When people think about the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the first flight to space, the first names that come to mind are that of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and the rest of the crew from the Apollo 11 moon landing. Neil and the rest of the gang made a mark in history, but they were not the first Americans to hit space.
Who were America's first astronauts?
The cold war shaped history in unbelievable ways, and it could be argued that without it, NASA would be completely different. During the 1950's, the United States and the former Soviet Union were duking it out to see which nation will hit space first.
To have the first astronauts in space, NASA enlisted 32 military men as candidates for the space program. The 32 lucky men who got to make history were sent to Lovelace Clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to could undergo medical and psychological tests that would determine their future in the program. Only one candidate was eliminated, and out of the 31-remaining man, NASA chose seven to be part of America’s first manned space program - Project Mercury.
The choice came in the footsteps of the USSR's successful launch of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, into space, and the lucky men that were chosen to be in Project Mercury were Alan Shepard Jr., Scott Carpenter, John H. Glenn Jr., Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Walter Schirra Jr., L. Gordon Cooper Jr., and Donald Slayton.
The "Mercury Seven" became heroes and celebrities overnight and began training to fly into space. Unfortunately, the project suffered some difficulties and setbacks, and the USSR managed to send the first astronaut into space - Yuri Gagarin, who orbited the earth on April 12, 1961.
It wasn't too long before America managed to send one of its men into space when astronaut Alan Shepard was launched into suborbital flight on May 5, 1961. Less than one year later, On February 20, 1962, John Glenn became the first American astronaut to orbit the earth. The Mercury Seven will forever be remembered in history, and hopefully, there are many space landmarks in America's future.