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Project Mercury was initiated on October 7th, 1958. The life of the program was about 4 2/3 years. The Goals of the program were specific:

To orbit a manned spacecraft around Earth;
To investigate man’s ability to function in space;
To recover both man and spacecraft safely.

A wonderful overview of the program can be found here.If you have some time to spare you can watch this video on the Mercury Program.

The first two manned flights of the program were on the Mercury-Redstone configuration. The Redstone rocket was the first large liquid rocket developed in the US using German V-2 technology and it was the U.S. Army’s first operational MRBM (Medium Range Ballistic Missile). This rocket combined with the Mercury capsule and escape tower constituted America’s first manned space flights. The two manned flights were:

Mercury-Redstone 3
FREEDOM 7

May 5, 1961
Alan B. Shepard, Jr.

15 minutes, 28 seconds
Suborbital flight that successfully put
the first American in space.Watch a video on the flight here.

Mercury-Redstone 4
LIBERTY BELL 7

July 21, 1961
Virgil I. Grissom

15 minutes, 37 seconds
Also suborbital; successful flight but
the spacecraft sank shortly after splashdown.

Project Mercury technical drawings

You can start to build your own Mercury Redstone. There is a paper model link located in my Ultimate Paper Rocket Guide. The direct link for the Delta7 paper model is here. There is also the fabulous Urban Kartonmodelle version. There is also a wonderful model available from Sheri’s Hot Rockets.
…and let’s not forget Mercury Joe

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