This week marks the 50th anniversary of the “Mercury Seven;” NASA’s first seven astronauts. On April 9, 1959 NASA held a press conference in Washington, DC to introduce the men — Gus Grissom, Alan Shephard, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra, Deke Slayton, John Glenn and Gordon Cooper. They would become household names in the US and media sensations. “I can’t believe it’s been that long,” John Glenn said in an interview with an Ohio newspaper, the Zanesville Times Recorder. “The experience back then of being selected and participating in the early flights is so vivid to me, it seems like this all happened a couple of weeks ago.
NASA has created a very cool interactive feature to celebrate this 50th anniversary, including an interactive “press conference,” a transcript and video clips of the original press conference, and a gallery of pictures.
The Mercury flights proved than humans could survive in space, and paved the way for the Gemini and Apollo flights.
“The early flights got so much attention because they were open to the world, they were not secrets,” Glenn said. “When the Soviets sent up Gagarin, the data and information was secret. We had international press at the Cape (Canaveral) for the launch, and the Soviets hadn’t had that; it wasn’t permitted. President Eisenhower decided he wanted the program open for the whole world; he said we were going to succeed or fail with the world watching, and I think that was a good decision.”
For further information about each of the six Mercury missions, see our Mercury section in Universe Today’s Guide to Space.