John Glenn: The Last of the Magnificent Seven

The Mercury 7 (l to r) Gordon Cooper, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, John Glenn, Deke Slayton, Scott Carpenter

With the death of John Glenn on December 8, 2016, no member of NASA’s first group of U.S. Astronauts selected in 1959 is still living. These men, christened The Mercury 7 by the press, boosted the United States from being a country with second-rate rocket technology, trailing the Russians for the conquest of space, to become the first (and only) nation to put human footprints on the Moon.

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy challenged Congress to the goal of landing a man on the Moon by the end of 1969. His speech was given just three weeks after Alan Shepard became the first U.S. astronaut to travel into space, and none of the other six young Mercury astronauts had even made a spaceflight.  Each of the seven went on to fly missions across four NASA programs, Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle, that advanced both the technology and prestige of NASA’s ambitions in space. Yet only one of them actually made it to the Moon, and that, ironically, was Alan Shepard himself.

Mercury spacecraft on the launch pad (one astronaut spacecraft)

The spaceflight accomplishments of the Mercury 7, in order of their first launch, are:

Alan Shepard (1923–1998)

  • May 5, 1961: Mercury spacecraft (Freedom 7). Shepard was the first American to go into space
  • January 31,1971: Apollo 14. The third manned Moon landing. Alan Shepard was the fifth man to walk on the Moon

 

Gus Grissom (1926–1967)

  • July 21,1961: Mercury spacecraft (Liberty Bell 7). Grissom was the second American to go into space
  • March 23,1965: Gemini 3. The first two-man Gemini mission
  • January 27,1967: Apollo 1 (Did not launch). Grissom was killed in a fire during a test on the launch pad

 

John Glenn (1921–2016)

  • February 20,1962: Mercury spacecraft (Friendship 7). Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth
  • October 29,1998: Space Shuttle Discovery STS-95. At age 77, John Glenn became the oldest person to date to make a spaceflight

 

Scott Carpenter (1925–2013)

  • May 24,1962: Mercury spacecraft (Aurora 7). Carpenter was the second American to orbit the Earth

 

Gemini spacecraft in orbit (two astronaut spacecraft)

 

Wally Schirra (1923–2007)

  • October 3,1962: Mercury spacecraft (Sigma 7). Schirra was the third American to orbit the Earth
  • December 15,1965: Gemini 6A. Performed the first spacecraft rendezvous in orbit (with Gemini 7)
  • October 11,1968: Apollo 7. The first manned Apollo mission, launched into Earth orbit

 

Gordon Cooper (1927–2004)

  • May 15,1963: Mercury spacecraft (Faith 7). The final flight of Project Mercury. Cooper was the last American astronaut to orbit the Earth alone
  • August 21,1965: Gemini 5. Conducted the first extended 8-day space mission

 

Deke Slayton (1924–1993)

  • July 15,1975: Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. The first joint docking of an American and a Russian spacecraft

 

John Glenn on Space Shuttle Discovery STS-95 (seven astronaut spacecraft)

Each of these seven men’s lives have extraordinary and sometimes surprising stories to tell. I recommend you devote time getting to know them.

Copyright 2016 Dandelion Beach LLC Images: NASA

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