Operational Phase of Project Mercury

May 5, 1961 through May 1962


May 5

Mercury-Redstone 3 (MR-3), designated the Freedom 7, the first Mercury manned suborbital flight, was launched from Cape Canaveral, with astronaut Alan Shepard as the pilot. (See fig. 51.) The Redstone booster performed well during the boosted phase, although there were some vibrations, and cutoff was well within specified limits. After separation, Shepard exercised manual control of the spacecraft in the fly-by-wire and manual proportional modes. The attitude control system operated well, with few thruster fuel leaks. Reentry and landing were accomplished without any difficulty. During the flight, the spacecraft attained a maximum speed of 5,180 miles per hour, rose to an altitude of 116.5 statute miles, and landed 302 statute miles downrange from Cape Canaveral. (See fig. 52.) The pilot experienced a maximum of 6 g's during the booster acceleration phase and slightly less than 12 g's upon reentry. The duration of the flight was 15 minutes and 22 seconds, with weightlessness existing for approximately 5 minutes. Recovery operations were perfect, as helicopters were able visually to follow the descent of the spacecraft. Contact was made with the pilot two minutes after impact and recovery was initiated. (See fig. 53.) There was no damage to the spacecraft, and Shepard was in excellent condition. The first Mercury suborbital flight was a success.

Mercury Redstone rocket seconds after liftoff
Figure 51. Mercury-Redstone 3: First manned suborbital space flight.

Figure 52. Mercury-Redstone 3 flight profile.

helicopter lowering recovered spacecraft onto carrier deck
Figure 53. Freedom 7 returned by helicopter to USS Lake Champlain.

May 8

Astronaut Alan Shepard, pilot of the Freedom 7 spacecraft (MR-3) was awarded NASA's Distinguished Service Medal by President John F. Kennedy in a ceremony at the White House.

May 11

Mercury spacecraft 8A was delivered to Cape Canaveral for the Mercury-Atlas 4 (MA-4) orbital unmanned (mechanical astronaut) mission.

May 13

NASA submitted its legislative program for the 87th Congress (S. 1857 and H.R. 7115), asking for authority to lease property, authority to acquire patent releases, replacement of semiannual reports to Congress with an annual one, and authority to indemnify contractors against unusually hazardous risks.

May 17

An Atlas investigation board was convened to study the cause of the Mercury-Atlas 3 (MA-3) mission launch vehicle failure. Several possible areas were considered, and three were isolated as probable causes based on a review of test data.

May 19

NASA Headquarters and the Space Task Group began a concerted effort in reviewing Mercury progress to identify technical developments that were potential inventions, discoveries, improvements, and innovations. This action was in keeping with the policy and concept of providing information on technical advances, within security limits and when appropriate, to other agencies of the government and to American industry.

May 23-24

The fourth development engineering inspection on Mercury spacecraft was held at McDonnell. Inspection activities were primarily centered on spacecraft No. 18, and some 45 requests for alterations were initiated.

May 25

President Kennedy, in a major message to Congress, called for a vastly accelerated space program based on a long-range national goal of landing a man on the moon and bringing him safely back to Earth. For this and associated projects in space technology, the President requested additional appropriations totaling $611 million for NASA and the Department of Defense.

May 26-27

The first conference on the "Peaceful Uses of Space" was held at Tulsa, Oklahoma. A second conference on this subject was held at Seattle, Washington, on May 8-10, 1962. In both instances, Robert R. Gilruth reported on the manned space flight aspect.

May 26

Between this date and June 4, 1961, the Mercury spacecraft Freedom 7 (MR-3) was displayed at the Paris International Air Show. Some 650,000 visitors received the details on the spacecraft and on Shepard's suborbital flight.

May 29

Between this date and June 30, 1959, a centrifuge training program was conducted at the Aviation Medical Acceleration Laboratory directed entirely toward training the astronauts for the Mercury-Atlas orbital missions.

June 1

Prelaunch mission rules for Mercury-Atlas 4 (MA-4) were published.

June 6

Biomedical results of the Mercury-Redstone 3 (MR-3), Shepard's suborbital space flight, were reported in a Washington conference jointly sponsored by NASA, National Institute of Health, and the National Academy of Sciences.

June 8

Mercury-Atlas 4 (MA-4) recovery requirements were published.

June 12

Redstone launch vehicle No. 8 was delivered to Cape Canaveral for the Mercury-Redstone 4 (MR-4) suborbital flight mission.

June 13

The Space Task Group forwarded to NASA Headquarters the details for the Mercury-Scout instrumentation system. This mission was to check the operational effectiveness of the Mercury global tracking network.

June 13-25

The Freedom 7 (MR-3) spacecraft was viewed by approximately 750,000 visitors at the Rassegna International Electronic and Nuclear Fair at Rome, Italy.

June 16

An Ad Hoc Task Group reported to NASA the results of its studies to determine the main problems, the pacing items, and the major decisions required to accomplish the manned lunar landing mission. The direct ascent method was studied intensively with much less attention given to the rendezvous method.

June 21

Between the cited date and July 15, 1961, as a part of the Mercury-Atlas animal program, chimpanzees received training in acclimation to noise and vibration and to centrifuge runs at the University of Southern California. Two of the animals flew parabolas in a C-131 aircraft for weightlessness training. The animals were also trained in advance psychomotor problems.

June 22

Mercury-Redstone 4 (MR-4) recovery requirements were forwarded by the Space Task Group to the Navy.

The Redstone booster for the Mercury-Redstone 4 (MR-4) manned suborbital flight mission was erected on Pad 5, at Cape Canaveral.

June 24

Modifications were made to the spacecraft designated for the second manned suborbital Mercury flight. An observation window replaced two view ports and an improved manual control system was installed.

June 28

Using spacecraft No. 5, a spacecraft seaworthiness test was conducted 65 miles east of Wallops Island. Sea conditions varied with 2 to 4 foot ground swells and wave heights of from 1 to 2 feet. Spacecraft flotation characteristics were found to be quite satisfactory.

Tracking network requirements for the Mercury extended range or 1 day mission were discussed between Space Task Group and Goddard Space Flight Center personnel.

June 29-30

Factory roll-out inspection of Atlas launch vehicle 88-D, designated for the Mercury-Atlas 4 (MA-4) mission, was conducted at Convair.

Personnel strength of the Space Task Group was 794.

July 1

Responsibility for the operation of the Mercury global network was assigned to the Goddard Space Flight Center. During active mission periods, network control would revert to Space Task Group personnel.

July 11

Key personnel assignments were made by Walter C. Williams, Project Mercury Operations Officer, for the Mercury-Redstone 4 (MR-4) manned suborbital flight mission. These appointments included on-site liaison and consultation, public affairs, photo couriers, and technical observers. Stations covered were Mercury Control Center (fig. 54), Atlantic Missile Range Central Control, landing area aircraft carrier, supporting destroyers, support aircraft, and Base Operations at Patrick Air Force Base.

ground control room personnel monitoring flight
Figure 54. Key personnel in Mercury control center at Cape Canaveral: L to R, Walter C. Williams, Flight Director; John A. (Shorty) Powers, Mission Narrator; Christopher C. Kraft, Flight Director.

July 13

Mercury-Redstone 4 (MR-4) manned suborbital flight mission rules were published.

The Redstone launch vehicle designated for the Mercury-Redstone 6 (MR-6) mission was static tested at the Marshall Space Flight Center to ensure satisfactory operation of the turbopump assembly.

July 13-15

A spacecraft, launch vehicle, and mission flight safety review was held in preparation for the Mercury-Redstone 4 (MR-4) manned suborbital flight mission.

July 15

Atlas launch vehicle 88-D was delivered to Cape Canaveral for the Mercury-Atlas 4 (MA-4) mission.

July 18-19

Two attempts were made to launch Mercury-Redstone 4 (MR-4) with astronaut Virgil Grissom aboard the spacecraft, but unfavorable weather forced mission postponement.

July 21

Mercury-Redstone 4 (MR-4), designated Liberty Bell 7, the second Mercury manned suborbital flight, was launched from Cape Canaveral with astronaut Virgil Grissom as the pilot. From lift-off to reentry, operational sequences were similar to those of the first manned suborbital flight. In the ballistic trajectory, the spacecraft reached a peak altitude of 118 statute miles and landed 303 statute miles downrange from Cape Canaveral. Grissom's flight experience was similar to Shepard's in that there was a 5 minute period of weightlessness, and neither reported any ill effects resulting from this condition. The MR-4 pilot also found it easy to control his spacecraft attitude in the manual mode of operation. The spacecraft was lost during the recovery operations, when the explosive side egress hatch activated prematurely while Grissom was awaiting helicopter pickup. The astronaut egressed immediately and was retrieved after swimming in the water 3 or 4 minutes. With this second successful suborbital flight, the Space Task Group felt there was nothing further to be gained from this phase of Project Mercury, and the remaining Redstone launch vehicle flights were canceled.

July 22

Astronaut Virgil Grissom, pilot of the MR-4 Liberty Bell 7, was awarded the NASA Distinguished Service Medal by NASA Administrator James Webb at the conclusion of the MR-4 press conference held at Cape Canaveral.

July 27-28

After the 2-man space concept (later designated Project Gemini) was introduced in May 1961, a briefing between McDonnell and NASA personnel was held on the matter. As a result of this meeting, space flight design effort was concentrated on the 18-orbit 1-man Mercury and on a 2-man spacecraft capable of advanced missions.

July 31

Between the cited date and September 15, 1961, the astronaut centrifuge training program at the Aviation Medical Acceleration Laboratory was directed entirely toward the Mercury-Atlas orbital missions.

August 1-3

Seaworthiness characteristics of the operational Mercury spacecraft were evaluated. Conditions during the test varied from ground swells of 5 to 15 feet, wave heights of 2 to 10 feet, and winds of 6 to 20 knots. The test lasted for 33 hours and was quite successful.

August 6

U.S.S.R. launched Vostok II into orbit, carrying Major Gherman S. Titov. The spacecraft weighed 13 pounds more than Vostok I (April 12), and the progress of Cosmonaut Titov's flight was reported continuously on Radio Moscow.

August 9

Retrofire-from-orbit mission rules were published for the unmanned Mercury-Atlas 4 (MA-4) orbital flight.

Key personnel operational assignments for the Mercury-Atlas 4 (MA-4) unmanned orbital mission were made by the Space Task Group.

August 13

Spacecraft No. 15 was delivered to Cape Canaveral, but was returned to McDonnell to be reconfigured to the orbital-manned 1-day mission and tentatively assigned for Mercury-Atlas 10 (MA-10). Redesign was completed, and the spacecraft, then designated number 15A (later redesignated 15B), was delivered to Cape Canaveral on November 16, 1962.

August 18

NASA Headquarters publicly announced that an analysis of Project Mercury suborbital data indicated that all objectives of that phase of the program had been achieved and no further Mercury-Redstone flights were planned.

August 22

Between the cited date and September 12, 1961, mission, spacecraft, and launch vehicle flight safety reviews were held for the unmanned Mercury-Atlas 4 (MA-4) orbital flight.

August 24

Mercury-Atlas 4 (MA-4) unmanned orbital flight was postponed.

August 25

Explorer XIII, designed in part to measure the effects of micrometeoroids on spaceflight, failed to meet expectations, thereby necessitating further tests in this area.

August 27

Spacecraft No. 13 was shipped to Cape Canaveral. This particular vehicle was designated for the first manned Mercury-Atlas orbital flight (MA-6, Glenn). Test and checkout work on the spacecraft was started immediately.

August 30

An investigation was conducted as a result of the premature activation of the Mercury-Redstone 4 (MR-4) explosive egress hatch. Tests were initiated in an environment more severe than had been conducted in prelaunch activities and tests, but no premature firings occurred. As a backup, McDonnell was asked to design a mechanical-type hatch. The model weighed some 60 pounds more than the explosive type, so other methods had to be sought to prevent any recurrence of the incident. A procedure was initiated which stipulated that the firing plunger safety pin would be left in place until the helicopter hook was attached to the spacecraft and tension was applied to the recovery cable.

August (during the month)

A NASA site selection team, headed by John F. Parsons, Associate Director of the Ames Research Center, toured possible sites for the permanent location of a manned spacecraft center. The team graded the capabilities of these locations in meeting 10 specified requirements of the new center. These were: (1) available facilities for advanced scientific study; (2) power facilities and utilities; (3) water supply; (4) temperature climate; (5) adequate housing for center personnel; (6) at least 1,000 acres of land for the installation; (7) industrial facilities available; (8) transportation facilities, including water transportation for shipping cumbersome space vehicles by barge; (9) a first-class, all-weather jet service airport; and (10) local cultural and recreational assets. Sites considered were: Tampa, Florida; Jacksonville, Florida; New Orleans, Louisiana; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Shreveport, Louisiana; Houston, Texas; Beaumont, Texas; Corpus Christi, Texas; Victoria, Texas; St. Louis, Missouri; Los Angeles, California; Berkeley, California; San Diego, California; Richmond, California; Moffett Field, California; San Francisco, California; Bogalusa, Louisiana; Liberty, Texas; Harlingen, Texas; and Boston, Massachusetts.

August 5 to October 12

A series of environmental tests was conducted on the spacecraft explosive egress hatch because of the difficulties experienced during the Mercury-Redstone 4 (MR-4) mission.

September 5, 9 and 14

Three rocket sled tests were conducted at the Naval Ordnance Test Station, China Lake, California, to study the detailed launch vehicle-spacecraft, clamp-ring separation. From run to run, minor modifications were made, and by the third run the separation action was perfected.

September 8

A report was made on possible technical advances as a result of the Mercury development program. A few of these are listed: (1) attenuation of impact force from astronaut couch by using crushable honeycomb structure; (2) interchangeable couch configuration for Mercury spacecraft; (3) modified tower clamp ring to improve stability in abort attitude; (4) hydrogen peroxide thrust chamber improvements; (5) oxygen pressure transducer improvements; (6) de-stabilization flap to prevent spacecraft wrong attitude reentry; (7) Mercury spacecraft landing bag design; and (8) multi-nozzle rockets.

September 13

Mercury-Atlas 4 (MA-4) was launched from Cape Canaveral with special vibration and noise instrumentation and a mechanical crewman simulator aboard in addition to the normal spacecraft equipment. This was the first Mercury spacecraft to attain an earth orbit. The orbital apogee was 123 nautical miles and the perigee was 86 nautical miles. After one orbit, the spacecraft's orbital timing device triggered the retrograde rockets, and the spacecraft splashed in the Atlantic Ocean 161 miles east of Bermuda. Recovery was made by the USS Decatur. During the flight, only three slight deviations were noted - a small leak in the oxygen system; loss of voice contact over Australia; and the failure of an inverter in the environmental control system. Overall, the flight was highly successful: the Atlas booster performed well and demonstrated that it was ready for the manned flight, the spacecraft systems operated well, and the Mercury global tracking network and telemetry operated in an excellent manner and was ready to support manned orbital flight. (See fig. 55.)

Figure 55. Normal Mercury-Atlas orbital mission sequence.

September 18

Mission rules for the Mercury-Atlas 5 (MA-5) orbital flight were published. Revisions were issued on October 16 and 25, 1961, and November 11, 1961.

September 19

James Webb, NASA Administrator, announced that the new NASA center for manned space flight would be constructed upon a 1,000 acre site donated by Rice University, southeast of Houston, in Harris County, Texas. The Space Task Group would move from Langley Field to Houston, Texas.

September 20

Robert R. Gilruth and other officials of the Space Task Group surveyed the Houston, Texas, area to seek temporary operational quarters while the permanent installation was being constructed.

September 21

D. Brainerd Holmes was appointed NASA's Director of Manned Space Flight Programs. As general manager of Radio Corporation of America's Major Defense Systems Division, Holmes had been project manager of the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System. Congressman G. P. Miller (D.-Calif.) succeeded the recently deceased Congressman Overton Brooks of Louisiana as chairman of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics.

September 22

The Space Task Group announced that a 30-inch diameter balloon would be installed in the Mercury spacecraft to allow for ship recovery should the helicopter br forced to drop the spacecraft, as happened during the Mercury-Redstone 4 (MR-4) recovery operations.

September 24

NASA Administrator Webb announced major organizational changes and top-level appointments to become effective November 1. The reorganization should provide a clearer focus on major programs and allow center directors to have a louder voice in policy making. The new appointments included the following Directors of major program offices: Ira H. Abbott, Office of Advanced Research and Technology; Homer E. Newell, Office of Space Sciences; D. Brainerd Holmes, Office of Manned Space Flight; and an as yet unnamed Director of Office of Applications Programs. Also, Thomas F. Dixon was appointed Deputy Associate Administrator; Abe Silverstein was named Director of the Lewis Research Center, and Robert R. Gilruth was chosen Director of the Manned Spacecraft Center.

Evaluation of the inflatable flotation collar, attached by ground personnel to sustain spacecraft buoyancy during recovery operations, was completed. (See fig. 56.)

Mercury floating in the ocean surrounded by  its flotation collar
Figure 56. Auxiliary flotation collar.

October 1

Factory roll-out inspection of Atlas booster No. 93-D was conducted at Convair. This booster was designated for the Mercury-Atlas 5 (MA-5) mission.

October 9

Atlas booster No. 93-D was delivered to Cape Canaveral for the Mercury-Atlas 5 (MA-5) orbital flight mission.

October 13

NASA Headquarters approved construction projects for a permanent manned spacecraft center installation at Clear Lake, southeast of Houston, Texas. Buildings to be constructed included an auditorium, project management, cafeteria, flight operations and life systems, life systems laboratory, technical services, technical services shop, central data processing, structures laboratory, research and development offices and laboratory, equipment evaluation laboratory, support offices, support warehouses and offices, and project test laboratory.

October 20

The Mercury-Atlas 5 (MA-5) data aquisition plan was published by the Mercury Data Coordination Office of the Space Task Group's Flight Operations Division.

October 23

Freedom 7, the Mercury-Redstone 3 (MR-3) spacecraft, was presented by NASA to the National Air Museum of the Smithsonian Institution.

October 25

NASA Headquarters officially approved the Mercury extended range or 1-day mission program.

October 26-27

Ship retrieval tests were conducted to establish procedures for recovery of a manned Mercury spacecraft. No difficulties were encountered.

October 29

An announcement was made that a Mercury-Scout launch would be made to verify the readiness of the world-wide Mercury Tracking network to handle further orbital flights.

October (during the month)

Spacecraft 12 was delivered to Cape Canaveral as a backup for the MA-8 mission (six-orbit flight), but immediate consideration was given for its modification to the Mercury extended range or 1-day mission. The capsule was returned to McDonnell, reconfigured and stored.

November 1

An attempt was made to launch Mercury-Scout 1 (MS-1) into orbit with a communications package further to qualify the radar tracking of the Mercury global network prior to manned orbital flight. Shortly after lift-off, the launch vehicle developed erratic motions and attending high aerodynamic loads, and was destroyed by the Range Safety Officer after 43 seconds of flight. No further attempts were planned. The Mercury-Atlas 4 (MA-4) mission and the successful Mercury-Atlas 5 (MA-5), flown on November 29, 1961, disclosed that the network met all requirements.

The Space Task Group, the organization charged with directing Project Mercury and other manned spaceflight programs, was redesignated the Manned Spacecraft Center, with Robert R. Gilruth as Director.

November 15

Mercury spacecraft No. 18 was delivered to Cape Canaveral for the second manned (Carpenter) orbital flight, Mercury-Atlas 7 (MA-7).

November 19

Factory roll-out inspection of Atlas launch vehicle 109-D was conducted. (See fig. 57.) This booster was designated for the Mercury-Atlas 6 (MA-6) mission, the first manned orbital space flight.

Convair plant
Figure 57. Production of Atlas launch vehicles at Convair Astronautics plant at Sorrento, Calif.

November 29

For the Mercury-Atlas 5 (MA-5) orbital mission, the Mercury astronauts were assigned as spacecraft communicators at six of the Mercury global network tracking stations.

Mercury-Atlas 5 (MA-5), the second and final orbital qualification of the spacecraft prior to manned flight, was launched from Cape Canaveral with Enos, a 37.5 pound chimpanzee, aboard. (See fig. 58.) Scheduled for three orbits, the spacecraft was returned to earth after two orbits due to the failure of a roll reaction jet and to the overheating of an inverter in the electrical system. Both of these difficulties could have been corrected had an astronaut been aboard. The spacecraft was recovered 255 miles southeast of Bermuda by the USS Stormes. During the flight, the chimpanzee performed psychomotor duties and upon recovery was found to be in excellent physical condition. The flight was termed highly successful and the Mercury spacecraft well qualified to support manned orbital flight.

Astronaut John Glenn was selected as the pilot for the first manned orbital flight, with Scott Carpenter as backup pilot. Immediately, training was started to ready these two astronauts for the mission. The five remaining astronauts concentrated their efforts on various engineering and operational groups of the Manned Spacecraft Center in preparation for the mission.

Enos being prepared for his spaceflight
Figure 58. Chimpanzee, "Enos," flown in Mercury-Atlas 5 two-orbit mission.

November 30

Atlas launch vehicle 109-D was delivered to Cape Canaveral for the Mercury-Atlas 6 (MA-6) first manned orbital mission.

December 6

NASA Headquarters announced that the first Mercury manned orbital flight was scheduled for early 1962. This decision was made when the Mercury-Atlas 5 (MA-5) mission data indicated that the spacecraft system, launch vehicle, and tracking network were ready.

In a joint ceremony, astronauts Alan Shepard and Virgil Grissom were awarded the first Astronaut Wings by their respective services.

December 7

Plans for the development of a 2-man Mercury spacecraft were announced by Robert R. Gilruth, Director of the Manned Spacecraft Center. On January 3, 1962, this program was designated Project Gemini.

December 11

A contract was awarded by the Army Corps of Engineers to a team headed by Brown and Root, Incorporated, for design of a major portion of the permanent facilities to be constructed for the Manned Spacecraft Center.

December 11-13

Spacecraft egress exercises were conducted for the astronauts in the Back River near Langley Field. This training was especially conducted for the pilots selected for the manned orbital mission and for helicopter recovery teams. The astronauts made both top and side hatch egresses from the spacecraft and no problems were encountered.

December 12

Spacecraft ultimate pressure tests to 20 pounds per square inch were conducted, and subsequent inspection disclosed there was no structural damage, deformation or failure.

December 14

Walter C. Williams told a University of Houston audience at Houston, Texas, that the Mercury spacecraft had served and would continue to serve as a test bed for developing orbital flight techniques and hardware for more ambitious space programs.

December 14-18

Two Mercury spacecraft solid bottom (no impact bag) water drop tests were made. Subsequent inspections of the spacecaft structure and ablation heat shield disclosed no structural damage.

December 18

Spacecraft external pressure tests were conducted at pressures up to 15 pounds per square inch. Bulkhead deflection was slight and well within tolerable limits.

December 29

The appointments of Dr. Joseph F. Shea as Deputy Director for Systems Engineering, Office of Manned Space Flight at NASA Headquarters, and Dr. Arthur Rudolph as Assistant Director of Systems Engineering was announced. Dr. Rudolph would serve as liaison between vehicle development at Marshall Space Flight Center and the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston.

December 31

Personnel strength of the Manned Spacecraft Center was 1,152.

Senior officials from NASA Headquarters, Marshall Space Flight Center, and the Manned Spacecraft Center will sit on a Management Council to insure the orderly and timely progress in the manned space flight programs. The Council under the chairmanship of D. Brainerd Holmes will meet at least once a month to identify and resolve problems as early as possible and to coordinate interface problems between the various Offices.


January 1

A survey was performed at the Manned Spacecraft Center to ascertain the number of personnel who intended to move with the Center from Langley Field to Houston, Texas. Only 84 personnel indicated they would not make the move.

January 3

Exercises were held at the Lynnhaven Roads Anchorage near Norfolk, Virginia, to determine the feasibility of using the auxiliary flotation collar in recovery operations. The tests were successful and the collar was adopted.

Flight controllers, excluding the medical monitors, were given a final briefing prior to deployment to remote sites for the Mercury-Atlas 6 (MA-6) mission.

January 15

Organization and staffing of the Manned Spacecraft Center's Mercury Project Office was completed. Major organizational division of this staff element included Office of Project Manager, Project Engineering Office, Project Engineering Field Office (duty station at Cape Canaveral), Engineering Operations Office, and Engineering Data and Measurement Office. Kenneth Kleinknecht was appointed Manager of Project Mercury.

January 15-17

Recovery area swimmers were trained at the Pensacola Naval Air Station, Florida, for use in the Mercury-Atlas 6 (MA-6) manned orbital mission. (See fig. 59.) Instruction included films, briefings, auxiliary flotation collar deployment, and jumps from a helicopter.

scuba divers with rescue helicopter on the deck of the carrier ready for Recovery ops.
Figure 59. Scuba divers prepare for recovery of Mercury spacecraft.

January 16

Spacecraft 16 was delivered to Cape Canaveral for the third manned (Schirra) orbital flight, Mercury-Atlas 8 (MA-8).

January 23

Robert R. Gilruth, Director of the Manned Spacecraft Center, was awarded the Louis W. Hill Space Transportation Award by the Institute of Aerospace Sciences for his "outstanding leadership in technical development of spacecraft for manned space flight."

January 27

The Mercury-Atlas 6 (MA-6) manned orbital flight was postponed at T-minus 29 minutes due to weather conditions.

January 30

The Mercury-Atlas 6 (MA-6) mission was postponed because of technical difficulties with the launch vehicle.

January (during the month)

Three potential recovery areas were recommended for the Mercury extended range or 1-day mission. These were: Grand Turk, Midway Island, and the Japanese-Philippine Island area.

Modifications were started in order to use the New York-Bermuda submarine cable for the transmission of high speed radar data from the Bermuda network site to the Goddard Space Flight Center computers.

Twenty spacecraft aerial drop tests were planned for the Mercury extended range or 1-day mission. One of the prime objectives was to determine if the 63-foot ringsail main recovery parachute met all Mercury mission weight requirements. Tests were scheduled to be conducted at El Centro, California, and all tests would be land drops. This test program was designated Project Reef.

February 1

NASA Headquarters announced that the Mercury-Atlas 6 (MA-6) manned orbital mission would be scheduled no earlier than February 13, 1962, and that repair of the Atlas launch vehicle fuel tank leak would be completed well before that time.

February 14

Unfavorable weather conditions caused the Mercury-Atlas 6 (MA-6) manned orbital mission to be postponed.

February 16

Walter C. Williams, Project Mercury Operations Director, announced that because of weather conditions February 20, 1962, would be the earliest date that the Mercury-Atlas 6 mission could be launched.

February 20

Mercury-Atlas 6 (MA-6) was launched from Cape Canaveral with astronaut John Glenn as pilot. (See fig. 60.) The Friendship 7 spacecraft covered its three-orbit flight in 4 hours 55 minutes, and 23 seconds. Some 60 million persons viewed astronaut Glenn's launch on live television. During the flight two major problems were encountered: (1) a yaw attitude control jet apparently clogged, forcing the astronaut to abandon the automatic control system for the manual-electrical fly-by-wire system and the manual-mechanical system; and (2) a faulty switch in the heat shield circuit indicated that the clamp holding the shield had been prematurely released - a signal later found to be false. During reentry, however, the retropack was not jettisoned but retained as a safety measure to hold the heat shield in place in the event it had loosened. The spacecraft landed in the Atlantic Ocean about 800 miles southeast of Bermuda and was recovered by the USS Noa after being in the water for 21 minutes. With the success of Mercury-Atlas 6 (MA-6) the basic objectives of Project Mercury had been reached - a man put into earth orbit, his reactions to space environment observed, and his safe return to earth to a point where he could be readily found. Prior to the flight, there was concern about the psychological effects of prolonged weightlessness. To the contrary, there were no debilitating or harmful effects, the astronaut found the zero g conditions very handy in performing his tasks, and felt exhilarated during his 4.5 hours of weightlessness. One of the interesting sidelights of the Glenn flight was his report of "fire flies" when he entered the sunrise portion of an orbit. For some time this phenomenon remained a space mystery, until Scott Carpenter accidently tapped the spacecraft wall with his hand, releasing many of the so-called "fire flies." The source was determined to be frost from the reaction control jets.

MA-6 blasting off
Figure 60. Mercury-Atlas 6: First manned (Glenn) orbital flight.

February 21

A metal fragment, identified by numbers stamped on it as a part of the Atlas that boosted Mercury-Atlas 6 (MA-6) into orbit, landed on a farm in South Africa after about 8 hours in orbit.

February 23

In a ceremony at Cape Canaveral, President John F. Kennedy awarded the NASA Distinguished Service Medal to John Glenn and Robert R. Gilruth.

February 25

Factory roll-out inspection of Atlas launch vehicle 107-D, designated for the Mercury-Atlas 7 (MA-7) manned orbital mission, was conducted at Convair.

February 26

John Glenn Day in Washington, D.C., featured the reception of the astronaut at the White House, a parade, and his address to joint session of Congress.

March 1

An estimated 4 million people lined the streets of New York City for "John Glenn Day." Mayor Robert Wagner presented Glenn and Robert R. Gilruth the city's Medal of Honor.

McDonnell submitted Mercury Report No. 8140, entitled "Contractor Furnished Equipment Status Report," showing the status of component qualification tests.

March 2

The Mercury astronauts were guests of the United Nations, and John Glenn acted as spokesman during an informal reception given by Acting Secretary General U Thant.

March 4-5

Scott Carpenter and Walter Schirra, designated (but not publicly) as pilot and backup pilot, respectively, for the Mercury-Atlas 7 (MA-7) manned orbital mission, underwent water-egress exercises. Several side-hatch egresses were made in conjunction with helicopter pickups.

March 6

Atlas launch vehicle 107-D was delivered to Cape Canaveral for the Mercury-Atlas 7 (MA-7) mission.

March 7

The first Orbiting Solar Observatory (OSO) performed remarkably well in conducting the thirteen different experiments for which it was programmed. Especially relevant to manned space flight were its measurements of solar radiation in high frequency ranges, of cosmic dust effects, and of the thermal properties of spacecraft surface materials.

March 9

John Glenn became the third man to be presented with Astronaut Wings in a ceremony at the Pentagon.

March 12

During the period of the move of the Manned Spacecraft Center from Langley Field to Houston, Texas, primary Mercury operational activities remained at Langley to prevent any disruptions in the Mercury operational program.

March 15

NASA Headquarters publicly announced that Scott Carpenter would pilot the Mercury-Atlas 7 (MA-7) manned orbital mission replacing Donald Slayton. The latter, formerly scheduled for the flight, was disqualified because of a minor erratic heart rate.

March 20

Spacecraft 19 was delivered to Cape Canaveral in the orbital-manned configuration, but this mission was canceled after the successful six-orbit flight of Schirra.

March 22

Manned Spacecraft Center personnel briefed the Chief of Naval Operations on the Mercury-Atlas 7 (MA-7) flight and ensuing Mercury flights. This material was incorporated in a document entitled, "NASA Project Mercury Advance Recovery Requirements."

March (during the month)

The PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique) reporting system became operational on an experimental basis. The first PERT report on the Mercury 1-day mission schedule and cost analysis was issued by the Manned Spacecraft Center on April 26, 1962.

April 6

NASA sponsored a 1-day symposium in Washington on the results of the Mercury-Atlas 6 (MA-6) three-orbit flight of John Glenn. One of the items of particular interest was Glenn's "fire-flies," or luminous particles, and their possible origin.

April 9

The National Geographic Society awarded the Hubbard Medal to John Glenn. This award has been made only 20 times since its origination in 1906. Glenn joined such recipients as Admiral Robert A. Peary, Charles A. Lindbergh, Roald Amundsen, and Admiral Richard E. Byrd.

April 15

Scott Carpenter and Walter Schirra, designated as pilot and backup pilot, respectively, for the Mercury-Atlas 7 (MA-7) manned orbital mission, underwent a water exercise training program to review procedures for boarding the life raft and the use of survival packs.

April 19

NASA announced that the spacecraft, Friendship 7, used in the Mercury-Atlas 6 (MA-6) manned obital mission would be lent to the United States Information Agency for a world tour, involving 20 stops and touching all continents. This tour was known as the "fourth orbit of Friendship 7." William Bland of the Mercury Project Office served as tour officer.

April 30

Some 27 items of bite-size food were sampled and tested for possible inclusion in the Mercury space flights.

Swimmer training was started for the Mercury-Atlas 7 (MA-7) manned orbital mission recovery area. Instruction consisted of films, briefings, exercises in deploying the auxiliary flotation collar, and jumps from a helicopter.

April (during the month)

Development of an advanced state-of-the-art pressure suit and helmet was started. This action was taken in preparation for the Mercury extended range or 1-day mission program. The objectives were aimed at improvements in unpressurized suit comfort, suit ventilation, pressure suit mobility, electrically heated helmet visor with additional light attenuation features, and the fabrication of a mechanical visor seal mechanism.

May 1

A gas analysis laboratory was installed in Hanger S at Cape Canaveral to analyze gases used in the Mercury spacecraft.

May 4

A memorandum was issued on proposed experiments for inclusion in Mercury manned orbital flights. This action was in keeping with a statement made by Walter C. Williams before a University of Houston audience that the spacecraft would be used as a test bed for more ambitious space projects.

Scott Carpenter, designated as the primary pilot for the Mercury-Atlas 7 (MA-7) manned orbital flight completed a simulated MA-7 mission exercise.

May 7

NASA announced that the Mercury-Atlas 7 (MA-7) manned orbital flight would be delayed several days due to checkout problems with the Atlas launch vehicle.

May 15

Scott Carpenter, designated as the primary pilot of the Mercury-Atlas 7 (MA-7) manned orbital flight, flew a simulated mission with the spacecraft mated to the Atlas launch vehicle.

May 17

The Mercury-Atlas 7 (MA-7) manned orbital mission was postponed a second time because of necessary modifications to the altitude-sensing instrumentation in the parachute-deployment system.

May 19

A third postponement was made for the Mercury-Atlas 7 (MA-7) flight mission due to irregularities detected in the temperature control device on a heater in the Atlas flight control system.

May 24

Mercury-Atlas 7 (MA-7) was launched into earth orbit with astronaut Scott Carpenter as the pilot. The three-orbit flight of the spacecraft, designated Aurora 7, achieved all objectives. Only one critical component malfunction occurred during the mission - a random failure of the circuitry associated with the pitch horizon scanner, which provides a reference point to the attitude gyros. Also during the flight there was concern over the excessive fuel usage, a condition which resulted from extensive use of the high-thrust controls and the inadvertant use of two control systems simultaneously. To compensate, the spacecraft was allowed to drift for 77 minutes, in addition to the drifting already a part of the flight plan. The flight lasted for 4 hours and 56 minutes, and the spacecraft landed in the Atlantic Ocean 125 miles northeast of Puerto Rico, some 250 miles beyond the predicted impact point. The overshoot was traced to a 25 degree yaw error at the time the retrograde rockets were fired. Retrofire was about 3 seconds late, which accounts for about 20 miles of the overshoot. Computers at the Goddard Space Flight Center predicted the overshoot after the retrofire action. Carpenter was recovered by a helicopter and taken to the USS Intrepid after being in the water for 2 hours and 59 minutes. The astronaut did not incur any detrimental physical or biomedical effects. Two experiments were aboard the MA-7 spacecraft: one pertained to the behavior of liquid in a weightless state, and the other was a deployed balloon to measure drag and provide visibility data. The balloon failed to inflate properly (fig. 61), but the liquid reacted as had been anticipated (fig, 62). Carpenter also saw Glenn's "fire-flies."

Balloon exp. Gravity exp.
Figure 61. Balloon experiment. Figure 62. Zero-gravity experiment.

May 27

Scott Carpenter and Walter C. Williams were awarded the NASA Distinguished Service Medal by James Webb, NASA Administrator, in a ceremony at Cape Canaveral.

May 28

Flight and ground tests disclosed that retrorocket heater blankets were unnecessary to the spacecraft, and this item was removed.

For possible application purposes, and upon request, the Manned Spacecraft Center shipped Mercury-type survival kits to the Air Force for its X-20 Dyna Soar development program and to the Navy.

May 31

Technical Report No. 138, entitled "Results of Project Mercury Ballistic and Orbital Chimpanzee Flights," was completed.

May (during the month)

Decision was made between April 29 and May 5, 1962, that leg supports would be removed from the Mercury couch. It had been determined that the heel and toe supports could be used as the sole supports for the lower leg. (See fig. 63.)

Figure 63. Astronaut couch modifications.

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