Sunday, October 4, 2009

Spacecraft of the Week #6

Spacecraft of the Week is back after a short hiatus, and features an unflown spacecraft that would have given America's first astronaut a chance to orbit the earth. The Mercury program was to incrementally allow astronauts and NASA researchers experience into longer stays in space. After the first two suborbital flights would come a trio of three orbit flights, followed by three or four 22 orbit full day flights. This would take the program right to the start of the two seat Gemini flights. The first of these day trips was to be Mercury 10, piloted by Alan Shepard, who was launched on the first sub-orbital manned flight. Shepard's capsule would be outfitted with extra consumables for the longer mission. He christened his second Mercury Freedom 7 II, being the only spacecraft to my knowledge with a name that contains both Aramaic and Roman numbers. Due to budget constraints, the first day mission was reassigned to Gordon Cooper's Mercury 9 flight. After Cooper's successful flight, all remaining Mercury missions were canceled to free up talent for project Gemini, and Freedom 7 II was declared excess.

I originally saw Freedom 7 II at the visitor center for Ames Research Center in California. It was very accessible, displayed without a cover (only over the open hatch) and mounted on a McDonnell service rack. Previously, it was held in storage at Cape Canaveral after its mission was cancelled. For many years it wowed west coast Space Campers, but in 2003 was recalled by the Smithsonian and placed in the new Udvar-Hazy Center. There it sits under the protective wing of the orbiter Enterprise.

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