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Home > Mercury, Redstone, Atlas, Gemini > Mercury-Redstone Overview

Mercury-Redstone Overview

On October 7, 1958, NASA formally organized Project Mercury to place a manned space capsule in orbital flight around the Earth, investigate man's reaction to this new environment, and recover the capsule and the pilot safely. On January 8, 1959, NASA asked the Army to provide a series of Redstone-type launch vehicles for Project Mercury development flights. Dr. Wernher von Braun later wrote, "Our people at ABMA also began to assemble two Mercury-Jupiter vehicles, but this work was ended in mid-1959 by the NASA decision to 'man-rate' only the 'old reliable' Redstone, chosen for suborbital manned space flight because of its demonstrated reliability and flight stability." For Mercury, the Redstone propellant tank was lengthened by 6 feet and the standard Redstone engine thrust was increased to 78,000 pounds.

In mid-1960, with Von Braun still at the helm, responsibility for Mercury-Redstone passed from the Army Ballistic Missile Agency to the Marshall Space Flight Center where the progress continued. By October, a status report on Marshall's involvement in Mercury noted that the first two Mercury-Redstones had been assembled by the Marshall Center with many of the components fabricated at Marshall. An additional six vehicles had been assembled by the Chrysler Corporation. The first four of the eight Mercury-Redstone vehicles had been static fired, and the first Mercury-Redstone was on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral after a capsule-booster compatibility checkout in Huntsville. In addition, a unique rocketborne television system designed to provide scientists and engineers with vital in-flight data on space vehicles had been prepared at the Marshall Center for the Mercury-Redstone boosters.

The Redstone tests conducted in Huntsville helped pave the way for what the Marshall Star called "a giant stride toward manned orbital flight." On December l9, 1960, a Mercury-Redstone, furnished by the Marshall Center, successfully launched an instrumented spacecraft.

Although Project Mercury was under the direction of NASA's Space Task Group at Langley Field, Virginia, the Marshall Center was responsible for providing and launching the 78,000-pound-thrust rocket from Cape Canaveral.

The first flight of the Mercury-Redstone, on December 19, was a booster-spacecraft test flight. On January 31, 1961, a Redstone lifted a Mercury spacecraft carrying Ham, the chimpanzee, who was recovered safely after helping NASA test the spacecraft's life support system. On May 5, 1961, another Redstone lifted a Mercury capsule carrying Alan Shepard, the first American in space. Then, on July 21, a Redstone launched a Mercury capsule carrying Virgil I. Grissom on a flight that marked the end of the Mercury-Redstone Program, and the next step in the U.S. manned space flight program, the orbital flight of a more powerful vehicle, the Mercury-Atlas.

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