Who were the Mercury astronauts?

English: Project Mercury Astronauts, whose sel...

Project Mercury Astronauts, whose selection was announced on April 9, 1959, only six months after the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was formally established on October 1, 1958. They are: front row, left to right, Walter H. Schirra, Jr., Donald K. Slayton, John H. Glenn, Jr., and Scott Carpenter; back row, Alan B. Shepard, Jr., Virgil I. Gus Grissom, and L. Gordon Cooper. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Barely 18 months after the Soviet Union’s wake-up call, when they launched Sputnik on October 4, 1957, NASA selected the original seven Mercury astronauts on April 9, 1959, and introduced them to the country.

Two years later they were in  space.

They had been chosen from among 110 military pilot candidates who:

  • Were test pilots
  • Were qualified to fly jets, with at least 1,500 hours of flying time
  • Had a Bachelor’s degree or equivalent.

Sixty-nine candidates were brought to Washington, DC for interviews.

A few were eliminated because they did not fit the size requirements:

  • No taller than 5’11”
  • No heavier than 180 pounds

Of the final 18 selected from extensive interviews and rigorous physical screening, seven were chosen.

They were Air Force pilots, Navy pilots, and a Marine pilot.

The Mercury 7 astronauts were:

  • Alan Shepard- first manned Mercury flight May 1961, first American in space
  • Gus Grissom – final suborbital Mercury flight July 1961
  • John Glenn – first orbital Mercury flight, February 1962, first American to orbit the earth
  • Scott Carpenter – second orbital Mercury flight, May 1962
  • Wally Shirra – third orbital Mercury flight, October, 1962, first rendezvous in space, with Gemini 7, December 1965
  • Gordon Cooper – final Mercury mission, May 1963, first American mission longer than one day, Command Pilot, first 8-day mission, August, 1965
  • Deke Slayton- July, 1975, first U.S.-Soviet spacecraft docking mission

They eventually flew not only on the Mercury spacecraft, but the Gemini, Apollo and the Space Shuttle.

Project Mercury’s goal was to put a human into orbit and to do it before the Soviet Union.

The first manned Mercury mission was launched on May 5, 1961.

Alan Shepard became the first American to go into space.

The trip lasted 15 minutes and 22 seconds and took Shepard 116.5 miles above the earth.

45 million people watched it on television.

Eleven minutes after Shepard splashed down, he was standing on an aircraft carrier, where he and his spacecraft had been flown after being recovered from the water.

However, the Soviet Union had put their astronaut, Yuri Gregarin, into space three weeks before we did, on April 12, 1961.

They put two astronauts into orbit before John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth, on February 20, 1962.

The space race was on.


Do you remember the chimpanzee that went into space first?

Did you save the newspaper from the next day after Shepard’s flight?

Do you grandchildren know that you lived before we could go into space?

To you and bridging history for your grandchildren.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers



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