Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mercury Capsule

The Mercury capsule was the space capsule used in the Mercury Project. It was first launched on a manned-mission on a Redstone rocket, during the first suborbital flight that put the first American in space (Alan Shepard) on May 5, 1961. For the first orbital flight which put the first American out in space to orbit Earth (John Glenn) on February 20, 1962, the Mercury capsule was launched on an Atlas rocket. The Mercury capsule was a cone shaped one-man spacecraft. It was 6ft 10in long and 6 ft 2.5 in in diameter. It was very cramped inside. On the bottom of the craft was a heat shield, which was to protect the capsule against the heat of reentry (3000 degrees). On the inside was one seat for a single astronaut and an instrument panel, unlike later projects, Gemini and Apollo. Aside from the heat-resistant materials, the Mercury capsule was made of insulating, radiation-tight layers of special materials, which shielded the astronauts from the elements of space.

The Mercury capsule sat on top of the launch vehicle, one of two kinds of rockets.  After launch, the capsule separated from the rocket and continued with the missions objectives. Uppon completing its space mission, the capsule returned to Earth, which was a complicated process as the capsule needed to enter the Earth's atmosphere at a specific angle to avoid burning up and becoming a fireball. Once the capsule made its way through the atmosphere safely it released large parachutes to slow its decent, splashing down into the ocean. It floated until a rescue crew of helicopters retrieved the capsule and the astronaut, bringing them back to land.

Mercury Capsule Design Documentary (Video)