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Mercury Program

Mercury Program, Laika, Sputnik, manned spacecraft, space race

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Mercury Program, first United States manned space program, conducted from 1961 to 1963. Named for the fleet-footed messenger of Roman mythology, the Mercury program was intended to put a manned spacecraft into Earth's orbit and to investigate a human being's ability to survive and work effectively in the harsh environment of space. During the program's two-year span, six astronauts were launched into space and safely returned to Earth. The program employed more than 2 million people from government agencies and the aerospace industry.

The Mercury program marked the entry of the United States into the “space race” with the former Soviet Union to send a person to the Moon. The Soviets had already moved ahead in the race by sending a dog named Laika into orbit aboard Sputnik 2 in 1957 and had launched the first manned spacecraft in 1961.


Mammana, Dennis L., B.S., M.S.

Resident Astronomer, Reuben H. Fleet Science Center. Author of "Other Suns. Other Worlds?", "The Night Sky: An Observer's Guide", and "Star Hunters".

Article key phrases:

Mercury Program, Laika, Sputnik, manned spacecraft, space race, aerospace industry, Soviet Union, orbit, astronauts, government agencies, Moon, Earth, dog, ability, United States, people, entry, person

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