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
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.