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Transcript of Mercury Program
The complete flight of Alan Shepard - Freedom 7
Kennedy had a deep commitment to the political goal of beating the Soviets, but privately lacked a visionary interest in space, despite his often stirring public rhetoric (“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”). This contradiction is apparent in a tape recording of a White House meeting that occurred Nov. 21, 1962. The recording, released in 2001 by the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, documents Kennedy fending off the concerns of NASA Administrator James Webb that the United States risked a very public failure in its push to achieve the lunar landing goal. Webb asserted that the United States should have broader goals in space activities. “This is, whether we like it or not a race,” Kennedy said. "Everything we do [in space] ought to be tied into getting to the moon ahead of the Russians.”
Kennedy told Webb that winning the moon race “is the top priority of the agency and except for defense, the top priority of the United States government. Otherwise, we shouldn’t be spending this kind of money, because I’m not that interested in space.”
John F. Kennedy, 1961-1963
I find it fascinating that NASA director James Webb continues to argue with Kennedy about the goal of putting a man on the moon while Webb's aides try to moderate the discussion.
Required Viewing 2
On December 17, 1958, fifty five years to the day after the Wright brothers completed history’s first manned airplane flight, NASA announced the new manned satellite program would be called "Project Mercury. The Mercury program was the first step in America’s effort to launch an astronaut into space and ultimately land on the moon. The Mercury program introduced America to the nation’s newest heroes; the original seven Mercury astronauts. It was these men’s stories that were portrayed in Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book titled ‘The Right Stuff’
Selection processes associated with choosing the original 7 Mercury astronauts.
At the beginning of 1959 NASA Headquarters had worried about three scientific unknowns needing resolution before actual attempts to conduct manned orbital flights. NASA administrator T. Keith Glennan listed the following issues that required investigation before humans could go into space:
‘The problems known to exist include (1) high-energy radiation, both primary and cosmic ray and the newer plasma type discovered in the IGY satellite series; (2) man's ability to withstand long periods of loneliness and strain while subjected to the strange environment of which weightlessness is the factor least evaluated; and (3) reentry into the atmosphere and safe landing. The reliability of the launching rocket must be increased before a manned capsule is used as a payload. Once these basic questions have been answered, then we can place a manned vehicle in orbit about the earth.’
The Mercury Project’s original objectives were as follows:
• Place a manned spacecraft in orbital flight around the earth.
• Investigate man's performance capabilities and his ability to function in the environment of space.
• Recover the man and the spacecraft safely.
After the objectives were established for the project, a number of guidelines were established to insure that the most expedient and safest approach for attainment of the objectives was followed. The following program development guidelines were established:
• Existing technology and off-the-shelf equipment should be used wherever practical.
• The simplest and most reliable approach to system design would be followed.
• An existing launch vehicle would be employed to place the spacecraft into orbit.
• A progressive and logical test program would be conducted.
More detailed requirements for the spacecraft were then established:
• The spacecraft must be fitted with a reliable launch-escape system to separate the spacecraft and its crew from the launch vehicle in case of impending failure.
• The pilot must be given the capability of manually controlling spacecraft attitude.
• The spacecraft must carry a retrorocket system capable of reliably providing the necessary impulse to bring the spacecraft out of orbit.
• A zero-lift body utilizing drag braking would be used for reentry.
• The spacecraft design must satisfy the requirements for a water landing.
Shortly after Alan Shepard’s first flight on May 5, 1961, President John F. Kennedy asked the United States congress for funds that would enable America to land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth. I find it very interesting that after announcing this extraordinary goal, Kennedy essentially apologizes for asking for the necessary funding and makes clear that the goal of landing a man on the moon is his recommendation but he hopes that Congress will agree with him.
You can see an instrument panel very similar to this design
in the supplemental video of Alan Shepard’s first flight and in the picture below.
Mercury-Redstone 2. The MR-2 mission was accomplished on January 31, 1961 from the Cape Canaveral test site with Ham a chimpanzee as a passenger. The greater than normal launch-vehicle velocity combined with the velocity increment obtained unexpectedly from the escape-rocket motor produced a flight path that resulted in a landing point about 110 nautical miles farther downrange than the planned landing point. This extra range was the prime factor in the 2 hours and 56 minutes that it took to locate and recover the spacecraft.
Ham was recovered in good condition, even though the flight had been more severe than planned. By the time the spacecraft was recovered, it had nearly filled with water. Some small holes had been punctured in the lower pressure bulkhead at landing. Also, the heat-shield retaining system was fatigued by the action of the water and resulted in loss of the heat shield. Another anomaly that occurred during the flight was the opening of the spacecraft cabin inflow valve during ascent, which prevented the environmental control system from maintaining pressure at the design level. Because the pressure dropped below the design level, the emergency environmental system was exercised, and it performed satisfactorily. From the experiences of this flight, a number of modifications were made to the spacecraft systems to avoid recurrence of the malfunctioning items.
On May 5, 1961, Alan B. Shepard became the first United States’ first human in space. Launched on a Mercury-Redstone rocket, his capsule he named Freedom 7 achieved an altitude of about 101 nautical miles and was in weightless flight for slightly over 5 minutes. Analysis of the results of the mission showed that Shepard effectively performed his assigned tasks during all phases of the flight. During the flight, Shepard observed the Earth and tested the capsule's attitude control system, turning the capsule around to face its blunt heat shield forward for atmospheric entry. Postflight analyses revealed that both Shepard and the spacecraft were in excellent condition. A helicopter pickup was made of the spacecraft after the pilot had made his egress from the side hatch of the spacecraft and had been hoisted aboard the helicopter. The pilot and the spacecraft were landed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Lake Champlain only 11 minutes after spacecraft landing, and the spacecraft was brought back to the Cape Canaveral the following morning.
Original invitation to apply to be an astronaut
Virgil (Gus) Grissom was the next Mercury astronaut to fly. He launched on July 21, 1961 and made a suborbital flight similar to that of Alan Shepard. The capsule, named Liberty Bell 7, was somewhat different than Freedom 7 in that it had a large top window, a side hatch to be opened by an explosive charge, and a modified instrument panel. The spacecraft achieved a maximum altitude of about 103 nautical miles, with a period of weightlessness of about 5 minutes. The flight was successful. After landing, premature and unexplained actuation of the spacecraft explosive side hatch resulted in an emergency situation in which the space craft was lost but the pilot was rescued from the surface of the water. See the Unit titled Spaceflight disasters for more information about the perilous rescue of astronaut Grissom.
Historic launch of Friendship 7.
The sheer pride and excitement in Walter Cronkite's voice and the 'state of the art' graphics make this clip a must see.
John Glenn's historic flight making him the first American to orbit the Earth
Flight of Friendship 7 and the ‘damaged’ heat shield
This clip also contains Scott Carpenter’s legendary phrase ‘Godspeed, John Glenn’ uttered moments before launch
NASA's version of John Glenn's historic flight
News report of John Glenn and fellow astronaut’s ticker tape parade in New York City, March 1, 1962. Note how the announcer promotes the American hero angle and the seemingly utter lack of effective crowd control.
John Glenn’s speech at New York city hall after his ticker tape parade – March 1, 1962
I think it is fairly easy to sense that Glenn is not yet comfortable in his role of American hero.
Astronaut Scott Carpenter launched on May 24, 1962 aboard his Aurora spacecraft. While deemed a successful flight, consisting of three Earth orbits, it revealed several continuing problems with the space capsule. These problems required that Carpenter perform a good amount of manual controlling of the craft. He eventually splashed down 250 miles from the target zone but was recovered in good health. His flight was not without controversy with concerning the question of whether Carpenter or the capsule at fault for the use of excessive fuel consumption and the overshooting of the landing zone.
NASA video chronicling the flight of Scott Carpenter, the second American to orbit the Earth
The Mercury program was a huge success by any measure. All of the program’s goals were accomplished within four and a half years and it set the stage for the United States’ development of the Gemini program. The early successes in the Mercury program provided President John Kennedy the confidence to declare that it was America’s goal to send humans to the moon before the end of the 1960’s. The Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States served as a backdrop for the Mercury program with each rocket launch watched on live television by millions of citizens who believed victory in the space race represented proof that the ‘American Way of Life’ was superior to that of the Soviet Union’s.
Flight of the Sigma 7 In this edited NASA film, you will sense the excitement of astronaut Wally Schirra as he is given permission by ground control to make three additional orbits, hear him briefly discuss the lack of effects from weightlessness and gain a sense of his personality as he requests permission to be brought about the recovery ship while still in his capsule. If you watch carefully, you will be able to see the hatch blow on the capsule while it is on the recovery ship. The Sigma 7 Mercury flight occurred October 3, 1962.
Wally Schirra’s Sigma 7 page – the small interview clip that begins as you load the page is quite entertaining.
Please proceed to take the quiz labeled: Unit 5 - Quiz 1
Please proceed to take Unit 5 - Quiz 2
Launch of Liberty Bell 7 and Walter Cronkite’s
legendary ‘go baby, go’!
February 20, 1962 marked the date that the United States embarked upon orbital spaceflight with the successful mission of John Glenn who orbited the Earth three times during his nearly five hour flight prior to reentry. Glenn’s flight served to accomplish one of the major milestones of the Mercury program which was to put a human in orbit. John Glenn was hailed as an American hero whose New York ticker tape parade was larger than Charles Lindbergh’s reception after his solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean 35 years earlier. Although the United States’ space program still lagged behind the Soviet Union’s program, Glenn’s flight helped close the gap between the two competing nations and gave America’s citizens a boost of confidence