Project Mercury – The First Manned Space Program of the United States


If you are into space flights, then you are probably aware of the Project Mercury. It was the first human spaceflight program of NASA, with a major aim of determining whether humans could effectively function in space for a few hours or minutes at a time. Every mission flew only a single person at once into space. It starts with fifteen-minute missions and gradually expands to a day.

The Early Flights of Mercury

There were some tests conducted before humans were placed on board the Mercury spacecraft. The very first living thing that was able to fly on Mercury wasn’t a test pilot. In fact, it was a chimpanzee named Ham, which is an acronym for the Holloman Aerospace Medical center. The officials of NASA wanted to fly Ham first just in case the flight encounters technical issues, which actually happened. It flew faster and higher than anticipated. It then splashed down over four-hundred miles off course. Luckily, Ham was able to emerge healthy except for fatigue and mild dehydration.

On March 24, 1961, another test flight was conducted. Then, NASA felt that it is ready to bring a first astronaut on board, Alan Shepard. Shepard lifted off for a suborbital flight on May 5, 1961. His milestone came only weeks after the very first man who made into the space on April 12, Yuri Gagarin. The next flight of Mercury on July 21, 1961 was a major snag.

Getting to the Orbit

Though the missions of Mercury were technological achievements for NASA, as well as its contractors, they were a bit short. It was only fifteen-minute arcs between the Atlantic Ocean and Florida. Meanwhile, the Soviets had already done orbital missions, circling the Earth many times. In order for the Americans to get to that stage, they need a more powerful rocket, aside from other changes in the mission.

John Glenn aimed to achieve 3 orbits of Earth. On February 20, 1962, he then blasted off and completed his five-hour and three-orbit mission where he discovered strange “fireflies” appearing to follow the spacecraft. Later on, it was explained that such phenomenon are ice crystals that come off the hull.

The project Mercury has been a success. Before closing the program, spacecrafts were developed and better orbital maneuvering, as well as human endurance was further improved for future space missions. The agency also focused its attention to new programs.