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“Project Astronaut”

  • Matthew H. Hersch
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Science and Technology book series (PSHST)

Abstract

Pondering names for America’s first human spaceflight program in the fall of 1958, Robert Gilruth, Chairman of the Space Task Group (STG) of the young National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), suggested “Project Astronaut,” but others at NASA feared that this name would draw undue attention to the personalities of the hand-picked aviators whom NASA’s army of engineers would soon blast into space.1 Instead, Abe Silverstein, NASA’s Director of Space Flight Programs, suggested “Project Mercury,” an evocation of the wing-footed Roman god and a continuation of the American custom of naming rockets after characters in Greco-Roman mythology. From the earliest days of America’s human space program, the role of the pilot was the subject of substantial controversy. Intended to serve as representatives of a large national technical endeavor, the astronauts—and not NASA’s scientists, engineers, or managers—quickly became its public face, and popular heroes. The earliest American astronauts assumed greater prominence than many in NASA had expected, and structured their working lives not only to enjoy the benefits of their celebrity, but also to protect themselves physically and professionally in an endeavor that they hoped would mark the beginning of their careers, not the end of them.

Keywords

Test Pilot Launch Vehicle Flight Test Space Program Ballistic Missile 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

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© Matthew H. Hersch 2012

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  • Matthew H. Hersch

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