The Mercury Seven

The group of astronauts NASA selected to take America into space would become national heroes - but they would also be subjected to a tough training regime to prepare them for orbit.

President Eisenhower made the decision over Christmas 1958 that only military test pilots should be considered for the first phase of the astronaut programme. Despite his military background, he was keen on maintaining a civilian aspect to the space programme (hence the formation of NASA), but in this case he saw that test pilots would have many of the characteristics needed.

So in early January 1959, NASA's selection committee began sifting through the records of 508 potential candidates. Some 110 of these were called for interviews and written tests, and by


The silver spacesuits designed 1or NASA by the B.F. Goodrich Company, and modelled here by John Glenn, became an iconic image of the Mercury programme.

February the number had been reduced to just 32. All these candidates were then subjected to a battery of medical tests, and 14 were dismissed due to various concerns, leaving 18 that were considered potential astronauts. Politics came into play with the final choice - seven launches were planned for the first phase of the programme, and when Gilruth sat down with the selection committee on 1 April 1959, they were careful to choose three astronauts each from the Navy and the Air Force. The seventh was to come from the Marines.

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