Category Freedom 7

History and development

of the Mercury-Redstone program

They called the sleek, tubular rocket “Old Reliable,” due to its dependability and an unsurpassed record of successfully completed launch and flight operations. Through these qualities, as history records, the Redstone rocket became the perfect choice for launching the first American into space.

Prior to being used as the booster vehicle for the early Project Mercury missions, the Redstone had undergone several years of development and testing as a medium – range, tactical surface-to-surface ballistic missile for the U. S. Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) located at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, northern Alabama. Over time, the rocket had proved itself, as the nickname suggests, to be one of the most reliable large rockets ever produced in the United States.


Following an extensive evaluation of the MR-2 Redstone’s over-acceleration and har­monic vibration problems, it was reported that the reliability factor of the booster was well below the level required for NASA to confidently launch an astronaut into space.

Although the first manned flight with Alan Shepard as the prime pilot had already been scheduled for launch on 24 March 1961, there was a distinct feeling of unease in Washington, D. C. The president’s technical advisor on science issues, Jerome B. Wiesner, had recently been appointed to head the Science Advisory Committee and was advocating a far more cautious approach in what he perceived as something of a rush for NASA to launch an astronaut into space. Wiesner bluntly warned Kennedy that a dead astronaut would not do a lot for the young president’s administration, and he argued for several more chimpanzee launches to iron out any possible problems prior to committing to a manned flight. The new NASA Administrator, James Webb, and the head of the STG, Robert Gilruth, were brought into the discussion, holding consultations early in February with key Mercury personnel. Owing to some minor technical issues with Ham’s flight, and under pressure from the White House to be cautious, Wernher von Braun was advised there should be a delay in the first

human-tended mission. Instead, an unmanned proving flight of the booster would take place on the date previously allocated to MR-3.

As eager as he was to proceed with the manned flight, von Braun readily agreed with Webb and Gilruth – in fact, he had already been actively pressing for a further test flight, a “booster development launch” as he called it, although he was aware that it would not be possible to completely eliminate all risk. It was agreed that if this test proved successful, the manned MR-3 mission could proceed and the launch date was set for 25 April. It was a delay that arguably cost America the historical prestige of launching the first human being into space.

The new mission became known as the Mercury-Redstone Booster Development (MR-BD) flight. Its primary purpose was to verify the modifications made to prevent a recurrence of the flaws that afflicted the MR-2 flight. To prevent over-acceleration, the thrust regulator and velocity integrator were tweaked, and the vibration induced by aerodynamic stress in the upper part of the booster was remedied by adding four stiff­eners to the ballast section and 210 pounds of insulation to the inner skin of the upper, instrument compartment section of the Redstone [13].

The MR-BD test would use an inert, expendable boilerplate Mercury spacecraft, and it was decided to reuse the one that had been retrieved after the Little Joe LJ-1B abort test mission on 21 January of that year. This capsule had been built at NASA’s Langley Research Center, ballasted and configured to match the production capsule that was to be used on the first manned flight. However, it was not equipped with a retrorocket package or posigrade rockets because these would not be required. It was


The Manufacturing, Quality Control, and various other classifications of workers at the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation plant in St. Louis, Missouri, gather around the completed Freedom 7 spacecraft, which would soon carry Alan Shepard into space. (Photo courtesy of Philip Kempland/McDonnell Aircraft Corporation)


Little Joe LJ-1B, launched on 21 January 1960. The boilerplate capsule used on this primate flight was recovered, and would later be used on the MR-BD flight. (Photo: NASA)

to be attached to the Redstone booster in the normal manner, but there would be no separation in flight. The escape rocket system, which was also inert, was a standard Mercury configuration utilizing spent rocket motors that were balanced to the correct weight for the MR-BD flight [14].

The LJ-1B flight had successfully carried Rhesus monkey Miss Sam on an eight – and-a-half minute test of the capsule’s escape sequence and landing systems. The boilerplate capsule had splashed down smoothly 12 miles from the Wallops Island launch site on the Atlantic coast, whereupon it was plucked from the sea by a waiting helicopter and returned to the launch site. Forty-five minutes after liftoff, an excited but otherwise healthy Miss Sam was extracted from the capsule.


As dawn broke over the New Hampshire hills, the first pale rays of the Sun fell on a crisp new American flag that had been proudly raised earlier that morning by Renza Shepard on the front lawn of their home in East Derry.


The launch gantry begins to roll away. (Photo: NASA)

Aboard the aircraft carrier USS Lake Champlain (CVS-39), the prime recovery ship, the crew stood silently in the dawn light as Rev. Henry Faville Maxwell, their chaplain, intoned a heartfelt prayer for the success of Shepard’s mission over the ship’s loudspeakers.

“Dear Lord who hears us, now that a precious life is about to be flung into the heavens, we are filled with fear; we are afraid of imminent danger. Dear Lord who hears us, we thank Thee for giving us men ready to sacrifice their existence to open up for us the doors of space. May he succeed without losing his life. May success crown his endeavors to explore the paths of knowledge; not only that we may expand into the universe, but that it will be a peaceful universe where we live with each other and with Thee. Amen.” [24]

In the Pad 5 blockhouse, fellow astronaut Gordon Cooper communicated with the capsule until this task transferred to Deke Slayton in the Mercury Control Center. By then, Slayton had been joined by Flight Director Chris Kraft and Operations Director Walt Williams.

As Williams later recalled of that day, “You can say that intuition means nothing, but there are days when you feel things are right and days when you feel things are wrong. On the previous Tuesday, the weather was a problem – but that was only one factor. We were having small problems – no serious ones, but things weren’t going well. That is why I scrubbed quite early.

“On Friday, even though we had problems, I felt that we could handle each one as it came up. I was in the Mercury Control Center – at the back of the room. Before that, I had been roaming around to the pad, the blockhouse, up the gantry, in to see how Al was coming along. Once I put on my ‘Operations Director hat,’ I am in total charge. I don’t mean that in an autocratic way, but someone has to call the shots. In essence, I answer to no one except the President. Once we are under way with the countdown, it is a minute-by-minute decision whether we go or not.” [25]

Once the gantry had rolled on its tracks clear of the Redstone, Shepard began to feel more confident by the minute. “The periscope gave me a view of clouds lit by the morning Sun. Far below, I watched the launch crew finishing last-minute details at the base of the rocket. I glanced at my capsule timer. Only fifteen minutes to go. The view outside dimmed. Cloud cover rolling in. Damn!”

Now the brightness of the Sun was intruding into the cabin through the periscope, so Shepard cranked a couple of filters over the screen to diminish the glare.

The countdown clock stopped during the delay, and everyone began scanning the skies, eager for the clouds to depart. “Everyone hated countdown delays,” Shepard later observed. “They just allowed more time for something to go wrong.” [26]

And something did go wrong. An inverter, a small electrical part in the rocket that changed DC current to AC, developed a fault. It may have been a relatively minor thing, but it had to be fixed. Everything had to be fully operational for the mission to proceed. To everyone’s disappointment, the launch director ordered the gantry rolled back in.

As Shepard observed later, “There was a time during the countdown when there was a problem with the inverter in the Redstone. Gordon Cooper was the voice com­municator in the blockhouse. So he called and said, ‘This inverter is not working in the Redstone. They’re going to pull the gantry back in, and we’re going to change invert­ers. It’s probably going to take about an hour, an hour-and-a-half.’ And I said, ‘Well, if that’s the case then I would like to get out and relieve myself.’


Flight Director Chris Kraft (at top), Operations Director Walt Williams, and Project Engineer Walter Kapryan at a pre-launch conference. (Photo: NASA)



Mercury Control Center at the Cape prepares for the MR-3 launch. (Photo: NASA)

“We had been working with a device to collect urine during the flight that worked pretty well in zero-gravity but really didn’t work very well when you were lying on your back with your feet up in the air, like you were on the Redstone. And I thought my bladder was getting a little full and, if I had some time, I’d like to relieve myself. So I said…


“Go, Alan?”

“Man, I got to pee!”

“You what?”

“You heard me. I’ve got to pee. I’ve been in here forever. The gantry is still right here, so why don’t you guys let me out of here for a quick stretch?”

“Hold on,” came Cooper’s response. He consulted with Wernher von Braun and a few minutes later came back. “No way, Alan. Wernher says we don’t have the time to reassemble the White Room. He says you’re in there to stay.”

“Gordo, I could be in here a couple more hours, and by that time my bladder’s gonna burst!”

“Wernher says no.”

“Well, shit, Gordo, we’ve got to do something. Dammit, tell ’em I’m going to let it go in my suit!”

“No! No, good God, you can’t do that,” Cooper called back. “The medics say you’ll short-circuit all their medical leads.”

“Tell ’em to turn the power off!”

The solution was that simple. “Gordo had a chuckle in his voice when he told me, ‘Okay, Alan. Power’s off. Go to it.’ It was as if they’d designed the suit for such an emergency. In that semi-supine position the liquid pooled in the small of my back and my heavy undergarment soaked it up. With 100 percent oxygen flowing through the suit, I was soon dry. The countdown resumed. The gantry was gone.” [27]

Knowing that his family was watching a live television transmission from the Cape, Shepard called Cooper in the blockhouse once again and requested that he get Shorty Powers to ring Louise and let her know he was fine despite the delay, which had extended to 1 hour 26 minutes and pushed back the projected time of liftoff.


Gordon Cooper communicating with Alan Shepard with Wernher von Braun looking on. (Photo: NASA)


An aerial view of the Pad 5 blockhouse at Cape Canaveral. (Photo: NASA)

Then, with 2 minutes 40 seconds remaining on the clock, technicians noticed that the fuel pressure in the Redstone was running a little high, and Shepard was warned there might be another short delay. Having heard enough of what he felt was a severe case of over-caution, there was a brittle snap to his voice when he responded. “Shit! I’ve been here more than three hours. I’m a hell of a lot cooler than you guys are. Why don’t you just fix your little problem and light this candle!” [28]

Without being unkind towards Alan Shepard, and the way in which this incident is portrayed in the movie The Right Stuff, his words didn’t galvanize the firing team into action – in fact, the blockhouse technician most involved, Andy Pickett, was not even in the capsule-blockhouse voice loop. He had noticed and reported an irregular read­ing on the propulsion regulator, which indicated a slight pressure increase. He then flicked a switch a couple of times to open and close a vent valve. This rectified the problem, and the pressure returned to normal within one minute of the anomaly being noticed. The countdown was resumed.

On hearing that the technical glitch had been fixed, Shepard gave a sigh of relief, then called Slayton, who had taken over direct communications from Gordon Cooper in the blockhouse.

“Are we ready, Deke?” he asked, and got the answer he wanted.

“Ready, Al.”


The articulated “cherry picker” in place, ready to conduct an astronaut evacuation in the event of a launch mishap. (Photo: NASA)

The spindly “cherry picker” swung to its standby position by the Redstone, ready to move in and retrieve the astronaut in the event of a looming disaster.

The rocket was ready, the spacecraft was ready, the range was ready, and Shepard was most definitely ready; it was time to light the candle.


Marine PFC Paul Molnoski was on guard duty on the USS Lake Champlain during the entire recovery operation, and his account recalls the contingency procedures that people were to follow in the event that the astronaut was found dead or badly injured after splashdown. This was similar in some ways to the sorrowful speech President Richard Nixon would record in case the two Apollo 11 moonwalkers were stranded on the lunar surface.

As Molnoski explains, “I was assigned to the forward port-side of the flight deck, and was walking my post when I heard over the loudspeaker that the countdown was held at minus-15, just fifteen minutes before the scheduled time of the launching at 7.30 a. m. At about 9.30 it was reported that the rocket had been fired and, a minute later, that the Redstone Mercury missile was airborne. We were instructed that when the capsule hit, if he didn’t get out, Shepard would be presumed to be either dead or wounded. [The capsule] would be picked up by a Marine helicopter, brought aboard ship and taken down elevator number three. It would be opened and [Shepard] taken to sick bay. Only three persons beside the admiral would be allowed to speak to him; two doctors and one corps – man appointed by Washington. It would have been my job to clear the flight deck.

“No one was to cheer or try to talk with him when he came aboard ship. We heard his voice when he started reporting from the capsule. The first thing we heard was, ‘feel fine; nothing unusual has happened.’ I felt better then [because] I felt he would make it safely.

“I first spotted the capsule when it was about 4,000 feet up, descending under its para­chute. He was six miles dead ahead of the ship. Three Marine and two Navy helicopters saw him. He hit the water about five or ten minutes later, surrounded by the ’copters. They had their hooks down and were ready to take him. When he hit the water, we waited for him to get out of the capsule. When he climbed out [and was hoisted] into the helicop­ter everyone was cheering. We felt great that he had made it. No one applauded or said anything when he came aboard, but everyone seemed to be taking pictures. He went right to the admiral’s cabin. I was just about ten feet from him. Our job continued until 5.00 a. m. the next morning. We stood guard over the capsule.” [42]

Anthony Vitulli was also on the ship that day. A 22-year-old graduate of the New York Institute of Photography, he was one of seven Navy photographers selected to document Shepard’s recovery and recalls the day with fondness. “I was standing on the 07 level [the seventh deck of the island] with a 4-by-5 camera and photographed the capsule as it came out of the sky. We could see it clearly – the landing was that accurate.” In addition to photographing the recovery, Vitulli also took pictures of the interior of Freedom 7 once it had been secured on deck. “It was cramped,” he said. “You look at that [capsule] and then you look at the [Space Shuttle] Enterprise and you say, ‘Oh! How can that be?’ The instruments were crude. You just can’t believe someone went up in space in something like that.” [43]

Prior to being assigned to the USS Lake Champlain, Michael Richmond had Navy recruit training at the Great Lakes Training Center on the shores of Lake Michigan, Illinois. He was part of the arresting gear handling crew – the cables and hardware used to arrest and rapidly slow the forward motion of a landing aircraft. When they


Air Officer Cdr. Howard Skidmore (right) with the Marine recovery pilots Wayne Koons and George Cox. (Photo courtesy of Ed Killian)

knew they were going to recover the Freedom 7 spacecraft he and his crewmates had their cameras at the ready. “We went on the flight deck when they started bring­ing her in,” he recalls. They watched the sequence of events with interest until Shepard headed below for his health checkup, leaving his spacecraft behind. “That’s when we started taking pictures. They really didn’t make a big issue about security or guards. We just walked up to it and took pictures.” Like many other sailors, Richmond had a picture taken of himself proudly standing beside the history-making spacecraft [44].

Larry Kreitzberg from New York was a Navy photographer PH3 on board ship the day Shepard made his epic space flight. Several of his fine photographs appear in this book. As he explains, “I was assigned for this historic event to the 07 level of ‘The Champ’ along with several other ship’s photographers who were positioned in various parts of the ship as well as in two helicopters. With my aerial camera I was waiting anxiously to see Alan Shepard and his Mercury capsule, Freedom 7. This I consider to be the most exciting time I spent in the Navy.”

As the helicopter bearing its precious cargo approached the ship, “I looked down on the flight deck and observed the crew pointing upwards and watching the capsule being [lowered] on a frame covered with mattresses for cushioning. You could hear yelling and screaming as everyone was overcome with joy. I know I had tears in my eyes (which I’m not ashamed to say) along with everyone else. Watching Shepard depart the helicopter in his silver flight suit, smiling and waving, was one hell of a proud moment for all. I can say with pride that I was there for the first historic U. S. manned space flight with Commander Alan Shepard at the controls. That day is part of me and my life which I will never forget. A proud sailor, I was.” [45]

In his own words Pilot’s flight report by Alan B. Shepard, Jr

Taken from the NASA paper (in conjunction with the National Institutes of Health and the National Academy of Sciences): Proceedings of a Conference on Results of the First U. S. Manned Suborbital Flight, 6 June 1961, Washington, D. C.

(Most references by Shepard to images screened during his presentation deleted)


My intention is to present my flight report in narrative form and to include three phases. These phases shall be: (1) the period prior to launch, (2) the flight itself, and (3) the post­flight debriefing period. I intend to describe my feelings and reactions and to make com­ments pertinent to these three areas. I also have an onboard film of the flight to show at the end of my presentation.


Astronaut D. K. Slayton in a previous paper described the program followed by the Project Mercury astronauts during a two-year training period with descriptions of the various devices used. All of these devices provided one thing in common: namely, the feeling of confidence that the astronauts achieved from their use. Some devices, of course, produced more confidence than others but all were very well received by the group. There are three machines or training devices which provided the most assistance. The first of these is the human centrifuge. We used the facilities of the U. S. Naval Air Development Center in Johnsville, Pennsylvania, which provided the centrifuge itself and a computer to control its inputs. This computer, through an instrument display, provided a control task similar to that of the Mercury spacecraft, with inputs of the proper aerodynamic and moment-of – inertia equations. Thus, we were able to experience the acceleration environment while

C. Burgess, Freedom 7: The Historic Flight of Alan B. Shepard, Jr., Springer Praxis Books, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-01156-1, © Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

simultaneously controlling the spacecraft on a simulated manual system. This experience gave us the feeling of muscle control for circulation and breathing, transmitting, and general control of the spacecraft. I found that the flight environment was very close to the environment provided by the centrifuge. The flight accelerations were smooth, of the same magnitude used during training, and certainly in no way disturbing.

The second training device that proved of great value was the procedures trainer. This device will be recognized as an advanced type of the Link trainer, which was used for instrument training during the last war. We were able to use it to correlate pre-flight plan­ning, to practice simulated control maneuvers, and to practice operational techniques. The Space Task Group has two such trainers, one at Langley Field, Virginia, the other at Cape Canaveral, Florida, and both are capable of the simultaneous training of pilots and ground crews. As a result of the cross-training between pilots and the ground crews at the Project Mercury Control Center, we experienced no major difficulties during the flight. We had learned each other’s problems and terminology, and I feel that we have a valuable training system in use for present and for future flights.

The third area of pre-flight training, which is considered as one of importance, concerns working with the spacecraft itself. The Mercury spacecraft is tested at Cape Canaveral before being attached to the Redstone launch vehicle. These tests provide an excellent opportunity for pilots to learn the idiosyncrasies of the various systems. After the space­craft has been placed on the launch vehicle, more tests are made just prior to launch day. The pilots have a chance to participate in these tests and to work out operational proce­dures with the blockhouse crew.

These three areas then, the centrifuge, the procedures trainer, and spacecraft testing at the launching area, provided the most valuable aids during the training period. We spent two years in training, doing many things, following many avenues in our desire to be sure that we had not overlooked anything of importance. As a general comment concerning future training programs, these experiences will undoubtedly permit us to shorten this training period.

During the days immediately preceding the launch, the pre-flight physicals were given. These examinations do not involve more than the usual profiling, listening, and other med­ical tests, but I hope that fewer body fluid examples are required in the future. I felt as though an unusual number of medics were used.

Pre-flight briefing was held at11 a. m. on the day before launch to correlate all opera­tional elements. This briefing was helpful since it gave us a chance to look at weather, radar, camera, and recovery force status. We also had the opportunity to review the control procedures to be used during flight emergencies as well as any late inputs of an operational nature. This briefing was extremely valuable to me in correlating all of the details at the last minute.


A modified and enhanced descendant of Nazi Germany’s deadly A-4/V-2 rocket, the Army’s Redstone missile was developed through the efforts of around 120 captured ex-Peenemunde rocket engineers who, along with their families, had been transferred to the Huntsville facility after undertaking related ordnance work at White Sands, New Mexico in 1950. The move to Huntsville was met with much enthusiasm, as the isola­tion and desert sparseness of White Sands was in stark contrast to the greenery they had known in Germany. Once settled at the recently formed Ordnance Guided Missile Center (OGMC), they would continue their design and development research under the erudite leadership of recently appointed technical director, Dr. Wernher von Braun. They would also be joined in their work by hundreds of other research personnel from White Sands, including contract employees with the General Electric Company and a number of Army draftees possessing degrees in math, science, and engineering.

The Redstone (tracing its name, like the Huntsville arsenal, to the red rocks and clay soil abundant in that region) had begun life as one of three tactical missiles of differing size and capabilities that were undergoing rapid development by the Army in

C. Burgess, Freedom 7: The Historic Flight of Alan B. Shepard, Jr., Springer Praxis Books, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-01156-1_1, © Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014


U. S. Army personnel hoist a Redstone missile upright prior to a test firing exercise. (Photo: U. S. Army)


order to deliver nuclear warheads. These missiles were designated the Corporal, Hermes A3, and Hermes C1.

In October 1950, Kaufman T. Keller, then president of the Detroit-based Chrysler Corporation, had been appointed by Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall to the part-time post of Director of Guided Missiles, with a full-time officer of the armed forces as his deputy. It was a new post within Marshall’s office, and he said at the time that Keller’s task was to provide him with “competent advice in order to permit me to direct and co-ordinate activities connected with research, development and production of guided missiles.” The creation of this office had been recommended to Marshall by the Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The Department of Defense said this step also had the approval of both the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Research and Development Board [1]. In this capacity, Keller agreed to a request from the Office of the Chief of Ordnance to accelerate the Hermes C1 program, handing primary respon­sibility for the tactical nuclear guided missile program to the OGMC of the Redstone Arsenal on 10 July 1951. The following year, on 8 April 1952, the Chief of Ordnance renamed it the Redstone missile.


On 24 March 1961 the weather conditions at Cape Canaveral were favorable for a liftoff that day from Launch Complex 5. The launch procedures had been arranged in a four-hour countdown that began at around 8:30 a. m. (EST). Liftoff had originally


Rhesus monkey Miss Sam flew on the LJ-1B abort test flight from Wallops Island. (Photo: NASA)

been scheduled for 1:00 p. m., but this was advanced by half an hour at the request of the Atlantic Missile Range. The countdown would only involve procedures relative to the MR-5 Redstone booster, as the research and development capsule mounted on top was inert. Everything went smoothly, and the loading of the liquid oxygen began two hours prior to the scheduled launch time.

Including the spacecraft and its escape tower, the MR-BD vehicle stood 83.1 feet tall, and would have a total weight of 66,156 pounds at liftoff. Given the elongated fuel tank and enhanced performance of this Redstone variant, the more powerful but toxic Hydyne fuel was replaced by a mix of 75 percent ethyl alcohol and 25 percent water that would be combined, as previously, with liquid oxygen.

At 12:29:58 p. m. the MR-BD rocket lifted off the launch pad and booster cutoff occurred 141.7 seconds later. No thrust difficulties were encountered as the Redstone climbed to an altitude of 115 miles, attaining a maximum velocity of 5,123 miles an hour. After a flight lasting 8 minutes 23 seconds the entire assembly plunged into the Atlantic 311 miles downrange – almost exactly as planned. The area of impact was only 1.7 miles longer than planned, and less than 3 miles to the right of the envisaged


The Mercury-Redstone Booster Development (MR-BD) test that was launched on 24 March 1961. (Photo: NASA)


site. As the structure sank swiftly to the floor of the ocean, a SOFAR (sound fixing and ranging) bomb attached to the interior of the capsule automatically detonated at 3,500 feet. This device had been inserted at the request of the Navy for a checkout of its Broad Ocean Area (BOA) Missile Impact System.

All of the test objectives of the MR-BD mission were achieved, and a preliminary analysis of the flight data showed only slight deviations from the ideal performance. All systems functioned as planned and no problem areas were revealed.

“The engine performed perfectly,” Dr. Kurt Debus, NASA’s director of launch operations later explained. “It burned its prescribed time and did not cut off too soon, as on the previous launching.” Debus announced that if a careful analysis of all the post-flight data demonstrated that the Redstone had functioned smoothly, no further tests would be required and that an astronaut would be able to be launched within six weeks to fly approximately the same 15-minute course as had been traveled that day. “However,” he cautioned, “a close look at the tapes might reveal a slight flaw which could necessitate another test Redstone launching.” [15]

Other NASA officials warned against an over-optimistic timetable, emphasizing that a manned flight depended on several other factors. Mercury Operations Director Walter Williams, pointed out that, in particular, the capsule had to undergo further helicopter drop and flotation tests before an astronaut could ride it.

Fifteen minutes that stopped a nation

During the MR-3 countdown a number of planned communications checks had been conducted with Shepard on both UHF and HF radio. Then, two minutes prior to the planned liftoff time, the UHF radio was switched on and continuous communications were maintained between Shepard and Deke Slayton, serving as the CapCom in the Mercury Control Center. This ensured that the communications systems were fully operational at the time of launch. Shepard also received voice checks from astronauts Wally Schirra and Scott Carpenter, callsigns Chase One and Chase Two because they were circling the Cape at high level in their F-106 jets in order to follow the rapid progress of the Redstone as it ascended and headed downrange.


Within an hour of arriving on board the carrier, Shepard received a radiotelephone call from President Kennedy in the White House, who wanted to extend his personal congratulations:

Подпись: Kennedy: Shepard: Kennedy: Shepard: Kennedy: Shepard:


Hello, Commander.

Yes, sir.

I want to congratulate you very much.

Thank you very much, Mr. President.

We watched you on TV of course [at launch] and we are awfully pleased and proud of what you did.

Well, thank-you, sir. As you know by now, everything worked just about perfectly and it was a very rewarding experience for me and the people who made it possible.

We are looking forward to seeing you up here, Commander.

Подпись:Thank-you very much. I am looking forward to it, I assure you.

The members of the National Security Council are meeting on another mat­ter this morning and they all want me to give you their congratulations. Thank-you very much, sir, and I’m looking forward to meeting you in the near future.

Подпись: Alan Shepard talking to President Kennedy. (Photo courtesy of Dean Conger/NASA)

Thank-you, Commander, and good luck.

At a press conference earlier that day, about 20 minutes after the safe recovery of Alan Shepard, the president issued a statement:

“All America rejoices in this successful flight of astronaut Shepard. This is an historic milestone in our own exploration into space. But America still needs to work with the utmost speed and vigor in the further development of our space program. Today’s flight should provide incentive to everyone in our nation con­cerned with this program to redouble their efforts in this vital field. Important scientific material has been obtained during this flight and this will be made available to the world’s scientific community.

“We extend special congratulations to astronaut Shepard and best wishes to his family who lived through this most difficult time with him. Our thanks also go to the other astronauts who worked so hard as a team in this project.” [46]

The president said at his press conference that a substantially larger effort would be made in the space program, and that Congress would be asked for an additional appro­priation. The request at that time was for 1.23 billion dollars, but he had earlier been advised that it would cost between 20 and 40 billion dollars to put a man on the Moon.

Whilst it should have been a joyous day for the president, with the first American astronaut safely back from space, he seemed to be anything but joyous at his press conference. He assured his audience that clearly he was happy about what had taken place, but he cited the tremendous courage and the accomplishment of Yuri Gagarin, and said that the United States was still a long way behind. Nevertheless, Shepard’s flight was just the tonic that America – and its leader – needed in order to overcome earlier disappointments and the frustrations that had been mounting since the Soviet orbiting of Gagarin and the Cuban Bay of Pigs fiasco the previous month, which was still causing immense grief and humiliation for the young, newly installed president.

Alexander Wiley of the Senate Aeronautical and Space Science Committee, was openly ecstatic, declaring, “I’m on a sort of emotional drunk.” Senator Karl Mundt, added that Alan Shepard ought to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, say­ing that there were not enough words of praise for the bravery of the astronaut [47]. This, however, would have required a special act of Congress, so it was later decided to award him instead with NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal.[3]


I include as part of the flight period the time from insertion into the spacecraft on the launching pad until the time of recovery by the helicopter, The voice and operational procedures developed during the weeks preceding the launch were essentially sound.

The countdown went smoothly, and no major difficulties were encountered with the ground crews, the control-central crew, and the pilot. There has been some comment in the press about the length of time spent in the spacecraft prior to launch, some 4 hours 15 minutes to be exact. This period was about two hours longer than had been planned. A fact that is most encouraging is that during this time there was no significant change in pilot alertness and ability. The reassurance gained from this experience applies directly to our upcoming orbital flights, and we now approach them with greater confidence in the ability of the pilots, as well as in the environmental control systems.

Our plan was for the pilot to report to the blockhouse crew primarily prior to the T-2 minutes on hard wire circuits, and to shift control to the Center by use of radio frequencies at T-2 minutes. This shift worked smoothly and continuity of information to the pilot was good. At lift-off I started a clock timer in the spacecraft and prepared for noise and vibra­tion. I felt none of any serious consequence. The cockpit section experienced no vibration and I did not even have to turn up my radio receiver to full volume to hear the radio trans­missions. Radio communication was verified after lift-off, and then periodic transmissions were made at 30-second intervals for the purpose of maintaining voice contact and of reporting vital information to the ground.

Some roughness was expected during the period of transonic flight and of maximum dynamic pressure. These events occurred very close together on the flight, and there was general vibration associated with them. At one point some head vibration was observed. The degradation of vision associated with this vibration was not serious. There was a slight fuzzy appearance of the instrument needles. At T+1 minute 21 seconds I was able to observe and report the cabin pressure without difficulty. I accurately described the cabin pressure as “holding at 5.5 p. s.i. a.” The indications of the various needles on their respec­tive meters could be determined accurately at all times. We intend to alleviate the head vibration by providing more foam rubber for the head support and a more streamlined fairing for the spacecraft adapter ring. These modifications should take care of this prob­lem for future flights.

I had no other difficulty during powered flight. The training in acceleration on the cen­trifuge was valid, and I encountered no problem in respiration, observation, and reporting to the ground.

Rocket cutoff occurred at T+2 minutes 22 seconds at an acceleration of about 6 g. It was not abrupt enough to give me any problem and I was not aware of any uncomfortable sensation. I had one switch movement at this point which I made on schedule. Ten sec­onds later, the spacecraft separated from the launch vehicle, and I was aware of the noise of the separation rockets firing. In another 5 seconds the periscope had extended and the autopilot was controlling the turnaround to orbit attitude. Even though this test was only a ballistic flight, most of the spacecraft action and piloting techniques were executed with orbital flight in mind. I would like to make the point again that attitude control in space differs from that in conventional aircraft. There is a penalty for excessive use of the per­oxide fuel and we do not attempt to control continually all small rate motions. There is no aerodynamic damping in space to prevent attitude deviation, but neither is there any flight-path excursion or acceleration purely as a function of variation in spacecraft angles.

At this point in the flight I was scheduled to take control of the attitude (angular posi­tion) by use of the manual system. I made this manipulation one axis at a time, switching to pitch, yaw and roll in that order until I had full control of the craft. I used the instru­ments first and then the periscope as reference controls. The reaction of the spacecraft was very much like that obtained in the air-bearing trainer (ALFA trainer) described previously in the paper by Astronaut Slayton. The spacecraft movement was smooth and could be controlled precisely. Just prior to retrofiring, I used the periscope for general observation.

The particular camera orientation during my flight happened to include many clouds and is not as clear for land viewing. This photograph shows the contrast between land and water masses, the cloud cover and its effect, and a good view of the horizon. There appears to be a haze layer at the horizon. This haze is a function not only of particles of dust, moisture, and so forth, but also of light refraction through atmospheric layers. The sky itself is a very deep blue, almost black, because of the absolute lack of light-reflecting particles. We are encouraged that the periscope provides a good viewing device as well as a backup attitude-control indicator and navigation aid.

At about this point, as I have indicated publicly before, I realized that somebody would ask me about weightlessness. I use this example again because it is typical of the lack of anything upsetting during a weightless or zero-g environment. Movements, speech, and breathing are unimpaired and the entire sensation is most analogous to floating. The NASA intends, of course, to investigate this phenomenon during longer periods of time, but the astronauts approach these periods with no trepidation.

Control of attitude during retrofiring was maintained on the manual system and was within the limits expected. There was smooth transition from zero gravity to the thrust of the retrorocket and back to weightless flying again. After the retrorockets had been fired, the automatic sequence acted to jettison them. I could hear the noise and could see one of the straps falling away in view of the periscope. My signal light inside did not show proper indication so I used the manual backup control and the function indicated proper operation.

After retrorockets were jettisoned, I used a combination of manual and electric control to put the spacecraft in the reentry attitude. I then went back to autopilot control to allow myself freedom for some other actions. The autopilot control functioned properly so I made checks on the high frequency voice link for propagation characteristics and then returned to the primary UHF voice link. I also looked out both portholes to get a general look at the stars or planets as well to get oblique horizon views. Because of the sun angle and light levels I was unable to see any celestial bodies. The Mercury Project plans are to investigate these phenomena further on later flights.

At an altitude of about 200,000 feet, or at the edge of the sensible atmosphere, a relay was actuated at 0.05 g. I had intended to be on manual control for this portion of the flight but found myself a few seconds behind. I was able to switch to the manual system and make some controlling motions during this time. We feel that programming for this maneuver is not a serious problem and can be corrected by allowing a little more time prior to the maneuver to get ready. We were anxious to get our money’s worth out of the flight and consequently we had a full flight plan. However, it paid off in most cases as evidenced by the volume of data collected on pilot actions.

The reentry and its attendant acceleration pulse of 11 g was not unduly difficult. The functions of observation, motion, and reporting were maintained, and no respira­tion difficulties were encountered. Here again, the centrifuge training had provided good reference. I noticed no loss of peripheral vision, which is the first indication of “gray out.”

After the acceleration pulse I switched back to the autopilot. I got ready to observe parachute opening. At 21,000 feet the drogue parachute came out on schedule as did the periscope. I could see the drogue and its action through the periscope. There was no abrupt motion at drogue deployment. At 10,000 feet the main parachute came out and I was able to observe the entire operation through the periscope. I could see the streaming action as well as the unreefing action and could immediately assess the condition of the canopy. It looked good and the opening shock was smooth and welcome. I reported all of these events to the control center and then proceeded to get ready for landing.

I opened the faceplate of the helmet and disconnected the hose which supplies oxygen to its seal. I removed the chest strap and the knee restraint straps. I had the lap belt and shoulder harness still fastened. The landing did not seem any more severe than a catapult shot from an aircraft carrier. The spacecraft hit and then flopped on its side so that I was on my right side. I felt that I could immediately execute an underwater escape should it become necessary. Here again, our training period was giving us dividends. I could see the water covering one porthole. I could see the yellow dye marker out the other porthole and, later on, I could see one of the helicopters through the periscope.

The spacecraft righted itself slowly and I began to read the cockpit instruments for data purposes after impact. I found very little time for that since the helicopter was already call­ing me. I made an egress as shown in the training movie; that is, I sat on the edge of the door sill until the helicopter sling came my way…. The hoist itself was uneventful. At this point, I would like to mention a device that we use on our pressure suits that gives water­tight integrity. There is a soft rubber cone attached to the neck ring seal of the suit. When the suit helmet is on, this rubber is rolled and stowed below the lip of the neck ring seal bearing. With the helmet off, this collar or neck cone is rolled up over the bearing and against the neck of the pilot where it forms a watertight seal. The inlet valve fitting has a locking flapper valve. Thus the suit is waterproof and provides its own buoyancy.