T. Keith Glennan approved Project Mercury in October 1958. The project
was designed to put an astronaut into Earth orbit at the earliest date
and test his ability to function in extreme acceleration ("g-forces")
and weightlessness. For many in the public, Congress, and NASA these limited
goals represented a first step in human exploration. Planning already
was underway to evaluate more ambitious objectives-such as a space station
or Moon landing.
America's astronauts became the most visible symbols of space exploration.
The public, newspapers, and television celebrated these young space pilots
as national heroes, and their flights were widely heralded around the
Mercury 7 astronauts were selected and introduced to the public
in 1959. All were military test pilots. From left to right: (front row)
Walter Schirra, Donald Slayton, John Glenn, and Scott Carpenter; (back
row) Alan Shepard, Virgil "Gus" Grissom, and Gordon Cooper.
KENNEDY AND THE MOON DECISION