MercuryOn October 1, 1958, one year after Sputnik 1 was launched into orbit, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was created "to provide for research into the problems of flight within and outside the Earth's atmosphere and for other purposes."
Project Mercury was announced less than a week later on October 7, 1958. The objectives of the project were to place a human into orbit around Earth, observe the performance of the person in such conditions, and recover the person and the spacecraft safely.
Because the conditions associated with spaceflight are similar to those experienced by military test pilots, NASA examined the service records of 508 test pilots. From the group, 10 candidates were assembled. After several rounds of interviews and written tests, the group was narrowed to 32 candidates.
The 32 candidates underwent medical examinations - physical and psychological - and 18 were recommended for Project Mercury without medical reservations. On April 9, 1959, at a press conference in Washington, D.C., NASA introduced America’s first astronauts to the public. The “Mercury 7” were Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Walter Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Donald Slayton.
Project Mercury completed six manned flights and eight unmanned flights over a five year period.