Counting Down….5-4-3-2-1….

Posted by on May 9, 2009

As we come to a close of our series of blog posts on the years 1958 and 1959, we’ve only really begun to scratch the surface of what is available.  There are so many good stories that remain to be re-discovered.  Today, we talk space and the group of people known as the Mercury 7.  But first, a word from our sponsor….



As evidenced in the short film above, the Fifties had brought about a consumer paradise with demand ever growing for more.  Maybe living this way helped to distract us from the increasing rhetoric of the Cold War, of the competition with the Soviets and the dark shadow of a nuclear war ever threatening.  This competition had recently grown even higher stakes with the introduction of Sputnik and the use of space.  The race was on…..



Nowhere could this been seen better than in the introduction of the Mercury 7.  Hand-selected, the astronaut trainees were about to embark on an adventure that would mark them for the rest of their lives.  But it was a scene that was far from easy.  This was uncharted territory, procedures and plans were formulated and reformulated on a daily basis.  Improvisation and adaptation were the rules, resulting perhaps in an environment that most today would shudder at, considering the regulatory burden in which we now exist.  Let’s look, for example, at Walter Burke, VP of McDonnell Aircraft Company.  In an interview from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in Dec. 1963:

“…In Project Mercury, there are no pieces of the capsule that are off the shelf of any other program that ever existed…”

How did this look on a practical implementation?  Here’s a blueprint of the capsule:



Going beyond this however, the changes and reformulations brought about by the demands of the competition with the Soviets was also changing society in other ways.  Old ways and old methods of thinking were being discarded, their flawed assumptions being brought to light in the face of new knowledge…of admitting that things had been thought and done wrong.  It was American society on the brink of absolute change.  From race relations to social mores, change was coming and in fact had already started to crack the facade…something that would absolutely boil over in the decade of the Sixties.  We as a nation were on the launch pad and the count was growing ever shorter….



For now however, take a few moments to remember the Mercury 7 and think about being strapped into a small capsule with your destination maybe known, but getting there a complete mystery!

As we bring this post, and the series, to a close, I’ll leave you with some good links as well as tons more information about these fascinating two years and perhaps a little bit more….

Have a great day!


Wolfe, Tom. The Right Stuff (Google Books)

Compton, William D. Where No Man Has Gone Before (Google Books)

“I Lived With The Astronauts”. Popular Mechanics, Dec. 1959 (pg. 75)

NASA Fiftieth Anniversary-Mercury Program

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Air & Space Smithsonian (Mercury 7)

Wikipedia: Project Mercury

NASA: Anniversary of the Mercury 7

Mercury 7 Archives (NASA)


(1) Shopping Can Be Fun, Internet Archive

(2) NASA Images

(3)NASA History Division: Mercury Capsule Details

(4) NASA Images

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