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Project Mercury was the first human spaceflight
program of the United States. It ran from 1959 through 1963 with two
goals: putting a human in orbit around the Earth, and doing it before
the Soviet Union, as part of the early space race. It succeeded in the first but not the second: in the first Mercury mission on 5 May 1961, Alan Shepherd became the first American in space; however the Soviet Union had put Yuri Gagarin into space (and also into orbit) one month earlier. John Glenn became the first American to reach orbit on February 20, 1962, during the third manned Mercury flight. Glenn was the third person to reach orbit, following Gagarin and Gherman Titov.
Mercury 7 Astronauts: Alan Shepherd, Virgil “Gus” Grissom, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Walter Schirra, Gordon “Gordo” Cooper, Donald “Deke” Slayton
Pictured: Mercury spacesuit worn by astronaut Wally Schirra on the MA-8 mission.