Kennedy Space Center, FL, USA — In 1962, NASA’s Project Mercury made history by sending an American into orbit for the first time. To mark the 50th anniversary of this historic achievement, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is inviting the public to a celebration that will be headlined by Mercury astronauts John Glenn and Scott Carpenter, the first two Americans to orbit Earth.
The 50th anniversary event, entitled “Celebrating 50 Years of Americans in Orbit,” will feature a full day of activities on Saturday, Feb. 18, providing guests with the chance to indulge their nostalgia for an earlier era of American manned spaceflight, and to inspire their curiosity about NASA’s ongoing mission. These events will include: a United Launch Alliance (ULA) presentation discussing the Atlas rocket, used to launch astronauts into space during the Mercury program, and its impact on human spaceflight; a display of space-themed artwork created by area students; and NASA exhibitions providing guests with a vision of the future of human spaceflight.
The highlight of “Celebrating 50 Years of Americans in Orbit” is the “On the Shoulders of Giants” program beginning at 6:30 p.m. featuring special guests Senator John Glenn and Scott Carpenter as they participate in a ceremony honoring all of those who made Project Mercury possible. Speakers scheduled to appear in the program include Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana, Senator Bill Nelson, and space shuttle astronaut Stephen Robinson, mission specialist on STS-95. Glenn and Carpenter will also sign an artifact during the program to be placed on permanent display. In addition, musical entertainment will be provided before and after the presentation.
Project Mercury was initiated by NASA in October 1958 with three goals: to place an American into orbit; to observe his reactions to the space environment; and to safely recover both the astronaut and the spacecraft. These three goals were met for the first time with the launch from Cape Canaveral of Mercury-Atlas 6, which carried American John Glenn into orbit aboard his spacecraft, Friendship 7. Glenn orbited the Earth three times, spending 4 hours, 55 minutes and 23 seconds in flight, before returning to Earth with a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.
Just three months later, Scott Carpenter became the second American to orbit the Earth following the May 24, 1962, launch from Cape Canaveral of Mercury-Atlas 7. Carpenter traveled into orbit aboard his spacecraft, Aurora 7, and, like Glenn, Carpenter completed three orbits on a flight lasting 4 hours, 56 minutes and 5 seconds. Following Carpenter’s successful flight, only two other Americans would be launched into orbit as part of Project Mercury: Walter Schirra and Gordon Cooper.
Guests to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex wishing to learn more about Project Mercury may also be interested in adding the “Cape Canaveral: Then & Now” guided tour to their admission package. This tour takes guests to the original Cape Canaveral launch sites associated with the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, and it is a “must-do” for anyone interested in fully experiencing the storied history of American orbital spaceflight.
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