Mercury Seven

StarDate: April 10, 2009

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GLENNAN: Ladies and gentlemen, today we are introducing to you, and to the world, these seven men who have been selected to begin training for orbital space flight. [:11]

Fifty years ago this week, a handful of test pilots was about to become American heroes. NASA Administrator T. Keith Glennan introduced them on April 9th, 1959:

GLENNAN: Malcolm S. Carpenter, LeRoy G. Cooper, John H. Glenn, Virgil I. Grissom, Walter M. Schirra, Alan B. Shepard, Donald K. Slayton. These, ladies and gentlemen, are the nation's Mercury astronauts. [:28]

NASA had been created just a few months earlier to handle America's space program. Its job was to move ahead of the Soviet Union, which had put the first satellite in orbit in 1957.

One of NASA's first goals was to put a person in orbit. Under orders from President Dwight Eisenhower, the agency picked military pilots to fly its Mercury capsule -- the Mercury Seven.

Alan Shepard was the first one to fly. But his brief hop came a few weeks after a Soviet cosmonaut became the first man in space. John Glenn was the first American to enter orbit, in 1962.

All of the Mercury Seven eventually made it into space. Shepard even walked on the Moon. Today, only Glenn and Scott Carpenter remain -- the last members of a group of space pioneers: [GLENNAN] the nation's Mercury astronauts.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009

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