On April 9, 1959, NASA’s first administrator, Dr. Keith Glennan, announced the names of the agency’s first group of astronauts at a news conference in Washington, D.C.
Now known as the “Original Seven,” they included three Naval aviators, M. Scott Carpenter, Walter M. Schirra Jr., and Alan B. Shepard Jr.; three Air Force pilots, L. Gordon Cooper Jr., Virgil I. (Gus) Grissom, and Donald K. (Deke) Slayton; along with Marine Corps aviator John H. Glenn Jr.
This group photo of the original Mercury astronauts was taken in June 1963 at the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC), now Johnson Space Center, in Houston, Texas. The astronauts are, left-to-right: Cooper, Schirra, Shepard, Grissom, Glenn, Slayton and Carpenter. Project Mercury became NASA’s first major undertaking.
The objectives of the program were to place a human-rated spacecraft into orbit around Earth, observe the astronaut’s performance in such conditions and safely recover the astronaut and the spacecraft. The Mercury flights proved that humans could live and work in space, and paved the way for the Gemini and Apollo programs as well as for all further human spaceflight.