This fourth course in the series of America's Greatest Projects and Their Engineers describes the perseverance as well as the innovations developed and implemented on Project Mercury at a critical time in our nation's history. It also highlights the extensive careers of the seven brave men who volunteered to go up into space when so much was still unknown. As Project Mercury achieved increasing success in its missions, it was followed by millions on radio and TV around the world. Its technological achievements laid the groundwork for the next two phases of the U. S. Space Program. The next phase after Project Mercury was Project Gemini, which carried two astronauts in each capsule, and perfected space docking and other important space maneuvers. These were essential components for the manned lunar landings in the subsequent Apollo Program that was encouraged by President Kennedy just a few weeks after the first manned Project Mercury flight. When the Mercury Project ended in May 1963, both the United States and the Soviet Union had each sent six people into space, but the Soviets still led the U.S. in total time spent in space. The NASA organization, the U. S. Government, and our astronauts were determined and committed to changing that paradigm. However, this course stops with the conclusion of Project Mercury and does not continue with the more expansive space programs of Project Gemini or Apollo.
Following the end of World War II, the USA and the Soviet Union entered into an often bitter confrontation that became known even to this day as the Cold War. Led by brutal dictator Josef Stalin, Russia had unilaterally annexed most of the Eastern European nations. Furthermore, the USSR had developed an atomic bomb and began accumulating their nuclear arsenal by 1949. The USA under President Harry Truman had adopted a philosophy of "containment" toward the USSR, while the Soviets continued to enhance their nuclear capabilities.
The USSR continued to expand their communist agenda around the world. Meanwhile the French, recognizing that the nuclear "Arms Race" between the United States and the USSR was spinning out of control, had proposed an International Geophysical Year. The IGY would be an effort by engineers and scientists from around the world to collaborate on some of the latest technological achievements in the fields of space travel, radar, and computerization. The IGY was to be held beginning on 01 July 1957, and was to last through 1958. Sixty-eight nations were invited to participate and to sponsor relevant projects, with one nation (Mainland China) refusing to participate. The birth of the Space Age was fostered under these circumstances.
1. Gain an understanding of why the USA moved forward with the project despite indifference and a minimum of public and government support.
2. Learn why the USSR was able to outpace the USA in the early years of the "Space Race".
3. Recognize the effort to place the space program under one responsible agency.
4. Discover how leadership played such a major factor in one of the most significant projects in the history of the United States.
5. Learn about missile and rocket design and recognize the contributions of the pioneers who were ahead of their time.
6. Understand the obstacles that confronted the Project Mercury Team and their consistent efforts to overcome early failures.
7. Realize that the success of Project Mercury moved the USA into a leadership role and enabled America to place a man on the moon by July of 1969.