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Project Mercury

Project Mercury was the first attempt of the US to send humans into space. It began in 1958 and ended in 1963. During that time, America’s first astronaut, Alan Shephard, achieved orbit.

An image of a US stamp made in honor of Project Mercury.

Project Mercury was the first missions of the US to try to send a man into space.

What was Project Mercury?

Project Mercury began on October 7th, 1958. The mission finished in 1963. This project was the first time the US had really tried to put a man in space. The project consisted of six flights from 1961 to 1963, and included these objectives:
  • To orbit a spacecraft accompanied by a man around Earth
  • Learn about man’s ability to function in space
  • For the man and craft to arrive back on land safely
The spacecraft used for this mission was the Mercury Spacecraft. It was a small capsule that had room for one astronaut. During the flight, the astronaut had to stay in his seat. 
The US used two different types of rockets for this mission. The first two of the six flights used a Redstone rocket. For the other four flights, they used an Atlas rocket. Both of these rockets were designed as missiles. These were going to be for the United States military. 
The name Mercury comes from the Roman god known for his speed. Each astronaut got to name his spacecraft. Alan Shephard, along with the other astronauts, included the number 7 in all the names. This represents the 7 astronauts chosen for this mission. 

Project Mercury’s Missions

Project Mercury took only five years to complete! Over 2 million people worked together to complete this project. They were all from many different government agencies and aerospace industries. During this time, two manned space flights were successful. This is out of six flights.

An image of a US stamp made in honor of project mercury

Project Mercury took only five years to complete!


They completed these two flights with total pilot safety. Also, no changes to the original Project Mercury plan were made. The astronaut that was in the final completed flight in 1963 was Astronaut Gordon Cooper. These flights were suborbital flights because they reached space and came back. The other four flights went into orbit and circled Earth, but did not go to space. 

An image of a stamp showing a space capsule and an astronaut.

With the success of this mission, it proved that man can function normally in space.

This mission proved that man can function normally as a pilot in space for up to 34 hours of weightless flight. But, not just as a pilot. They can also function as an experimenter and engineer.
For more information on Project Mercury, watch this video: