NASA named Project Mercury for the `messenger of the gods' in Roman mythology. They developed a program to put a man in an orbital flight around the Earth, to study his ability to perform tasks in the environment of space, and to return the man and the spacecraft safely back to Earth.
The Mercury capsule, shaped like a cone with a cylinder mounted on top, and an escape tower fastened to its cylinder, was 2 meters long, and 1.9 meters in diameter. A Redstone rocket launched the capsule into space for the first two suborbital flights. The four orbital flights used an Atlas rocket for launching. The bottom of the capsule was covered with a heat shield that withstood the 3000-degree temperature experienced upon reentry into the Earth's atmosphere.
The astronauts for Project Mercury gave their capsule a name and added the number seven to indicate the teamwork of the original seven astronauts.
The first astronaut candidates for Project Mercury had to be experienced jet and test pilots, with at least fifteen hundred hours of flight time. NASA also asked that the men hold a degree in a biological or physical science, or a degree in engineering.
Possible candidates could be no taller than five feet and eleven inches, and weigh no more than one hundred and eighty pounds. They could be no older than forty years of age.
The Original 7 Mercury Astronauts
These men met all of the necessary qualifications for Project Mercury.
Click on the pictures for individual bios and information on their spaceflights.
*Sadly, "Gordo" passed away at the age of 77 on October 4, 2007. A true American hero; veteran of WWII, and a pioneer in space, the man who flew Mercury's last mission will be sorely missed.
For more information on Project Mercury
and the Original Seven Astronauts