Mercury program is a “Mercury Project,” the first human spaceflight program of the United States.
Mercury program was operated from 1959 to 1963 and had the mission of putting a man in orbit around the Earth. In 1962, The Mercury-Atlas 6 flight was the first Mercury flight to accomplish this goal. The planning and research was carried out by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. But the program was conducted by the NASA. The Project was named so firstly, because Mercury is a Roman mythological god who is regarded as a symbol of speed.
Secondly, Mercury is also the name of the innermost planet of the solar system, which rotates faster than any other planet thus providing an image of speed. The Mercury spacecraft capsules were of small size. It was 1.7 cubic meters in volume, but was spacious enough for the single crew member. There were total 120 controls: 55 electrical switches, 30 fuses and 35 mechanical levers. The spacecraft was designed by Max Faget and supported by the NASA's Space Task Group. To safeguard and protect the Mercury spacecraft and astronaut from launch vehicle failures Launch Escape System was also designed. The LES consisted of a solid fuel, 52,000 lbf with a thrust rocket on top of a tower above the spacecraft. It was so programmed that in case of a launch abort, the LES would fire for 1 second and drags the Mercury spacecraft and the astronaut away from a defective launch vehicle. The spacecraft can now come down on the parachute recovery system. After booster engine cutoff (BECO), the LES was separated from the spacecraft by a thrust jettison rocket. The whole Mercury program cost around $2.7 billion dollars.
The first Americans to go to space were military pilots. They were selected on the basis of their flight test experience and certain physical requirements. Seven pilots were chosen to become astronauts in April 1959. The astronauts named their own spacecraft and added "7" to the name to recognize the teamwork of their fellow astronauts.
Mercury had seven leading astronauts. All of them were ex- military test pilots, so the program was known as the Mercury Seven. NASA selected these astronauts on April 9, 1959:
Malcolm Scott Carpenter, USN
The names of these Mercury astronauts are also commemorated in the popular 1960s TV show “Thunderbirds.” The Randall Model 17 Knife "Astro" was also designed for the Mercury astronauts. The final design was done by Gordon Cooper. These knives were never supplied by NASA to the Mercury astronauts.
The Mercury program used three boosters: Little Joe: 2 flights carried monkeys. Launch escape system were tested with this booster. Redstone: 1 flight carried chimpanzee. Atlas 1 flight carried chimpanzee. Little Joe booster was used to test the escape tower and abort procedures. Redstone booster was used for suborbital flights and Atlas booster was used for orbital flights. In 1958, Jupiter missiles were taken as launch vehicles for the Mercury program but were later cut from the program due to budget limitations. The Atlas boosters required extra power to handle the heavy weight of the Mercury capsules as they were designed to carry warheads. Little Joe was a strong propellant booster. It was designed specially for the Mercury program.