Over 52 years ago, in the early hours of May 5th, 1961 the US prepared to launch its first man into space. Three weeks earlier, the Soviet Union had sent Yuri Gagarin on an orbital mission. This was a suborbital mission planed to last only 15 minutes. For the moment that did not matter, the entire nation held its breath while Alan Shepard became America’s first man in space.
The objectives of the Mercury Project, were as follows:
1. Place a manned spacecraft in orbital flight around the earth.
2. Investigate man’s performance capabilities and his ability to function in the environment of space.
3. Recover the man and the spacecraft safely.
After the objectives were established for the project, a number of guidelines were created to insure that the most expedient and safest approach for attainment of the objectives was followed. The basic guidelines that were established are as follows:
1. Existing technology and off-the-shelf equipment should be used wherever practical.
2. The simplest and most reliable approach to system design would be followed.
3. An existing launch vehicle would be employed to place the spacecraft into orbit.
4. A progressive and logical test program would be conducted.
By the late 1940’s, it became obvious that Army ballistic missile research activities required more room than what was available at Fort Bliss, Texas. After a long and through search the decision was made to move to the Redstone arsenal at Huntsville, Alabama. A farm town know for watercress, cotton and mosquitoes. The Redstone Arsenal was chosen for several reasons: it was on a large tract of government property, its location on the Tennessee River gave it access to the electrical power of the Tennessee Valley Authority, the climate was good, and it was not too far from Cape Canaveral, whose long range proving ground was growing in importance.