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The Mercury Seven, The ‘Real’ Thunderbirds

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Not strictly an Anderson connection, but following the recent death of John Glenn we figured it might be nice to write a piece on the men whom the Tracy brothers were named after.

Project Mercury was NASA’s first manned spaceflight program, hot on the heels of the Russian Sputnik satellite reaching orbit the space-race had officially begun and America and Russia were quickly trying to reach the next step, putting a man into orbit.

Obviously, if the name sounds familiar (aside from the planet) then it is because this program went on to inspire the name of another Gerry Anderson hero – Mike Mercury.

In 1959 the Mercury Seven were unveiled to the world, seven highly trained test pilots from various backgrounds that would undertake the planned Project Mercury missions.

Scott Carpenter

Scott Carpenter

An officer and pilot of the US Navy, Carpenter flew the fourth Mercury mission on Atlas 7 orbiting the Earth three times in his craft Aurora 7.

Virgil Grissom

Virgil “Gus” Grissom

A United States Air Force test pilot and flew the final sub-orbital Mercury mission in Liberty Bell 7. Sadly he was killed during a test one month before the launch of the Apollo 1 Spacecraft.

Alan Shepard

Alan Shepard

Originally a test pilot for the United States Navy, Alan Shepard became the first American in space in Freedom 7, just one month behind Yuri Gagarin.

Gordon Cooper

Gordon Cooper

An US Air Force test pilot and engineer, Gordon Cooper flew the final Mercury mission in Faith 7 and was the first person to sleep in space over a 34-hour mission.

John Glenn

John Glenn

A former test pilot, Glen was the first American to complete a full orbit of the earth in Friendship 7. Sadly John Glen passed away earlier this month and was the last surviving member or the Mercury Seven.

Donald Slayton

Donald Slayton

While never flying any of the Mercury missions after being grounded due to concerns regarding an irregular heart rhythm, Donald Slayton went on to fly the first joint Russian/American space flight, docking an Apollo capsule with a Soyuz spacecraft in orbit.

Walter Schirra

Walter Schirra

Walter Schirra was a test pilot for the US Navy, he flew the fifth Mercury mission in Sigma 7 and went on to become a pilot for the later Gemini and Apollo missions as well.

Obviously, the similarities don’t end with the names of Jeff Tracy’s five sons. The Mercury program was a media frenzy and much of it was carried over to the UK, clearly influencing many aspects of the classic Supermarionation era.

At the end of the day, we are not a history website and this is admittedly a very brief touch upon the subject, but it is nice to know Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John were more than just names and that heroes aren’t just fictional. We encourage you to check out the Official Nasa Page of the Mercury Project and also to watch the wonderful 1983 movie “The Right Stuff”, which is based on the story of Project Mercury.

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A freelance Artist and Film-maker based on a not so secret island in the East Atlantic. Grew up up on the Anderson series reruns in the 90s and have always strived to create works that are as interesting and exciting.
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  • F.A.B. In Peace to all the men of the mighty mercury 7, say hi to Gerry and Sylvia for us.

  • And that movie The Right Stuff is really exceptional!

  • Phillip Atcliffe

    A couple of important clarifications: Alan Shepard, the first Mercury astronaut into space, only flew a sub-orbital hop like Gus Grissom; and John Glenn’s flight orbited the Earth 3 times, not just once. The Mercury astronauts, test pilots all, also insisted that they be able to control the capsule in space, unlike Gagarin who was pretty much a passenger for his historic single orbit. This is not to decry the Russians — who did get their man into space first, after all — but it does reflect the differing design philosophies of the Soviets and the Americans.

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