Redstone rocket with Mercury capsule at pad 6.
Fifty years ago, space enthusiasts across America were on pins and needles waiting for the first US astronaut to fly into space. We had been stunned by the record-setting firsts made by the Soviet space program, and our reputation as a technological leader was in jeopardy. Then on April 12, 1961 the Soviets shocked the world with the launch of the first human in space, Yuri Gagarin. Meanwhile, NASA stumbled with problems in the control systems and finalizing safety equipment.
Finally it was time.
NASA prepared for the launch of it's first manned flight. The Redstone rocket at Launch Complex 5 was prepared with Mercury spacecraft #7 perched on top. The Redstone would not have enough thrust to propel the capsule into orbit around the Earth. We would need the Atlas rocket for that, but it was not ready. This flight was therefore planned as a sub-orbital mission, to send a man into space, and recover the spacecraft and astronaut in the Atlantic Ocean. US Naval vessels spread out into the downrange recovery area, awaiting the launch.
But who would ride the first rocket?