Mercury Seven were the group of seven Mercury astronauts announced
NASA on April 9, 1959. They are also referred to as the Original
Astronaut Group 1. They piloted the manned spaceflights
of the Mercury program from May 1961 to May 1963. These seven original
American astronauts were Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn,
Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton.
Members of the group flew on all classes of
NASA manned orbital
spacecraft of the 20th century — Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and the
Gus Grissom died in 1967, in the
Apollo 1 fire. The
others all survived past retirement from service.
John Glenn went on
to become a U.S. senator and flew on the Shuttle 36 years later to
become the oldest person to fly in space. He was the last living
member of the class when he died in 2016.
1 Selection process
3 Group members
4 Media attention
5 Status after Mercury
6 Awards and honors
7 See also
Mercury Seven in front of an F-106 Delta Dart
NASA planned an open competition for its first astronauts,
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower insisted that all candidates be test
pilots. Because of the small space inside the Mercury spacecraft,
candidates could be no taller than 5 feet 11 inches (180 cm)
and weigh no more than 180 pounds (82 kg). Other requirements
included an age under 40, a bachelor's degree or the professional
equivalent, 1,500 hours of flying time, and qualification to fly jet
After an advertisement among military test pilots drew more than 500
NASA searched military personnel records in January 1959
and identified 110 pilots—five Marines, 47 from the Navy, and 58
from the Air Force—who qualified. Sixty-nine candidates were
brought to Washington, DC, in two groups; the candidates' interest was
so great, despite the extensive physical and mental exams from January
to March, that the agency did not summon the last group.:14–15
The tests included spending hours on treadmills and tilt tables,
submerging their feet in ice water, three doses of castor oil, and
five enemas. Six candidates were rejected as too tall for the
planned spacecraft. Another 33 failed or dropped out during the first
phase of exams. Four more refused to take part in the second round of
tests, which eliminated eight more candidates, leaving 18.:16
From the 18, the first seven
NASA astronauts were chosen, each a
"superb physical specimen" with an IQ above 130, and the ability to
function well both as part of a team and solo. Grissom, Cooper, and
Slayton were Air Force pilots; Shepard, Carpenter, and Schirra were
Navy pilots, and Glenn was a Marine Corps pilot.
All seven had attended a variety of postsecondary institutions in the
1940s. Of the five astronauts who had completed undergraduate degrees
before being selected, two (Shepard and Schirra) were graduates of the
United States Naval Academy. Having earned a
Master of Arts degree in
1957 at the Naval War College, Shepard was the only selectee who held
an advanced degree. Following a decade of intermittent studies, Cooper
completed his degree as a mid-career student at a now-defunct Air
Force Institute of Technology undergraduate program in 1956. Grissom
also earned a second bachelor's degree in aeromechanics from the
latter institution as a mid-career student. Glenn and Carpenter,
however, did not technically meet all of their schools' degree
requirements (including the completion of Glenn's senior year in
residence and final proficiency exam and Carpenter's final course in
heat transfer) due to wartime military service. Although both were
admitted on the basis of professional equivalency, Glenn had also
completed a wide array of additional coursework as a U.S. Navy
aviation cadet from 1942 to 1943 and as a part-time student at the
University of Maryland, College Park
University of Maryland, College Park from 1956 to 1959. Both
astronauts were ultimately awarded their bachelor's degrees after
their 1962 space flights.
(L to R) Cooper, Schirra (partially obscured), Shepard, Grissom,
Glenn, Slayton, and Carpenter
NASA introduced the astronauts in Washington on April 9, 1959.
Although the agency viewed Project Mercury's purpose as an experiment
to determine whether humans could survive space travel, the seven men
immediately became national heroes and were compared by Time magazine
to "Columbus, Magellan, Daniel Boone, and the Wright brothers." Two
hundred reporters overflowed the room used for the announcement and
alarmed the astronauts, who were unused to such a large
Because they wore civilian clothes, the audience did not see them as
military test pilots but "mature, middle-class Americans, average in
height and visage, family men all," ready for single combat versus
worldwide Communism. To the astronauts' surprise, the reporters asked
about their personal lives instead of war records or flight
experience, or about the details of Mercury. After Glenn responded by
speaking eloquently "on God, country, and family" the others followed
his example,:18–19 and the reporters "lustily applauded them."
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Memorial at LC-14
Plaque at LC-14
Scott Carpenter (1925–2013), U.S. Navy (1 flight)
MA-7 (Aurora 7) — May 1962 — Second orbital Mercury
Leroy Gordon (Gordo) Cooper Jr. (1927–2004), U.S. Air Force (2
MA-9 (Faith 7) — May 1963 — Final Mercury mission, first
American mission to last more than a day; Cooper became the last
American who flew in space alone:494–503
Gemini 5 — August 1965 — Command Pilot — First
eight-day space mission, first use of fuel cells
John Herschel Glenn Jr. (1921–2016), U.S. Marine Corps (2 flights)
MA-6 (Friendship 7) — February 1962 — First orbital
Mercury flight; Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth
STS-95 Discovery — October 1998 — Payload
Spacelab mission, Spartan 201 release; Glenn
became the oldest person in space
Virgil Ivan (Gus) Grissom (1926–1967), U.S. Air Force (2 flights)
MR-4 (Liberty Bell 7) — July 1961 — Final suborbital
Mercury flight;:365–370 Liberty Bell 7 sank after splashdown and
was not retrieved until 1999
Gemini 3 — March 1965 — Command Pilot — First
manned Gemini mission; first manned mission to change orbital plane;
Grissom became the first person to be launched into space twice
Apollo 1 — January 1967 — Commander — Killed in a
fire during a launch pad test one month before the launch
Walter Marty (Wally) Schirra Jr. (1923–2007), U.S. Navy (3 flights)
MA-8 (Sigma 7) — October 1962 — Third orbital Mercury
Gemini 6A — December 1965 — Command Pilot — First
rendezvous in space, with Gemini 7
Apollo 7 — October 1968 — Commander — First manned
Apollo mission; Schirra became the first person to be launched into
space three times and the only person to fly Mercury, Gemini, and
Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr. (1923–1998), U.S. Navy (2 flights)
MR-3 (Freedom 7) — May 1961 — First manned Mercury flight; Shepard
became the first American in space:352–358
Apollo 14 — January 1971 — Commander — Third
manned lunar landing; fifth man to walk on the Moon
Donald Kent (Deke) Slayton (1924–1993), U.S. Air Force (1 flight)
Apollo-Soyuz Test Project — July 1975 — Docking Module
Pilot — First joint American–Soviet space mission; first
docking of an American and Russian spacecraft
The Mercury 7 astronauts examine their 'couches.' Each astronaut's
couch was molded to fit his body to help withstand the G-loads of the
The astronauts participated in Project Mercury's design and
planning.:25–26 While busy with such duties and the intense
training for their flights,:22 the men also "roughhoused and drank
and drove fast and got into sexual peccadilloes." :35
sought to protect the astronauts and the agency from negative
publicity and maintain an image of "clean-cut, all-American
Before Slayton could make his Mercury flight, he was diagnosed in 1962
with an erratic heart rhythm (idiopathic atrial fibrillation), and
grounded from flight by
NASA and the Air Force. He stayed with the
manned space program, first as unofficial "Chief Astronaut", then in
November 1963 becoming Coordinator of
Astronaut Activities as chief of
Astronaut Office. Later he became Director of Flight Crew
Operations responsible for the astronaut contingent of NASA. He left
his role upon the start of his training for the Apollo Soyuz Test
Project where he flew his first space flight as docking module pilot
and at that time became the oldest person in space.
The seven astronauts agreed to share equally any proceeds from
interviews regardless of who flew first. In August 1959, they
and their wives signed a contract with Life magazine for $500,000
in exchange for exclusive access to their private lives, homes, and
families.:16 Their official spokesman from 1959 to 1963 was NASA's
public affairs officer, USAF Lt. Col. John "Shorty" Powers, who as a
result became known in the press as the "eighth astronaut".
They wrote first-hand accounts of their selection and preparation for
the Mercury missions in the 1962 book We Seven. Additionally, each of
them separately wrote at least one book describing their astronaut
experiences. In 1979,
Tom Wolfe published a less sanitized version of
their story in The Right Stuff. Wolfe's book was the basis for the
film of the same name directed by Philip Kaufman.
The five Tracy brothers from the TV series Thunderbirds were named
after five of the
Mercury Seven astronauts.
A chart showing Group 1/Mercury 7 assignments in Mercury, Gemini, and
Status after Mercury
Despite not making a Mercury flight, Slayton stayed with the manned
space program, as Director of Flight Crew Operations through the
Gemini and Apollo programs, responsible for crew selection and
training. In an effort to conquer his fibrillation, he gave up
cigarettes and coffee, and placed himself on an intensive exercise and
nutrition program. In July 1970, it ceased and he was returned to
flight status, and flew on the last Apollo spacecraft in July 1975 as
docking module pilot on the
Apollo-Soyuz Test Project
Apollo-Soyuz Test Project flight. He left
NASA in February 1982.
Carpenter's performance on his Mercury flight put him at odds with
Flight Director Christopher Kraft, resulting in him being blackballed
from future flight assignments. He took a leave of absence from
NASA in the fall of 1963 to participate in the Navy's
He later sustained a medically grounding injury to his left arm in a
motorbike accident. Two surgical interventions in 1964 and 1967 failed
to correct the condition, and he resigned from
NASA in August
Cooper also stayed with Gemini and Apollo, commanding the eight-day
Gemini 5 flight in August 1965. But his lax attitude toward
training and his personal safety put him at odds with Slayton, who
kept him on lower priority on the Gemini and Apollo flight
rotations. After Shepard was given his potential slot for an
Apollo command, he retired from
NASA in July 1970.
According to former
NASA administrator Charles Bolden, Glenn became
"so valuable to the nation as an iconic figure" that U.S. President
John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy would not "risk putting him back in space again."
He decided to enter politics and left the program in 1964. While a
U.S. Senator in 1998, he was chosen to fly as a civilian Payload
Specialist on the October–November mission
STS-95 of the Space
Shuttle Discovery, and, at the age of 77, became the oldest person to
fly in space as of April 2017[update]. He died on December 8,
2016, aged 95; he was the last living member of the Mercury
Grissom played a role in the design of the Gemini spacecraft, and
replaced Shepard as commander of the first flight,
Gemini 3 in March
1965. He was also active in the Apollo program, and picked by Slayton
to command the first flight, Apollo 1. He was killed along with his
crew in a cabin fire during a spacecraft test on the launch pad on
January 27, 1967.
Schirra stayed with the Gemini and Apollo programs, commanding Gemini
6A and performing the world's first space rendezvous in December 1965.
As Grissom's backup, he commanded the first manned Apollo flight,
Apollo 7 in October 1968, just before resigning from NASA. He
CBS News in 1969 as Walter Cronkite's co-anchor for all of the
Apollo Moon landing missions, 11 through 17.
Shepard was slated to command the first Gemini flight, but was
grounded in early 1964 after being diagnosed with Ménière's disease,
a condition in which fluid pressure builds up in the inner ear,
resulting in disorientation, dizziness, and nausea. He stayed with the
program, accepting the position of Chief
Astronaut as Slayton's
deputy, until an experimental corrective surgery cured his Ménière's
disease and he was returned to flight status in May 1969. He commanded
Apollo 14 lunar landing mission in January–February 1971 before
leaving the program on July 31, 1974.
Awards and honors
Mercury Seven were given the
Collier Trophy in 1962.
Man in Space Soonest
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Mercury Seven.
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Astronaut Group 1, "The Mercury Seven", "The Original Seven" 1959
Astronaut Group 1 →
Astronaut Group 2
List of astronauts by year of selection
Space race (political background)
Space flight (scientific background)
Freedom 7 (first suborbital flight)
Liberty Bell 7
Friendship 7 (first orbital flight)
Freedom 7 II (cancelled)
Big Joe 1
Little Joe 5
In order of flight
(In suborbit:) Alan Shepard
(In orbit:) John Glenn
(Did not fly:) Deke Slayton
Navy Mark IV
Navy Mark IV (space suit)
(Background:) Animals in space
McDonnell Aircraft Corporation (spacecraft)
Convair (Atlas rocket)
Chrysler (Redstone rocket)
North American Aviation
North American Aviation (Little Joe rocket)
Blue Scout II
and Control Center
Wallops Island / Wallops Flight Facility
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 5
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 14
Mercury Control Center
Gemini (successor program)
Apollo (lunar program)
Vostok (rival in space race)
Mercury 13 (non-
NASA project inspired by Project Mercury)
Policy and history
National Aeronautics and Space Act
National Aeronautics and Space Act (1958)
Space Task Group
Space Task Group (1958)
Space Exploration Initiative
Space Exploration Initiative (1989)
U.S. National Space Policy (1996)
Vision for Space Exploration
Vision for Space Exploration (2004)
Administrator and Deputy Administrator
Launch Services Program
Kennedy Space Center
Vehicle Assembly Building
Launch Complex 39
Launch Control Center
Johnson Space Center
Lunar Sample Laboratory
Mariner Mark II
Mars Surveyor '98
Living With a Star
Lunar Precursor Robotic Program
Earth Observing System
Great Observatories program
Mars Exploration Rover
Apollo–Soyuz Test Project (with the Soviet space program)
Roscosmos State Corporation)
International Space Station
Commercial Orbital Transportation Services
Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS)
Commercial Crew Development
Commercial Crew Development (CCDev)
(human and robotic)
2001 Mars Odyssey
International Space Station
Hubble Space Telescope
Mars Exploration Rover
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
Van Allen Probes
Mars Science Laboratory
James Webb Space Telescope
Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite
Deep Space Atomic Clock
Space Network (Goldstone
Near Earth Network
Space Flight Operations Facility)
List of United States rockets
Space Shuttle missions
The Blue Marble
Pale Blue Dot
Pillars of Creation
Solar System Family Portrait
The Day the Earth Smiled
Voyager Golden Record
Gemini and Apollo medallions