Gord Cooper in his Mercury
suit. Photo: NASA
||Gord Cooper, Mercury Astronaut (4 Oct 2004)
From 1961 to 1963, NASA operated Project Mercury, the effort to put an
American into orbit. There were 6 flights, each one longer than then
previous, each testing some aspect of flying a man around the earth. Gord
Cooper was the last astronaut to fly in the program, piloting the
spacecraft he christened "Faith 7".
You might think that putting a man in orbit couldn't be such a big
deal, but you'd be wrong. They needed a launch vehicle. Cooper flew atop
an Atlas missile which had been originally designed to deliver bombs, not
carry a man without crushing him with high G-forces on the way. When the
program began, just about as many Atlas boosters exploded on launch as
actually took off.
And then there was the problem of talking to the spacecraft once it was
in orbit. A world-wide communications system had to be created to allow
near-continuous communication with the pilot.
But even more fundamentally, the whole idea of a ground-based mission
control centre has to be invented. Now, this concept is taken for granted,
but then, it was something new.
At the time, Cooper's Faith 7 flight set the record for longest manned
flight at 34 hours, but the thing I liked best about this flight was that
Cooper fell asleep while his rocket was in a hold on the pad, and then
later in orbit. If I were in a spaceship, in orbit, there's no way I'd
ever be able to sleep; I'd be twirling pens in zero-G and looking out the
window until my eyes were bloodshot. It takes a pro to be calm in a
situation like that, to do his job, and to do it well.
You can read more about Gord Cooper at the following pages on NASA's
Gord Cooper Biography