Project Mercury - Contractors


On 7 October 1958, T. Keith Glennan, the first administrator of NASA, approved the Mercury project. On December 17 Glennan announced Project Mercury publicly.

On 29 December 1958 North American Aviation was awarded a contract to design and build Little Joe launch vehicles to be used for altitude flight testing of the Mercury launch escape system. Twelve companies bid to build the Mercury spacecraft, an unusually high number for a $20 million contract, given the project's great prestige. In January 1959 McDonnell Aircraft Corporation was chosen to be prime contractor for the spacecraft, and the contract for 12 spacecraft was awarded in February. In April seven astronauts, known as the Mercury Seven or more formally as Astronaut Group 1, were selected to participate in the Mercury program.

In May 1959 North American Aviation delivered the first two Little Joes, and in June, an Atlas D launch vehicle named Big Joe was delivered, for use in a suborbital heat shield test flight. In July, the planned use of the Jupiter rocket as a suborbital launch vehicle was changed to the Redstone. In October General Electric delivered to McDonnell the ablative heat shield designated for installation on the first Mercury spacecraft. In December the launch vehicle for Mercury-Redstone 1 was ready to begin static tests installed on a test stand at ABMA.

In January 1960 NASA awarded Western Electric Company a contract for the Mercury tracking network. The value of the contract was more than $33 million. Also in January, McDonnell delivered the first production-type Mercury spacecraft, less than a year after award of the formal contract. On February 12, Christopher C. Kraft, Jr. was appointed to head the Mercury operations coordination group. In April, the first spacecraft was delivered to Wallops Island for the beach-abort test. The test was completed successfully on May 9.

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