The sign accompanying the model of a Mercury
spacecraft which is part of the exhibit.
Carrying the First Americans into Space
The Mercury Capsule
The Mercury spacecraft was the United States' first human spaceflight vehicle.
It was launched in 1959 and continued in use until 1963. The Mercury Program
included seven astronauts: Malcolm Scott Carpenter, Leroy 'Gordo' Cooper Jr,
Grissom, John Glenn Jr., Walter 'Wally'
Schirra Jr., Alan Shepard
Jr. and Donald 'Deke'
Slayton. Called the Mercury Seven, they were the
first American astronauts. With no computers, all on-board systems were
operated by mechanical timers or by the single astronaut pilot. Both
and Mercury-Atlas rockets
launched the capsule, carrying astronauts to sub-orbital and orbital flights.
Astronauts could be no taller than 5 feet 11 inches (1.8 meters). Space in
side the capsule was so restricted, designers had to mold the seats to fit
each astronaut's body.
Of course, the first manned Mercury spaceflight wasn't until May 5, 1961; 1959 saw the
first Little Joe
The cramped quarters in the spacecraft led McDonnell pad leader Guenter Wendt
to note that "You get in with a shoehorn and get out with
a can opener!" The custom-molded
couches, however, were devised not so much to save space as to help the astronaut endure
the G forces of reentry.