Lesson Featuring the Original Seven Mercury Astronauts as a Classification Exercise



From left to right: Carpenter, Cooper , Gleen Grissom, Schirra, Shepard, Slayton

(Note: Of interest is that the men are posed in alphabetical order.)

Click here for a history NASA 27 minute documentary featuring the original Mercury Astronauts.


The first Americans selected for space voyages immediately achieved “hero” status.  Because the Soviet program was steeped in secrecy, the Russian cosmonauts did not generally receive such renown.  Of course, Yuri Gagarin, as the first human to orbit Earth, was the exception.  But the American seven, Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Walter Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Donald “Deke” Slayton, quickly became as famous as movie stars and professional athletes.  The group was introduced formally to the American public February 20, 1962.  Below are brief biographical “word-clips” of each of the seven. 

While each could be classified as an "Original Seven Mercury Astronaut", subtle classifications distinguished their personalities, backgrounds, talents, and experience. This made each man unique among his peers. By reading the descriptions of these characteristics, one places each spaceman in a unique classification defined by the summary accounts.

Your assignment is to read each mini-biographical account and correlate what is common to all seven and unique about each man..  (Hint: One item is that they were all males.)  Conclude your classification with your choice of favorite astronaut among the seven.  Write a paragraph explaining your choice. Presently, (2010) only Scott Carpenter and John Glenn are still alive. 

video of morph of seven mercury astronauts in alphabetic order

Click on the above picture to watch a brief morph movie clip of all seven Mercury Astronauts.



Malcolm Scott Carpenter; Commander, USN (Retired); born May 1, 1925, Boulder, Colorado. Attended University of Colorado although not graduating (awarded an earned degree of engineering after his space flight), and was chosen in the first group of astronauts in 1959. Commander Carpenter was backup pilot for Mercury-Atlas 6 (Friendship 7), and the pilot of Mercury-Atlas 7 (Aurora 7). An elbow injury from a motorbike accident in Bermuda in 1964 removed him from flight status, and he resigned from NASA in August 1967 to join the U.S. Navy Project Sealab. He retired from the Navy on July 1, 1969, and is now (1985) an engineering consultant in Los Angeles, California.

Leroy Gordon Cooper, Jr.; Colonel, USAF (retired); born March 6, 1927, Shawnee, Oklahoma. Received bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology (1956) and was chosen in the first group of astronauts in 1959. Colonel Cooper was backup pilot for Mercury-Atlas 8 (Sigma 7), pilot for Mercury-Atlas 9 (Faith 7), command pilot for Gemini 5, backup command pilot for Gemini 12, and backup commander for Apollo 10. He retired from NASA and the Air Force in July 1970 to form Gordon Cooper Associates in Hialeah, Florida. He then was Vice-President for Research and Development for WED Enterprises, Glendale, California. He is currently (1985) President of Vistec, Los Angeles.

John Herschel Glenn, Jr.; Colonel, USMC (Retired); born July 18, 1921, Cambridge, Ohio. Attended Muskingum College, entered Naval Aviation Cadet Program (1942), commissioned in the Marine Corps (1943) and was chosen with the first group of astronauts in 1959. He was backup pilot for Mercury-Redstone 3 (Freedom 7) and Mercury-Redstone 4 (Liberty Bell 7), and was the first American to make an orbital flight, in Mercury-Atlas 6 (Friendship 7). He retired from NASA and the Marine Corps in 1964 to join the Royal Crown Cola Company, and to enter politics. He was elected U.S. Senator from the State of Ohio in November 1974 and was re-elected in November 1980.

Virgil "Gus" Ivan Grissom; Lieutenant Colonel, USAF; born April 3, 1926, Mitchell, Indiana; died January 27, 1967, in the Apollo 204 fire at Cape Kennedy, Florida. Received bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from Purdue University (1950) and was chosen with the first group of astronauts in 1959. He was pilot for Mercury-Redstone 4 (Liberty Bell 7), command pilot for Gemini 3, backup command pilot for Gemini 6, and had been selected as commander of the first manned Apollo flight.

Walter Marty Schirra, Jr.; Captain, USN (Retired); born March 12, 1923, Hackensack, New Jersey. Received bachelor of science from the U.S. Naval Academy (1945) and was chosen in the first group of astronauts in 1959. He was backup pilot for Mercury-Atlas 7 (Aurora 7), pilot of Mercury-Atlas 8 (Sigma 7), backup command pilot of Gemini 3, command pilot of Gemini 6, and commander of Apollo 7. Captain Schirra retired from NASA and the Navy in July 1969 to become Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Environmental Control Company, Englewood, Colorado, and Chairman, Sernco, Inc. In 1976 he became Director of Marketing-Powerplant and Aerospace Systems, Johns Manville Company, and Vice-President, Johns Manville Corporation, in Denver, Colorado. In December 1977 he resigned those positions to become Vice-President for Development for Goodwin Companies in Middleton, Colorado. In 1980 he was elected to the Board of Directors of Electromedics Inc. He is currently (1985) a consultant in Sante Fe, California and a public speaker.

Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr.; Rear Admiral, USN (Retired); born November 18, 1923, East Derry, New Hampshire. Received bachelor of science degree from the U.S Naval Academy (1944) and was chosen with the first group of astronauts in 1959. He was pilot of Mercury-Redstone 3 (Freedom 7) becoming America's first man in space, backup pilot for Mercury-Atlas 9, was subsequently grounded due to an inner ear ailment until May 7, 1969 (during which time he served as chief of the (Astronaut Office), commander of Apollo 14 (fifth man to walk on the Moon), and in June 1971 resumed duties as chief of the Astronaut Office. He retired from NASA and the Navy Aug. 1, 1974, to join the Marathon Construction Company of Houston, Texas, as partner and chairman. He is currently (1985) President of the Windward Coors Company, Deer Park, Texas.

Donald "Deke" Kent Slayton; Major, USAF (Retired); born March 1,1924, Sparta, Wisconsin. Received bachelor of science in aeronautical engineering from the University of Minnesota (1949) and was chosen with the first group of astronauts in 1959. He was chosen as command pilot for Mercury-Atlas 7 (Aurora 7), but was removed due to detection of a heart murmur. He resigned his commission as an Air Force Major in November 1963, but continued as an active member of the astronaut team, becoming Director of Flight Crew Operations, a position he held until February 1974. Mr. Slayton returned to flight status in March 1972 and was docking module pilot for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. He was a manager for the shuttle orbital flight tests. He left NASA in February 1982 and currently (1985) serves as a consultant for Aerospace Corp. and Space Services, Inc., Houston, Texas. Deceased in 1993.

(The above data appeared in ASTRONAUTS AND COSMONAUTS BIOGRAPHICAL AND STATISTICAL DATA, Revised - June 28, 1965, prepared by the Congressional Research Service Library of Congress.)


Additional Information About America's Original Astronauts

Those who first pilot any aircraft or spacecraft face the greatest danger. Untested and unproven aerospace vehicles call for great courage among those who serve as test pilots. Such was the case for the original seven Mercury astronauts shown above. Click here for a YouTube video clip commemorating the challenges faced by Astronaut Alan Shepard and his fellow astronauts. (The song, RETURN TO ORBIT, FACE THE UNKNOWN, was performed for middle school educators at a summer workshop conducted at the Johnson Space Center.)

Return to STARSHIP home base.