When Did a Mercury Capsule First Orbit the Earth and Who Was On Board To Pilot the Spacecraft?

On September 13, 1961, a Mercury capsule was launched into orbit and, after one complete revolution, landed safely.

On board was a simulation of an astronaut.

Afterwards, a Mercury capsule successfully carried the chimpanzee Enos twice around Earth.

Despite the astronauts’ test pilot experience NASA first intended for them to be “minor participants” during their flights, causing many conflicts between the engineers and during the spacecraft’s design and testing.

NASA’s project leaders always intended for pilots to be able to control their spacecraft, contrary to other reports, as they valued the astronauts’ ability to contribute to missions’ success.

In 1962 the US Post Office honored the first orbital flight of a U.S. astronaut with the Project Mercury Commemorative stamp.