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Publisher's Summary

“We're not up there in space just to joyride around. We're up there to do things that are of value to everybody right here on Earth.” (John Glenn)

Today, the Space Race is widely viewed poignantly and fondly as a race to the moon that culminated with Apollo 11 “winning” the race for the United States. In fact, it encompassed a much broader range of competition between the Soviet Union and the United States that affected everything from military technology to successfully launching satellites that could land on Mars or orbit other planets in the Solar System. Moreover, the notion that America “won” the Space Race at the end of the 1960s overlooks just how competitive the Space Race actually was in launching people into orbit, as well as the major contributions the Space Race influenced in leading to today’s International Space Station and continued space exploration. 

The successful Apollo 11 mission was certainly an astonishing technological triumph, but what is less well remembered now are that many programs preceded Apollo and were essential to its success. Project Mercury was one of those, and in many ways, it represented the greatest step forward in terms of the conquest of space. Before Project Mercury, there was no certainty that a human could survive the rigors of a space launch or live outside Earth’s atmosphere. There was no agreement on just what an astronaut should be, and various individuals involved debated whether they should be pilots, technicians, scientists, or even merely observers in an automated craft. Before Project Mercury, no one was entirely certain what a rocket capable of taking a person into space would look like, or even whether building such a craft was within the capabilities of engineering in the 1950s. 

Put simply, Project Mercury aimed to answer these and other questions while overcoming technological and human problems never before faced. All the while, the program took place against he backdrop of intense competition between the Soviets and the United States to be the first to be able to send people into space and, if possible, to use that for military advantage. Because of this, Project Mercury was not just a step into the unknown, but part of an ongoing battle taking place in the glare of constant publicity to allow America to catch up with what frequently looked like an unassailable lead in space by the USSR. 

Project Mercury lasted for less than five years, but the missions were some of the most momentous and intense years in the history of space flight. When Project Mercury began in October 1958, no person had traveled to space and some people still believed that this was impossible. By the time that it ended in June 1963, the Apollo Program that would place an American on the Moon in 1969 had begun, but without Project Mercury, there could have been no Apollo Program.

Project Mercury: The History and Legacy of America’s First Human Spaceflight Program examines the origins behind the missions, the people and spacecraft involved, and the historic results. Along with pictures of important people, places, and events, you will learn about Mercury like never before.

©2021 Charles River Editors (P)2021 Charles River Editors

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