Wednesday, May 4, 2011

50 YA: America Chooses its First Astronaut to Fly

The Mercury 7.

The American citizenry were kept in the dark about who would be chosen to fly on the first Mercury flight. Seven astronauts had been preparing for years for this moment, but only one could fly first. Of course, there would be more flights than one and NASA management had to consider which pilot would be suited for which mission. The first mission was considered very dangerous by the very nature of being first to put a man in the Mercury capsule.

Glenn, Grissom and Shepard pose at LC-5.

By May, NASA had selected three astronauts for the first three flights. John Glenn was a Marine test pilot who had broken transcontinental speed records across the USA. Gus Grissom was from the US Air Force and test flew jets as well. Alan Shepard was a Navy carrier pilot who graduated to test flight and tested many of the navy's carrier jest in the 1950's. Both Glenn and Grissom had fought as combat pilots during the Korean War. Grissom flew 100 combat missions during the war. Glenn was a decorated war hero. During WW2 he flew against the Japanese in over 57 combat missions. During the Korean War he flew 100 combat missions and eventually shot down 3 enemy MiG jets.

Shepard in spacesuit.

On May 2nd, America had its answer: Alan Shepard would fly Freedom 7, the name he chose for the capsule he would ride into space. The discovery came during a now all-too-familiar problem: a launch delay. The rocket was ready to fly, and attempt was made on May 2nd. Unfortunately, bad weather closed in on the Cape and the mission was scrubbed. The next try would be May 5th.

The rocket is readied...

Readied, but it's a No-go. Flight delayed. Picture before the storm.

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