The Mercury Seven were the group of seven tested astronauts that where picked by NASA on April 9, 1959. The mercury 7 were also referred to as the Original Seven or Astronaut Group 1 Project Mercury. These 7 astronauts were picked during the Cold War because of a contest for supremacy between the United States and the Soviet Union in the years following World War II. When the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik on October 4, 1957, tensions between the two superpowers rose, because of this launch the United States responded by creating the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (or NASA for short) with a congressional act, which was signed into law on July 28, 1958.
The U.S.-Soviet superpower contest between supremacy became kind of R&D of the war, which the United States would win in July 1969 when the Apollo program landed men on the moon and returned them safely back to earth. U.S. manned spaceflight began, however, not with the fabled lunar expeditions but rather with the solo missions piloted by Project Mercury astronauts, chosen in April 1959. The 1959 Selection Process and the Original Astronauts
The Mercury astronauts were chosen after a test that had five-phase, and took three months to complete and make the selection of astronots. In phase 1 all the candidates were military test pilots and once this phase was complete it brought the number of candiates down to 110 which are eligible for Phase 2. In phase 2 the candidates were brought down to 32 finalists which were identified as eligible for further testing. During phases 3 and 4 of the selection process, these 32 men were tested and tested again—first at the Lovelace Clinic in Albuquerque, N.M. (phase 3), and then at the Wright Air Development Center in Dayton, Ohio (phase 4). Of these 32 candidates, 18 numerically ranked men were recommended by the evaluation committee to the STG Selection Board. As the Space Task Group (STG) grew more familiar with its highly motivated candidates, the evaluation committee repeatedly adjusted its early goals and plans. The volunteer rate proved so great at phase 2 (35 men reported to the Pentagon in the first group on Feb. 2, 1959, and 24 of them volunteered) that the committee scrapped its original plans for 12 astronauts. “The high rate of interest indicates,” STG member George Low explained, “that few, if any, of the men will drop out during the training process. . . . Consequently, a recommendation has been made to name only six finalists.” This recommendation too fell away as evaluation committee members, at phase 5, declared they could not choose only six.
Meeting for the final phase of the historic selection process of 1959, the STG Selection Board “found the going so difficult,” according to a NASA history, “that they could not reach the magic number six. So Gilruth decided to recommend seven.” The final list of seven men was reviewed and approved on April 2–3, 1959. Charlie Donlan made the telephone calls.
In the Carpenter biography, For Spacious Skies, Kris Stoever reports that the STG Selection Board “chose seven men, but not the top seven. Eschewing to some extent the numerical rankings, they chose the candidates ranked first, second, third, fifth, eighth, tenth, and fifteenth.”
Navy wags (among them a top Mercury candidate who went on to become the chief of naval operations) suggest that the top seven candidates were, to a man, U.S. marine and navy officers. This would explain, they suggest, both the rather conspicuous balance among the services evident in the final selection of the Mercury astronauts (1 marine, 3 navy, 3 air force) and also in the choices lurching from the top three to the rest of the field (candidates ranked 5, 8, 10, and 15) who had been recommended “without medical reservations.” But surviving members of the evaluation committee, including Dr. Robert B. Voas and Dr. George Ruff, will not confirm this speculation.
The Project Mercury Astronauts and Their Missions: