Here's What It Took To Become The First American Astronauts

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mercury 7 NASA On April 9, 1959, NASA introduced its first astronaut class, the Mercury 7. Front row, left to right: Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Donald K. "Deke" Slayton, John H. Glenn, Jr., and M. Scott Carpenter; back row, Alan B. Shepard, Jr., Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, and L. Gordon Cooper, Jr.

Fifty-five years ago today, on April 9, 1959, NASA introduced America's first seven astronauts, the Mercury 7, to the public.

John Glenn is the only living member of the original seven, which included Alan Shepard, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra, Gus Grissom, Deke Slayton, and Gordon Cooper.

The Mercury 7 were not just average American men. They were all military test pilots, but also college-educated as engineers and in excellent physical condition.

Each man emerged from one of the world's most competitive selection processes that included a daunting combination of interviews, written exams, mental evaluations, and stress tests.

What followed were two years of intensive training before risking everything to become the first Americans to rocket into space.

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Selection of the Mercury astronauts began in January 1959. Due to the rigors of space travel, only military test pilots from the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps were considered for America's first manned space program.

Selection of the Mercury astronauts began in January 1959. Due to the rigors of space travel, only military test pilots from the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps were considered for America's first manned space program.

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110 men from a total of 508 service records screened met the basic requirements.

110 men from a total of 508 service records screened met the basic requirements.

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Candidates had to be younger than 40, no taller than 5' 11", and weigh no more than 180 pounds (due to the small size of the Mercury space capsule). They were also required to hold a bachelor's degree in engineering, have graduated test pilot school, and have 1,500 hours of flying time.

Candidates had to be younger than 40, no taller than 5' 11", and weigh no more than 180 pounds (due to the small size of the Mercury space capsule). They were also required to hold a bachelor's degree in engineering, have graduated test pilot school, and have 1,500 hours of flying time.

Thirty-two men who made it through a tough interview process in Washington, D.C, were sent to Lovelace Clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where psychological and physical tests were conducted.

Thirty-two men who made it through a tough interview process in Washington, D.C, were sent to Lovelace Clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where psychological and physical tests were conducted.

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Here, doctors performed over 30 different lab tests.

Here, doctors performed over 30 different lab tests.

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Test pilots were poked, probed, and measured for things like blood volume, water volume and total-body radiation count.

Test pilots were poked, probed, and measured for things like blood volume, water volume and total-body radiation count.

After one week of medical evaluations, the pilots were shipped off to Wright Air Development Center for Phase 4 of the selection program.

After one week of medical evaluations, the pilots were shipped off to Wright Air Development Center for Phase 4 of the selection program.

Each candidate had to prove his physical endurance through an elaborate series of vibration, heat, and pressure tests.

Each candidate had to prove his physical endurance through an elaborate series of vibration, heat, and pressure tests.

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A candidate prepares to be whipped around in a human centrifuge, used to expose astronauts to g-forces they would experience during launch and re-entry.

A candidate prepares to be whipped around in a human centrifuge, used to expose astronauts to g-forces they would experience during launch and re-entry.

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Feet are submerged in ice water to see how it affects pulse and blood pressure.

Feet are submerged in ice water to see how it affects pulse and blood pressure.

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Candidates must perform this movement for five minutes.

Candidates must perform this movement for five minutes.

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Then walk on an treadmill as the incline increases one degree every minute.

Then walk on an treadmill as the incline increases one degree every minute.

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Candidates were evaluated on their responses to questions like "Who am I?" and "Whom would you assign to the mission if you could not go yourself?"

Candidates were evaluated on their responses to questions like "Who am I?" and "Whom would you assign to the mission if you could not go yourself?"

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Only seven men made it through the exhaustive physical and mental exams.

Only seven men made it through the exhaustive physical and mental exams.

NASA introduced the "Mercury Seven" to the public at a press conference in Washington, D.C. On April 9, 1959.

NASA introduced the "Mercury Seven" to the public at a press conference in Washington, D.C. On April 9, 1959.

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That month, the Original Seven reported to the Manned Spacecraft Center in Texas (later named the Johnson Space Center), for two years of training.

That month, the Original Seven reported to the Manned Spacecraft Center in Texas (later named the Johnson Space Center), for two years of training.

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During the training period, astronauts spent hours in the classroom mastering the details of the Mercury craft and learning more about meteorology and engineering.

During the training period, astronauts spent hours in the classroom mastering the details of the Mercury craft and learning more about meteorology and engineering.

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Contraptions like the Gimbal Rig simulated an uncontrolled spin in space flight. Nitrogen-gas jets twisted three aluminum cages around at speeds up to 30 revolutions per minute. The pilot was strapped into a plastic seat at the center of the cage, leaving only his arms free.

Contraptions like the Gimbal Rig simulated an uncontrolled spin in space flight. Nitrogen-gas jets twisted three aluminum cages around at speeds up to 30 revolutions per minute. The pilot was strapped into a plastic seat at the center of the cage, leaving only his arms free.

Source: NASA

Zero-gravity flights, nicknamed the "vomit comet" because of the nausea it often produces, were used to simulate weightlessness.

Zero-gravity flights, nicknamed the "vomit comet" because of the nausea it often produces, were used to simulate weightlessness.

To prepare for landing off-course, the astronauts were left in the Nevada desert for four days with a mockup of the Mercury spacecraft, a parachute and a survival scenario. They emerged with clothing made out of the parachute material and beards.

To prepare for landing off-course, the astronauts were left in the Nevada desert for four days with a mockup of the Mercury spacecraft, a parachute and a survival scenario. They emerged with clothing made out of the parachute material and beards.

Source: NASA

Their training efforts ultimately paid off. On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American in space, aboard Freedom 7.

Their training efforts ultimately paid off. On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American in space, aboard Freedom 7.

Over the next two years, six of the Original Seven (Slayton was the exception) flew Mercury missions. The five-year-program, which also included five unmanned flights, paved the way for future human space travel.

Over the next two years, six of the Original Seven (Slayton was the exception) flew Mercury missions. The five-year-program, which also included five unmanned flights, paved the way for future human space travel.

Now remember the first man on the moon.

Now remember the first man on the moon.

Neil Armstrong Escaped Death 7 Times As A Pilot »


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