Saturday, May 16, 2009

Who's the best pilot you ever saw?

If you answered "Gordon Cooper," then you obviously have The Right Stuff.

Leroy Gordon "Gordo" Cooper's record-breaking spaceflight happened 46 years ago, on May 15 and 16, 1963. He made 22 orbits of the Earth in Mercury-Atlas 9, which he christened "Faith 7." During a flight that stretched over a day and a half, he became the first American to go to sleep in space. He also dealt with a plethora of issues, as the systems on his Mercury spacecraft, which were not designed for long-duration flight, began to break down.

These access badges are the only Mercury-era badges in my collection. The one shown at left granted the bearer access to the Engineering and Operations Building, which was adjacent to Hangar AE in the NASA area at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. These buildings were renovated and now house operations related to NASA's Expendable Launch Vehicle program.

The other badge does not designate a level of access. However, the "22" indicates the targeted number of orbits for the mission.

Cooper's mission was considered a complete success. There was one Mercury spacecraft remaining, which Alan Shepard had hoped to fly - and had already dubbed Freedom 7 II. However, NASA decided to terminate the Mercury program and concentrate its efforts on Gemini and Apollo. Following Cooper's mission, it would be 22 months before the next Americans went into space.