft to accomplish controlled reentry had begun, and Ames was invited to participate in the study. Preliminary specifications for the modified spacecraft were to be ready by the end of the month. This program was later termed Mercury Mark II and eventually Project Gemini.

April 7

Ablation tests on nine Mercury heat shield models in the subsonic arc tunnel at the Langley Research Center were completed. (See Sept. 16, 1959.)

April 8

Construction of an altitude facility chamber to simulate space environment was completed in Hanger S at Cape Canaveral. The purpose of this facility was for spacecraft checkout and astronaut training. (See fig. 35.) Acceptance tests for this installation were completed on July 11, 1960. (See Dec. 7, 1959.)

Hanger S
Figure 35. Mercury altitude chamber in Hanger S, Cape Canaveral.

April 15

Qualification tests began on the Mercury spacecraft posigrade rocket. (See fig. 36.) The first three rocket motors subjected to these tests were successfully tested in a more stringent vibration spectrum than that required for Mercury-Atlas 1 (MA-1), the maximum dynamic reentry and maximum heat on afterbody test flight.

Qualification tests for the Mercury spacecraft retrorockets were started. One of the main purposes of this program was the development of a better igniter. The igniter tested was attached to the head end of the propellant grain and coated with a pyrotechnic. Based on three tests it appeared that the delayed ignition problem had been resolved. Thereafter, several other tests were run until the igniter was adjudged to be reliable.

Posigrade motors
Figure 36. Posigrade rocket motors.

April 18

Fabrication of the manned environmental-control-system training spacecraft was essentially completed and a test program on the equipment was started at McDonnell. This test was completed on April 25, 1960.

April 26

Tests were completed on the maximum altitude sensor. This component was fabricated by the Donner Scientific Company.

April 27

Various gamma ray detectors were carried aboard Explorer XI on its orbital flight. These detectors found a directional flux of gamma radiation in space and thereby provided serious evidence against one formulation of the "steady state" cosmological theory.

April 29

Agreements, either interim or final, were concluded for all overseas Mercury tracking stations as of this date. Construction was proceeding on schedule at Cape Canaveral, Bermuda, Grand Canary Islands, the Woomera and Muchea Australian sites, and at the demonstration site on Wallops Island, Virginia. The survey of Guaymas in Western Mexico completed that phase of the program, but the construction was yet to be accomplished.

April (during the month)

Building 575, Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, was in the process of being refurbished for occupancy by NASA personnel in July 1960. This building was designated for Space Task Group use in Mercury launch, network, and data coordination.

May 9

McDonnell's first production spacecraft, with its escape rocket serving as the propulsion force, was launched from Wallops Island. Designated the beach-abort test, the objectives were a performance evaluation of the escape system, the parachute and landing system, and recovery operations in an off-the-pad abort situation. The test was successful.

May 12

The Space Task Group established a field representative office at the McDonnell plant in St. Louis, Missouri. A technical liaison representative, W. H. Gray, had already been assigned to the plant. A resident systems test engineer, a resident instrumentation engineer, and a team of inspectors were added to the staff.

May 14

The first production spacecraft, used in the beach-abort test, was returned to the McDonnell plant for an integrity test.

May 15

Qualification tests for the Mercury spacecraft explosive egress hatch were completed.

May 23

Spacecraft No. 4 (production number), after being instrumented and prepared by the Space Task Group and the Langley Research Center for flight tests, was delivered to Cape Canaveral for the first Mercury-Atlas mission (MA-1).

May (during the month)

Training classes started for 30 physicians who had been selected by the Department of Defense to serve as medical monitors in support of Project Mercury operations. These personnel received a 2-week indoctrination program. The first week was spent at Cape Canaveral where they were briefed on the medical aspects of missile operations. The second week was spent at Space Task Group for a series of lectures and demonstrations on spacecraft systems, astronaut medical histories, and monitoring stations. This was followed by practice training sessions.

Production of the manned space flight configuration of the Mercury pressure suit was started. The astronauts and medical personnel who had tested the developmental suits received in November 1959 recommended a number of changes to increase the physical mobility of the astronaut before the production effort began. (See fig. 37.) Evaluation of the test suits with the suggested modifications indicated that the mobility and suit-spacecraft compatibility had been greatly enhanced. The stretching which once had been a problem area had been significantly decreased.

McDonnell delivered the flight-pressurized couches to be used in the animal phase of the Mercury flight test program. According to test results, the couches appeared to be satisfactory, with the exception of a slight sealing problem. McDonnell was attempting to resolve this problem.

Figure 37. Pressure suit worn by Alan Shepard on first manned suborbital space flight.


During this period, two McDonnell Procedures Trainers were delivered to NASA. Number 1, delivered on May 4, 1960, was used for astronaut training in the management of the spacecraft systems at Langley Field and Number 2, delivered on July 5, 1960, was installed at Cape Canaveral, also for space flight preparations. The trainer at Langley Field, along with other equipment, later designated flight simulator, was moved in 1962 to Houston, Texas, location of the Manned Spacecraft Center, the successor to the Space Task Group.

June 2

In considering the possible meteoroid damage to the Mercury spacecraft in orbital flight, it was concluded by the Space Task Group that damage likelihood was small even during periods of meteor showers. However, it was recommended that Mercury missions not be scheduled during forecasted shower periods.

June 3

As of this date, the funding status of Contract NAS 5-59, Mercury spacecraft, was $75,565,196.

June 9

The United States Weather Bureau estimated that it would require $50,000 during fiscal year 1961 in support of Project Mercury. Bureau responsibilities included weather forecasting for Mercury launching and recovery activities, climatological studies along the area of the Mercury ground track, and environmental studies of specified areas. With reference to the last item, a study was completed in early August 1960 of annual conditions along the Atlantic Missile Range including wind velocity, visibility and cloud coverage.

June 18

Atlas launch vehicle 50-D was delivered for the first Mercury-Atlas mission (MA-1).

June 20

Tests were completed on the Mercury spacecraft horizon scanner. A sandblast technique was employed in these tests, and measurements revealed that transmissibility was reduced in direct proportion to the area sand blasted. Tests covered 25, 50, and 75 percent of a germanium specimen.

Manned tests of the Mercury environmental control system began. (See fig. 38.) The subjects were clothed in pressure suits and subjected to postlanding conditions for 12 hours without serious physiological effects. The purpose of this test was to evaluate human tolerance, and the results indicated that no modification to the system were necessary. However, the postlanding ventilation conditions would continue to be monitored and requirements for any modifications would be evaluated.

component diagram of the Mercury environmental control system
Figure 38. Mercury environmental control system.

June 27

As a complement to the Mercury spacecraft reliability program, a decision was made that one production spacecraft would be withdrawn from the operational program for extensive testing. The test environment would involve vacuum, heat, and vibration conditions. This test series was later designated "Project Orbit."

June 30

Spacecraft No. 2 was delivered to the Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama, for compatibility tests with the Redstone launch vehicle, and was shipped to Cape Canaveral on July 23, 1960.

June (during the month)

McDonnell delivered a flight-monitoring trailer to the Space Task Group. This trailer was used at Cape Canaveral to house equipment which provided real-time telemetry read-outs during Mercury-Redstone flights.

In the overall NASA space program, Project Mercury was the only program which included a recovery capability. For this reason, Space Task Group officials felt there were a number of experiments in the science and bioscience fields that could be placed aboard Mercury spacecraft during mission flights. An example of such experiments would be an ultra-violet camera which would provide data to assist in the design and development of an orbiting astronautical observatory; another might be bio-specimens. Obviously, decisions in experiment selections would have to be made to prevent any dilution of the primary Mercury mission.

July 7

A reporting plan for Mercury-Atlas and Mercury-Redstone missions was issued. This document was amended on February 17, 1961, and April 10, 1961.

The first meeting of the Mercury Network Coordination Committee was held at Cape Canaveral for the purpose of initiating action on existing problem areas. Subjects under review included operational procedures, range readiness, and other items associated with network operation during a mission.

July 9

Major General Leighton I. Davis was appointed Department of Defense representative for Project Mercury support, replacing Major General Donald N. Yates.

July 12

Beginning on this date, the astronauts underwent a five and one half day course in "desert survival" training at the Air Training Command Survival School, Stead Air Force Base, Nevada. The possibility of an arid-area landing was remote but did exist. So this training was accomplished to supply the astronaut with the confidence and ability to survive desert conditions until recovery. The course consisted of one and one half days of academics, one day of field demonstrations, and three days of isolated remote-site training. Survival equipment normally installed in the Mercury spacecraft was used to provide the most realistic conditions.

July 14

Personnel strength in support of Project Mercury was 543. This included 419 assigned to the Space Task Group, and 124 personnel from the Langley Research Center.

July 23

Mercury spacecraft No. 2 was delivered to Cape Canaveral for the Mercury-Redstone 1-A (MR-1A) mission.

July 27

Mercury launch site recovery forces exercised in recovery operations following simulated spacecraft landings off Cape Canaveral. Coordination and control of the recovery forces were rated highly satisfactory.

July 29

Mercury spacecraft No. 3 was delivered to Langley Field for a noise and vibration test.

Mercury-Atlas (MA-1) was launched from Cape Canaveral with mission objectives being to check the integrity of the spacecraft structure and afterbody shingles for a reentry associated with a critical abort and to evaluate the open-loop performance of the Atlas abort-sensing instrumentation system. (See fig. 39.) The spacecraft contained no escape system and no test subject. Standard posigrade rockets were used to separate the spacecraft from the Atlas, but the retrorockets were dummies. About 59 seconds after launch, the flight was terminated because of a launch vehicle and adapter structural failure. The spacecraft was destroyed upon impact with the water because the recovery system was not designed to actuate under the imposed flight conditions. Later most of the spacecraft, the booster engines, and the liquid oxygen vent valve were recovered from the ocean floor. Since none of the primary flight objectives was achieved, Mercury-Atlas 2 (MA-2) was planned to fulfill the mission.

Mercury Atlas 1 on the launch pad
Figure 39. Mercury-Atlas 1.

July (during the month)

Manufacture of the mobile-pad egress tower (cherry picker) was completed (fig. 40), and the vehicle was delivered to Cape Canaveral on October 24, 1960.

Cherry picker
Figure 40. Mobile pad egress tower (Cherry picker).

August 1

Marshall Space Flight Center published the "Final Standard Trajectory for MR-1 (Mercury-Redstone)."

August 3

Redstone launch vehicle No. 1 was delivered to Cape Canaveral for the MR-1 (Mercury-Redstone).

August 10

The Wright Air Development Center requested that NASA Headquarters provide the Center with pertinent working papers and reports on Project Mercury, especially on human factor aspects, for possible application in the X-20 Dyna Soar program.

August 11

Representatives of NASA, McDonnell, Ballistic Missile Division, Space Technology Laboratories, and Convair met at Cape Canaveral and later at Convair Astronautics (Aug. 30, 1960) to discuss the Mercury-Atlas 1 (MA-1) mission malfunction. James A. Chamberlin of the Space Task Group was appointed chairman of a joint committee to resolve the problems and to provide a solution prior to the Mercury-Atlas 2 (MA-2) mission. Work accomplished at this meeting is as follows: A complete analysis of Mercury-Atlas 1 flight data and correlation of the data with data of all previous Atlas flights; a special dynamic load analysis; study of vibration tests of spacecraft, adapter, and the Atlas upper tank section; and review of wind tunnel studies of buffeting loads on spacecraft, adapter, and the Atlas upper tank sections.

The Mercury spacecraft landing system qualification test program was completed. The entire qualification testing program consisted of 56 airdrops of full-scale engineering models of the Mercury spacecraft from C-130 aircraft at various altitudes up to 30,000 feet and from helicopters at low altitudes to simulate off-the-pad abort conditions. This test program, under contract to Northrop, had spanned one and one half years.

August 12

Weather Bureau fund estimates for Fiscal Year 1961 for support of Project Mercury were adjusted to $180,000, but in April 1961, the Bureau Director stated he believed that actual costs would not exceed $150,000.

August 16-18

At the design engineering inspection of spacecraft No. 7, a number of requests for changes in the control panel area were made by the astronauts to facilitate pilot operation. Later, meeting procedures for design engineering inspections were standardized and conducted by a permanent team at appropriate intervals.

August 26

Coordination effectiveness among organizations directly involved in the Mercury development and test program was reviewed by the Space Task Group at the request of NASA Headquarters. Conclusions were that the interchange of information had been excellent. The coordination panel meetings were cited as a fine medium for information exchange. The Mercury-Atlas Coordination Panel first met on February 19, 1959, and by the date of the review, a total of 29 days had been spent in these meetings. Interchange of visits had started even before the cited February date and had been continued with good results.

August (during the month)

Astronaut side-hatch-egress training was completed with no difficulties encountered. The astronauts later received refresher training prior to mission flights. In fact, during the refresher phases, better procedures were developed. An example was the helicopter mode in which a line was attached to the top of the spacecraft and the spacecraft was partially raised by the helicopter. Then, the astronaut emerged from the side egress hatch and was raised by a second line to the helicopter. (See fig. 41)

The astronauts were briefed on the Tiros weather satellite project as a means providing them with information that could be used to recognize and report on weather phenomena during orbital flight.

The first phase of the program in which boilerplate spacecraft with impact skirts were dropped by helicopters on water and land surfaces was completed. These tests were performed to investigate spacecraft dynamics, effects of parachute restraint and release time on spacecraft dynamics, and to determine maximum landing decelerations. During the drops into the water spacecraft water stability was shown to be unacceptable, because a portion of the spacecraft cylindrical section remained under water. McDonnell immediately investigated this problem and performed such experiments as redistribution of weight to obtain center-of-gravity positions which were acceptable but yet provided satisfactory flotation characteristics. Space Task Group was investigating the possibility of extending the heat shield from the remainder of the spacecraft and thereby creating a greater stabilizing moment. Results from the drops on land appeared to be acceptable because of the relatively low decelerations and the overall low probability of a landing on land.

Tests conducted by Space Task Group personnel proved fluorescein green dye dispersed from a floating disc-shaped canister was superior to other products for this phase of Mercury recovery operations. This material had been used previously, but it had been briefly discarded in favor of an aluminium-colored dye. However, the new type proved to be unsatisfactory and the use of the green dye marker was resumed.

MR-3 recovery
Figure 41. Mercury spacecraft and astronaut Shepard being recovered by Marine Corps helicopter.

August 1960 to February 1961

Because of the failure of the Big Joe Atlas test flight and the Mercury-Atlas 1 (MA-1) flight to attain all its mission objectives, the overall Mercury-Atlas program underwent an exhaustive review. In the Big Joe firing, velocity and range had been considerably below nominal values because the launch vehicle had failed to stage, and spacecraft separation had been delayed because of recontact. In the Mercury-Atlas 1 flight, launch vehicle performance was normal until about 57.6 seconds of flight, and the launch vehicle was destroyed at 59 seconds. Neither flight had sufficient instrumentation to pinpoint the exact cause of the failures; therefore, an extensive evaluation and test program was initiated. Meetings on these matters began immediately among the interested parties to coordinate findings and recommendations for solutions (for instance, Aug. 9 - summary evaluation of Mercury-Atlas 1 data at Los Angeles; Aug. 11 - evaluation summary meeting at the Atlantic Missile Range; Aug. 22 - Investigation Panel meeting at McDonnell; Sept. 9 - Investigation Panel meeting at Convair Astronautics; Sept. 14 - management meeting at Atlantic Missile Range; Sept. 26 - Instrumentation and Wind Tunnel Test Conference at Space Task Group; Oct. 3-8 - Vibration Tests at McDonnell; Oct. 3-8 - wind tunnel tests at the Arnold Engineering Development Center; and Nov. 16 - test program summary at Space Task Group. During the course of these meetings and tests, it was the considered opinion of Space Task Group and other interested parties that the trouble had developed in the spacecraft interface area. One of the tests involved stiffening the adapter rings, and later tests showed that this solution was quite satisfactory. Tests also showed there were some moderately high stresses in the launch vehicle near a welded joint just aft of the adapter, and this area was strengthened by adding a band stiffener, which proved to be satisfactory. It was also decided for the upcoming Mercury-Atlas 2 (MA-2) mission that additional instrumentation would be integrated with the spacecraft and launch vehicle in order to define loads on the vehicle in the interface area, to measure pressure on and in the adapter, and to measure any undue responses in this area. Still another decision was that the Atlas launch vehicle, commencing with Mercury-Atlas 3 (MA-3) would be a "thick-skin" configuration. These findings and recommendations were presented to a NASA/Air Force ad hoc group on February 13 through 17, 1961, commonly known as the Rhode (NASA)-Worthman (Air Force) committee. The committee studied the Space Task Group proposals for the Atlas launch vehicle and adapter modifications and approved the test findings and the contemplated action.

September 1

The Space Task Group drafted and forwarded to McDonnell the specification requirements for spacecraft on-board data system instrumentation tests. McDonnell was to demonstrate the satisfactory performance of all space communication and instrumentation systems.

Mercury spacecraft No. 6 was delivered to Cape Canaveral for the Mercury-Atlas 2 (MA-2) unmanned mission intended to gain data on maximum dynamic pressure and maximum heat on the spacecraft afterbody.

September 3

Aircraft telemetry requirements were deleted from the Mercury-Atlas 3 (MA-3) and Mercury-Atlas 4 (MA-4) missions, as the spacecraft had been modified to provide telemetry transmissions from the point of main parachute deployment to landing.

September 9

McDonnell forwarded its plans to the Space Task Group for the spacecaft systems tests and Cape Canaveral checkout plans for spacecraft Nos. 5 and 7. Later, spacecraft No. 7 was the first to undergo this type of test.

September 12

"Flight Test Evaluation Report, Missile 50-D", Report No. AE 60-0323, was published. The launch vehicle was used in the unsuccessful Mercury-Atlas 1 (MA-1) reentry test mission.

September 19

The format of subject matter coverage for the first Mercury-Redstone postlaunch (MR-1) report was issued. This report, covering a full range of topics related to the mission, was to be submitted within 5 days after the launch.

September 20

The Atlas launch vehicle 67-D was delivered to Cape Canaveral for the Mercury-Atlas 2 (MA-2) reentry test mission.

September 21

Because of poor tower separation of the production spacecraft in the off-the-beach abort test at Wallops Island, NASA personnel at Langley started a series of jettison rocket tests. It was found that rocket performance had been only about 42 percent of the desired level, and experiments were started to raise thrust effectiveness. Measures taken included canting the motor, adding a cone to the blast shield, and, in one instance, deleting the blast shield. Space Task Group personnel advised McDonnell that plans were made to test a redesigned jettison rocket nozzle, consisting of three nozzles spaced 120 degrees apart and canted at a 30 degree angle to the rocket centerline. (See fig. 42.) The three-nozzle effect, which produced the desired results, was another NASA engineering contribution.

The astronauts received weightless training in a modified C-135 jet aircraft. This was the third type of aircraft used by the astronauts in such training. The previously mentioned F-100 provided a weightless period of some 40 to 50 seconds; the C-131, 15 seconds; and the C-135, 30 seconds. During the C-135 flights, the astronauts were checked for changes in normal speech and their ability to control a tracking problem while undergoing moderate g-loads prior to entering the weightless periods.

Figure 42. Tower jettison rocket motor.

September 26

The roll-out inspection of Atlas launch vehicle 77-D was conducted at Convair-Astronautics. This launch vehicle was allocated for the Mercury-Atlas 3 (MA-3) mission, but was later canceled and Atlas booster 100-D was used instead.

September 27

Mercury spacecraft No. 3, initially delivered to Langley on July 29, 1959, for a noise and vibration test, was erected at the Wallops Island launch site for the Little Joe 5 (LJ-5).

September 30

Mercury spacecraft No. 5 was delivered to the Marshall Space Flight Center for booster compatibility checks, and was shipped to Cape Canaveral on October 11, 1960, for the Mercury-Redstone 2 (MR-2) ballistic-primate (Ham) mission.

September (during the month)

Flight-type pressure suits were received from the B. F. Goodrich Company and were immediately used on the human centrifuge to assist in determining final adjustments that were necessary in preparation for manned space flight.

October 3-21

The third centrifuge training program was conducted for the astronauts at the Aviation Medical Acceleration Laboratory. This was considered the final major centrifuge training preparation for the first manned Mercury-Redstone flight. No difficulties were encountered; a decided improvement in the performance of 3-axis hand-controller tasks by the astronauts was noted. The Mercury-Redstone 3 (MR-3) flight activities were adhered to as closely as possible - actual spacecraft couches were used, a production hand-controller assembly was installed, the latest model pressure suits were worn, and the environmental control system was equipped with a freon coolant. Failures in spacecraft sequencing were introduced which required the astronaut to initiate an appropriate manual override.

October 13-14

DESFLOTFOUR personnel, designated previously by the Department of Defense to provide recovery support for Project Mercury, conducted a communications exercise in the recovery room of Mercury Control Center. This was the first time these communication facilities had been used since the installation of the equipment. During the exercise, voice and continuous-wave communications were established with two destroyers 120 miles at sea. The purpose of this successful exercise was to acquaint personnel with equipment layout and communication procedures.

October 17

A Project Mercury weather support group was established in the Office of Meteorological Research of the United States Weather Bureau at the request of NASA.

James Carter of the Marshall Space Flight Center submitted a study on "Crew Support Equipment." This type of equipment was defined as that which is not an integral part of or attached to a space vehicle or space station. Specific equipment categories discussed in the report included personal safety, recovery, survival, food supplies, portable respiratory devices, and hand tools.

October 18

The spacecraft checkout facility at Marshall Space Flight Center was transferred to Cape Canaveral.

Mission rules for Mercury-Redstone 1 (MR-1) were issued. A revision was published on Nov. 1, 1960.

October 31

Space Task Group officials presented the status of qualification and reliability activities for Project Mercury to Dr. T. Keith Glennan, NASA Administrator.

November 1

The Goddard Space Flight Center computing and communications center became operational. Goddard's mission was to serve as a communications center, and two IBM 7090 computers, operating in parallel, would compute the smoothed exact position at all times during the flight, predict future spacecraft positions, and shift the coordinates to provide acquisition information for all observation sites. (See fig. 43.) In addition, Goddard calculated certain quantities needed for display purposes at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The importance of the Goddard computers was graphically demonstrated when they predicted the amount of overshoot within seconds after landing during the Mercury-Atlas 7 (MA-7, Carpenter) mission. This action significantly reduced the time to find and recover the astronaut.

Computer consoles at the Goddard Space Flight Center
Figure 43. Computers used in Mercury orbital track at Goddard Space Flight Center.

November 8

Little Joe 5 (LJ-5), the first of the series with a McDonnell production spacecraft, was launched from Wallops Island to check the spacecraft in an abort simulating the most severe launch conditions. The launch was normal until 15.4 seconds after lift-off, at which time the escape rocket motor was prematurely ignited. The spacecraft did not detach from the launch vehicle until impact and was destroyed. Failure to attain mission objectives was attributed to several possible causes. One of these was failure of the spacecraft-to-adpater clamp-ring limit switches. Another possibility was failure of the escape tower clamp-ring limit switches. And the third was improper rigging of the limit switches in either of those locations so that vibration or deflection could have caused switch closure. Since the test objectives were not met, a repeat of the mission was planned.

November 13

System checkout tests were completed on spacecraft No. 7. In the opinion of McDonnell, the results demonstrated that this spacecraft was adequate for a manned mission.

November 16

A meeting was held at Langley Field by NASA personnel to discuss the results of test programs which had been conducted. Of particular interest was the estblishment of the causes for the failure of the Mercury-Atlas 1 (MA-1) mission and to determine the status of readiness or the Mercury-Atlas 2 (MA-2) mission. (See August 1960 to February 1961 entry.)

November 17

The Space Task Group requested that McDonnell submit a proposal for conducting a test to determine the capability of an astronaut to make celestial observations through the Mercury spacecraft observation window.

November 18

The "Standard Procedures Mercury Control Center for Flight Control and Overall Options" was published.

Spacecraft No. 8 was delivered to Cape Canaveral for the Mercury-Atlas 3 (MA-3) unmanned orbital mission.

November 21

An attempt was made to launch Mercury-Redstone 1 (MR-1) from Cape Canaveral. This unmanned mission was unsuccessful because premature cut-off of the launch vehicle engines activated the emergency escape system when the vehicle was only about 1 inch off the pad. Engine cut-off was caused by premature loss of electrical ground power to the booster. The launch vehicle settled back on the pad with only slight damage. Since the spacecraft received a cut-off signal, the escape tower and recovery sequence was initiated. The undamaged spacecraft was recovered for reuse.

November 21-30

Phase II of the helicopter spacecraft airdrop program was completed. One of the objectives of these tests was to drop a spacecraft during wind conditions of 18 knots, and this phase was successful. Secondary objectives of the program were to investigate spacecraft dynamics and water stability. Both spacecraft flotation and righting characteristics were found to be acceptable.


During the Mercury-Redstone 1 (MR-1) and Mercury-Redstone 1A (MR-1A) launches, the complete Mercury Control Center staff operated for the first time.

December 1

A 16 and one half foot recovery whip antenna replaced the balloon-borne system on the Mercury spacecraft. (See fig. 44.)

McDonnell completed the fabrication of the first spacecraft orbital timing device, and qualification tests for this component were started immediately.

Figure 44. Spacecraft antennas.

December 2

Spacecraft weight and balance values for the Mercury-Redstone 2 (MR-2) mission were forwarded by the Space Task Group to the Marshall Space Flight Center.

December 3

Redstone launch vehicle No. 3 was shipped to Cape Canaveral for the Mercury-Redstone 1A (MR-1A) mission.

December 9

Spacecraft No. 7 was delivered to Cape Canaveral for the Mercury-Redstone 3 (MR-3) manned ballistic mission (Shepard).

December 14

A contract with the Waltham Precision Instrument Company for the development of a satellite clock was canceled. Technical difficulties were encountered in the manufacturing of the device, previously scheduled for delivery in August 1960, and there was little assurance that these problems could be resolved in time for the clock to be used in any of the Mercury flights. McDonnell fabricated an orbital timing device, which proved to be very satisfactory.

December 19

Mercury-Redstone 1A (MR-1A) was launched from Cape Canaveral in a repeat of the November 21, 1960, mission and was completely successful. This was the third attempt to accomplish the objectives established for this flight. The first attempt on November 7, 1960, was canceled as a result of a helium leak in the spacecraft reaction control system relief valve, and on November 21, 1960, the mission could not be completed because of premature cut-off of the launch vehicle engines. Objectives of the MR-1A flight were to qualify the spacecraft for space flight and to qualify the flight system for a primate flight scheduled shortly thereafter. Close attention was given to the spacecraft-launch vehicle combination as it went through the various flight sequences: powered flight; acceleration and deceleration; performance of the posigrade rockets; performance of the recovery system; performance of the launch, tracking, and recovery phases of the operation; other events of the flight including retrorocket operation in a space environment; and operation of instrumentation. Except that the launch vehicle cut-off velocity was slightly higher than normal, all flight sequences were satisfactory; tower separation, spacecraft separation, spacecraft turnaround, retrofire, retropackage jettison, and landing system operation occurred or were controlled as planned. The spacecraft reached a maximum altitude of 130.68 statute miles, a range of 234.8 statute miles, and a speed of 4,909.1 miles per hour. Fifteen minutes after landing in the Atlantic Ocean, the recovery helicopter picked up the spacecraft to complete the successful flight mission.

December 20

Redstone launch vehicle No. 2 was delivered to Cape Canaveral for the Mercury-Redstone 2 (MR-2) mission (chimpanzee "Ham" flight).


January 3

The Space Task Group, charged by NASA to conduct Project Mercury and other manned space-flight programs, officially became a separate NASA field element directly under NASA Headquarters. Prior to this time, the Space Task Group was organized under the Goddard Space Flight Center and was administratively supported by the Langley Research Center. As of this date, the personnel strength of Space Task Group was 667.

January 16

The Mercury-Redstone 1A (MR-1A) postlaunch system evaluation tests were completed at Cape Canaveral. Data disclosed that the instrumentation system, communication system, and other components had operated satisfactorily during the flight mission.

January 20

Spacecraft No. 14 was delivered to Wallops Island for the Little Joe 5A (LJ-5A) maximum dynamic pressure abort test.

January 31

The estimated cost of NASA Order HS-36, Atlas launch vehicles, was $51,504,000, of which, definitive documents in the amount of $43,671,000 had been processed as of the cited date. NASA Order HS-44 for Redstone launch vehicles was $14,918,182 and $12,534,182 had been processed. On contract NAS 5-59, Mercury spacecraft, costs were $79,245,952, and approximately $9.5 million of this figure was classed as "Undefinitized Obligations."

Mercury-Redstone 2 (MR-2) was launched from Cape Canaveral, with Ham, a 37-pound chimpanzee aboard the spacecraft. (See fig. 45.) During the powered phase of the flight, the thrust of the propulsion system was considerably higher than planned. In addition, the early depletion of the liquid oxygen caused a signal that separated the spacecraft from the launch vehicle a few seconds before planned. The over-acceleration of the launch vehicle coupled with the velocity of the escape rocket caused the spacecraft to attain a higher altitude and a longer range than planned. However spacecraft recovery was effected, although there were some leaks and the spacecraft was taking on water. Ham appeared to be in good physiological condition, but sometime later when he was shown the spacecraft it was visually apparent that he had no further interest in cooperating with the space flight program. Despite the over-acceleration factor, the flight was considered to be successful.

As of this date, McDonnell had expended 2,616,387 man-hours in engineering; 383,561 man-hours in tooling, and 1,538,476 man-hours in production in support of Project Mercury.

Ham the chimp with care taker
Figure 45. Chimpanzee, "Ham," flown in Mercury-Redstone 2 suborbital flight.

January (during the month)

Astronaut training was centered on a close study of spacecraft systems in final preparation for manned space flight. A series of lectures was presented to the astronauts by the Operations Division of the Space Task Group in this respect.

February 3

The Eagle-Picher Company started a 13-week life-cycle test on the Mercury spacecraft batteries.

February 10

Mission rules for the Mercury-Redstone 3 (MR-3 - Shepard's flight) were published. Revisions were issued on February 27, and April 28, 1961.

Measures to be taken for hydrogen-peroxide fuel economy for the spacecraft attitude control system were studied at a coordination meeting. Items considered were orbital attitude, retroattitude hold sequence, and salvo versus ripple retrorocket firing. Astronaut Virgil Grissom reported that the salvo method had already been proven to be unsatisfactory on the Mercury procedures trainer.

February 15

After his nomination by the President as Administrator of NASA on January 30, 1961, James E. Webb was sworn into office, replacing T. Keith Glennan.

February 17

The Space Task Group requested that McDonnell design and install a manual bilge pump in spacecraft No. 7 to allow the removal of any seawater resulting from leakage after spacecraft impact.

Information was released by NASA Headquarters that Space Task Group engineers directing Project Mercury had selected the flight trajectory for the Mercury-Atlas 2 (MA-2) mission. This trajectory was designed to provide the most severe reentry heating conditions which could be encountered on an emergency abort during an orbital flight attempt. The reentry heating rate was estimated to be 30 percent higher than a normal Mercury orbital reentry, and temperatures were predicted to be about 25 percent higher at certain locations on the afterbody of the spacecraft. In addition, the deceleration g-load was calculated to be about twice that expected for a normal reentry from orbit.

Egress hatch procedures for recovery force operations were discussed at a coordination meeting. One suggestion involved the installation of a pull-ring for activating the hatch explosive charge. Another proposal was made for a paint outline of an emergency outlet that could be cut through, if necessary.

February 17-20

Spacecraft, mission, and launch vehicle flight safety rules for the Mercury-Atlas 2 (MA-2) mission were reviewed by Space Task Group personnel.

February 21

Mercury-Atlas 2 (MA-2) was launched from Cape Canaveral in a test to check maximum heating and its effects during the worst reentry design conditions. The flight closely matched the desired trajectory and attained a maximum altitude of 114.04 statute miles and a range of 1,431.6 statute miles. Inspection of the spacecraft aboard the recovery ship some 55 minutes after launch (actual flight time was 17.56 minutes) indicated that test objectives were met, since the structure and heat protection elements appeared to be in excellent condition. The flight control team obtained satisfactory data; and the complete launch computing and display system, operating for the first time in a flight, performed satisfactorily.

Astronauts John Glenn, Virgil Grissom, and Alan Shepard were selected by the Space Task Group to begin special training for the first manned Mercury flight.

February 23

As of this date, the Space Task Group, Convair-Astronautics, Space Technology Laboratories, McDonnell, and the Marshall Space Flight Center had completed a number of extensive studies on the subject of the safe separation of the Mercury spacecraft from the launch vehicle during an emergency. The following papers include a report of these studies: NASA Project Mercury Working Paper No. 111, "Mercury-Redstone Separation Distance ..."; NASA Project Mercury Working Paper No. 141, "Dispersion Study of Separation Distance ...for Mercury-Redstone"; and NASA Working Paper No. 152, "Determination of Mercury Escape Rocket Thrust Eccentricity ...from Mercury-Atlas Booster."

February 24

Spacecraft No. 9 was delivered to Cape Canaveral for the Mercury-Atlas 5 (MA-5) orbital primate (Enos) mission.

February 25

McDonnell conducted a successful drop test, using a boilerplate spacecraft fitted with impact skirt, straps and cables, and a beryllium heat shield. During the tests the stainless steel straps were successfully stretched to design limits. (See fig. 46.)

iluustration of Impact bag deployment
Figure 46. Impact attenuation.

February (during the month)

The orbital psychomotor tester qualification tests began.

Instruction was provided to the astronauts to develop techniques and procedures for using the personal parachute as an additional safety feature in the Mercury program. This parachute was only used during the Mercury-Redstone 3 (MR-3) mission manned by Alan Shepard.

March 2

Evaluation of the Mercury-Atlas 2 (MA-2) flight results disclosed that the spacecraft afterbody temperatures were somewhat lower than had been anticipated.

March 3

Factory roll-out inspection of Atlas launch vehicle No. 100-D was conducted at Convair-Astronautics. This launch vehicle was allocated for the Mercury-Atlas 3 (MA-3) mission.

March 6

"Detailed Test Objectives for NASA Mission MA-3" was published.

March 6-7

The third in the series of development engineering inspections on Mercury spacecraft was held. At this time, spacecraft Nos. 12 and 15 were inspected, and some 50 requests for alterations were made.

March 7

Spacecraft No. 11 was delivered to Cape Canaveral for the Mercury-Redstone 4 (MR-4) ballistic manned (Grissom) flight.

Redstone launch vehicle No. 5 was delivered to Cape Canaveral for the Mercury-Redstone, Booster Development flight (MR-BD).

March 8

Spacecraft No. 10 was accepted and delivered to the McDonnell altitude test facility on March 31, 1961, for an orbital-flight environmental test.

March 14

Atlas launch vehicle 100-D was delivered to Cape Canaveral for the Mercury-Atlas 3 (MA-3) mission. (See fig. 47.)

massive Atlas launch vehicle being offloaded from a large transport aircraft
Figure 47. Atlas launch vehicle 100-D delivered to Cape Canaveral for Mercury-Atlas 3 flight.

March 16

The Space Task Group recommended that the Department of Defense give consideration to assigning weather reconnaissance missions to the Air Weather Service preceding Mercury orbital missions beginning with Mercury-Atlas 4 (MA-4).

Mercury spacecraft No. 10 was withdrawn from the flight program and was allocated to a ground test simulating orbital flight environmental conditions at the McDonnell plant site.

The Space Task Group advised the Goddard Space Flight Center that for all Mercury orbital missions, beginning with Mercury-Atlas 3 (MA-3), trajectory data would be required for postflight analysis.

Mission rules for Mercury-Atlas 3 (MA-3) were published. Revisions were issued on April 4, and April 20, 1961.

March 18

Little Joe 5A (LJ-5A), the sixth in the series of Little Joe missions, was launched from Wallops Island. This flight was intended to satisfy test objectives, which were not met previously because of the failure of the spacecraft to separate from the launch vehicle during the Little Joe 5 (LJ-5) mission flown on November 8, 1960. For reference, the purpose of this test was to demonstrate primarily the structural integrity of the spacecraft and the escape system during an escape maneuver initiated at the highest dynamic pressure anticipated during an Atlas launch for orbital flight. Little Joe 5A (LJ-5A) lifted off normally, but 19 seconds later the escape tower fired prematurely, a situation closely resembling the November 1960 flight. The signal to initiate the abort maneuver was given; and the launch vehicle-adapter clamp ring was released as intended, but the spacecraft remained on the launch vehicle since the escape motor was already expended. The separation was effected by using the retrorockets, but this command was transmitted before the flight had reached its apex, where separation had been planned. Therfore, the separation was rather violent. The parachutes did deploy at about 40,000 feet, and after recovery it was found that the spacecraft had actually incurred only superficial structural damage. In fact, this spacecraft was later used for the subsequent Little Joe 5B (LJ-5B) flight test. Test objectives of the Little Joe 5A (LJ-5A) were not met.

March 20

Between this date and April 13, 1961, Phase III of the spacecraft airdrop program was conducted. Primary objectives of the drops were to study further the spacecraft suitability and flotation capability after water impact. Six drops were made, but later (April 24-28, 1961) the tests were extended for two additional drops to monitor hard-surface landing effects. In the water phase of the program, spacecraft components under particular scrutiny were the lower pressure bulkhead and its capability to withstanding heat shield recontact without impairing flotation capability. Helicopters were used to make the drops.

Trajectory data for the Mercury-Redstone Booster-Development (MR-BD) flight test were forwarded by Marshall Space Flight Center to the Space Task Group and other interested organizations. The purpose of this flight test was to provide a final check of the launch vehicle system prior to the manned suborbital flights.

March 21

The Mercury-Atlas Missile Range Projects Office, headed by Elmer H. Buller, was designated as a staff function of the Space Task Group Director's office.

March 23

President John F. Kennedy advised Representative Overton Brooks (D-La.) that he had no intention "to subordinate" the space activities of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to those of the military.

March 24

After analyzing launch vehicle behavior in the Mercury-Redstone 1A (MR-1A) and Mercury-Redstone 2 (MR-2), officials at the Marshall Space Flight Center and the Space Task Group were of the opinion that there were a number of problems that needed to be corrected prior to the advent of manned flight. The problems to be resolved included jet-vane vibration, instrumentation compartment vibration, failure of the thrust-controller system, and several other areas that needed attention. Many of these problems were studied by the personnel of engineering activities and proposed solutions were formulated. It was felt, however, that flight was necessary to verify the corrections and the Mercury-Redstone Booster Development test was scheduled and flown. All test objectives were met; as a result of this test, the launch vehicle was man-rated for the planned suborbital flights.

March 27

In a NASA Headquarters' note to editors of magazines and newspapers, a procedures and a deadline were established for submitting the applications of accredited correspondents to cover the Mercury-Redstone 3 (MR-3) flight mission. As of April 24, 1961, the deadline date, 350 correspondents were accredited to cover the launch, the first manned suborbital flight of Project Mercury.

March 30

Redstone launch vehicle No. 7 was delivered to Cape Canaveral for the Mercury-Redstone 3 (MR-3) mission.

March 31

As of this date, all stations of NASA's world-wide Mercury tracking network were classed as being operational. An industrial team headed by the Western Electric Company turned over the $60,000,000 global network (figs. 48 and 49) to NASA in a formal ceremony later in the year.

Figure 48. MA-8 orbital track: Mercury Worldwide Tracking Network.

Tracking site pictured with camels in the foreground
Figure 49. Tracking site at Kano, Nigeria, Africa.

April 2

The first simulated orbital mission, with the spacecraft in the altitude chamber, was conducted.

April 3

To satisfy the national interest in Project Mercury, Robert R. Gilruth designated the Public Affairs Office as the point of contact for Space Task Group activities to supply information, within the limits of security, for news dissemination.

April 4

John Glenn, Virgil Grissom, and Alan Shepard began a refresher course on the Aviation Medical Acceleration Laboratory centrifuge in preparation for the first manned Mercury-Redstone suborbital flight.

Mercury spacecraft No. 14A was delivered to Wallops Island for the Little Joe 5B (LJ-5B) maximum dynamic-pressure abort mission. This spacecraft was first used in the Little Joe 5A (LJ-5A) mission and was then refitted for the LJ-5B flight.

April 12

The Soviet Union announced that Major Yuri A. Gagarin had successfully orbited the Earth in a 108 minute flight in a 5 ton Vostok (East), the first man to make a successful orbital flight through space.

April 18

The United States Weather Bureau stated that funds in the amount of $200,000 would be required to support Project Mercury during the fiscal year of 1962.

April 20

Spacecraft, mission, and launch vehicle flight safety were reviewed by Space Task Group personnel in preparation for the Mercury-Redstone 3 (MR-3) mission.

April 25

Mercury-Atlas 3 (MA-3) was launched from Cape Canaveral in an attempt to orbit the spacecraft with a "mechanical astronaut" aboard. After lift-off, the launch vehicle failed to roll to a 70 degree heading and to pitch over into the proper trajectory. The abort-sensing system activated the escape rockets prior to the launch vehicle's destruction by the range safety officer after approximately 40 seconds of flight that had attained an altitude of 16,400 feet. The spacecraft then coasted up to 24,000 feet, deployed its parachutes, and landed in the Atlantic Ocean 2,000 yards north of the launch pad. The spacecraft was recovered and was found to have incurred only superficial damage; it was then shipped to McDonnell for refitting.

President Kennedy signed legislation making the Vice President of the United States the presiding officer of the National Aeronautics and Space Council.

April 28

Little Joe 5B (LJ-5B) was launched from Wallops Island to test the Mercury escape system under maximum dynamic pressure conditions. At the time of lift-off, one of the launch vehicle rocket motors did not ignite until after 4 seconds had elapsed. This delay caused the launch vehicle to pitch into a lower trajectory than had been planned, with a result that the abort maneuver experienced greater dynamic pressures than had been specified in the flight test plan. Other than this, all other sequential systems operated according to plan, and after landing, a normal helicopter recovery was accomplished. Thus, all test objectives were met and were actually exceeded because the spacecraft withstood the higher dynamic pressures.

A simulated countdown for the first Mercury-Redstone manned suborbital flight (MR-3) was successfully completed.

May 5

A document was issued regarding use of a Scout test vehicle (fig. 50) to evaluate the performance of the Mercury tracking and real-time computing system. NASA Headquarters tentatively approved the plan on May 24, 1961.

Scout launch vehicle
Figure 50. Scout launch vehicle proposed to test Mercury Worldwide Tracking Network.

1961 (during the year)

Prior to entering the operational phase of Project Mercury, a decision was made by Robert R. Gilruth and James E. Webb that the astronaut selected for each flight would have the right to name his spacecraft, which is in keeping with past traditions. Therfore, the astronaut advised Robert R. Gilruth of the name of the spacecraft which he had chosen (Freedom 7 in the case of the first flight) and Mr. Gilruth, in turn, advised Mr. Webb of the name. The Federal Communications Commission was also notified of the name since the spacecraft would be using communications frequencies controlled by the Commission.

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