|MA-9. the final Mercury flight|
Brian Fies and I were discussing (via blogs) that the next few years were going to be chock-a-bloc with 50th anniversaries of the Space Age. May 15th, 2013 marks yet another golden anniversary - - this time an ending, rather than a beginning.
|Mandatory image of all manned Mercury launches|
Alan Shepard rode his Mercury craft in a parabolic suborbital flight lasting just fifteen minutes. John Glenn's first orbital flight lasted just a little over four hours. As the Mercury mission continued, the flight durations lengthened.
By May of 1963, NASA felt ready to attempt a 24-hour flight in space. Preparations for such a long-duration mission required the removal of the ship's periscope to provide room for extra oxygen tanks and batteries to power the instruments. To offset the weight of the extra batteries, redundant attitude thrusters were removed from the nose of the ship. NASA engineers decided that since the primary thrusters had proven reliable, backup thrusters were no longer necessary.
|Cooper was the first American astronaut to be seen|
on video, live from space.
The astronaut managed to doze off for several orbits as the first day in space drew to a close. With his ship powered down to conserve fuel and electricity, Faith 7 drifted lazily along its prescribed path. On the 30th orbit, the first signs of trouble with the ship popped up - - a small panel light indicated that the ship detected a minute change in the g-forces that would signal the beginning of reentry.
Gordon Cooper would be the last American to launch into orbit by himself, and, until Dave Scott became Command Module Pilot of Apollo 9 in April of 1969, the last American to pilot his own spacecraft in orbit by himself. Project Mercury ended, and was soon eclipsed by the greater challenges of the Gemini missions. May 15th, 1963, though, was the end of America's first tentative steps into space.