Top of page

From the Serial Set: NASA’s Project Mercury – A Significant Milestone

Share this post:

The following is a guest post by Elina Lee, a library technician (metadata) in the Law Library of Congress Digital Resources Division. 

In 1958, Congress passed the National Aeronautics and Space Act (Public Law 85-568, 72 Stat. 426), and it was signed into law by President Dwight Eisenhower on July 29, 1958. The act “provided for research into the problems of flight within and outside the earth’s atmosphere” and established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). In 1959, the Senate Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences published a staff report on Project Mercury which was being overseen by NASA. This report can be found in the Serial Set 1959 (S. Rpt. No. 1014, 86th Cong., 1st Sess., at 1 (1959) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 12153.) This report provides information about Project Mercury and its goal to have a man orbit the Earth. This report also detailed the project budget, which was $37,661,200 plus $20,750,000 in supplemental funds in fiscal year 1959. The 1960 cost of Project Mercury was set at $70 million (S. Rpt. No. 1014, 86th Cong., 1st Sess., at 17 (1959) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 12153.)

S. Rpt. 1014, 86th Cong., 1st. Sess., at 1 (1959) reprinted in Serial Set v. 12153. Photo by Elina Lee.

According to Serial Set Vol. 12153, the objectives of Project Mercury were to “place a human-crewed space capsule in orbital flight around the earth…investigate man’s performance capabilities and ability to survive in a real space environment, and…recover the capsule and the man safely.” The significance of Project Mercury to the security of the United States was recognized by giving the program “highest national priority” status. (S. Rpt. No. 1014, 86th Cong., 1st Sess., at 2 (1959) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 12153.)

At a press conference in Washington, D.C., on April 9, 1959, NASA introduced the Mercury Seven to the public. The “Mercury Seven” were Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper Jr., John Glenn Jr., Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Walter Schirra Jr., Alan Shepard, and Donald K. Slayton. They spent months undergoing rigorous testing and training.

You can watch a short video of Mercury Seven here:

Project Mercury astronauts shown floating upside down during “weightless” experimental flight. [between Oct. 1958 and July 1959] Photograph.
H. Doc. 361, 86th Cong., 2d Sess., at 28 (1959) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 12277.

In the meantime, there were various other launching experiments, including biological experiments, batteries charged by sun, capsule environment controlled, and extensive physiological data. On Jan. 21, 1960, Little Joe 1-B (LJ-1B) was successfully launched from Wallops Island with a rhesus monkey named “Miss Sam” (H. Doc. 361, 86th Cong., 2d Sess., at 8 (1959) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 12277.)

H. Doc. 361, 86th Cong., 2d Sess., at 9 (1959) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 12277.

These missions paved the way for the Gemini and Apollo programs and all subsequent human spaceflight. Based on the Project Mercury cornerstone, President Kennedy’s goal of placing a man on the moon was achieved when Neil Armstrong (Apollo 11 crew) took “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” by walking on the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969.

The Serial Set volumes contain more documents about aeronautics research and space exploration, including the Apollo Program (S. Doc. 779, 92nd Cong., 2d Sess., at 4 (1959) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 12971-2) and Saturn V programs. The Digital Resources Division is looking forward to sharing these exciting parts of history as we enter a new era of developments in outer space.

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.