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CAPCOM: 4, 3, 2, 1, Fire! Roger, green from here. COOPER: Roger, I think I got all three.
After almost 34 hours in space, astronaut Gordon Cooper was headed home. He fired the retrorockets on his Mercury capsule, Faith 7, and headed toward splashdown in the Pacific Ocean — bringing America’s first manned space program to an end 50 years ago today.
Project Mercury was created to counter the apparent space dominance of the Soviet Union. By the time it ended, President John F. Kennedy had made it the first step on the path to the Moon.
Cooper’s flight was the sixth Mercury mission, and by far the longest — longer than the first five put together. The astronaut conducted experiments and snapped pictures. Most important of all, he proved that he could live and work in space for a long period with no problem. And at the end of the flight, when his automatic control system failed, Cooper piloted Faith 7 to a pinpoint landing. This NASA documentary sums it up:
AUDIO: And so it ended — 34 hours, 20 minutes, 31 seconds. The flight of a man in space 22 times around the Earth, 540,000 miles...
And Cooper himself summed up the entire Mercury program at a press conference after his flight:
COOPER: I think that Mercury has shown that man is adaptable to this new and strange environment, and he can contribute immeasurably to the reliability and completion of space flights....We have had 100 percent success on our manned flights...
...Setting the stage for new space adventures.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013