Now a Man in Orbit?

Monkey Flight Cartoon

A humorous view of the implications of the "monkey flights" to the space race was offered by cartoonist John Fischetti of the Newspaper Enterprise Association.

The press corps at the usual postflight press conference listened courteously to this technical postmortem, but their main concern was whether another test mission would be flown before a manned orbital flight. Williams and Gilruth cautiously replied that first the MA-5 data would have to be thoroughly evaluated. Then the reporters wanted to know who had been selected to make Mercury's first manned orbital flight. Gilruth was ready for that one; he announced the team members for the next two missions. John H. Glenn was the selected prime pilot for the first mission, with M. Scott Carpenter as his backup. Donald K. Slayton and Walter M. Schirra were pilot and backup, respectively, for the second mission.65 This announcement represented a considerable change from the tighter news policy regarding crew selection that had prevailed in suborbital days.

Meanwhile Enos had his moment. After the urbane anthropoid came [408] aboard the Stormes, he ate two oranges and two apples, his first fresh food since he had gone on a low-residue pellet diet. The destroyer dropped Enos at the Kindley Air Force Base hospital in Bermuda, where Jerry Fineg took over. The chimp was walked in the corridors and appeared to be in good shape. His body temperature was 97.6 degrees; his respiratory rate was 16; and his pulse was 100. Apparently reentry, reaching a peak of 7.8 g, had not hurt him. His composure at his "press conference" surprised the correspondents. One reporter remarked that Enos, unlike Ham, did not become "unhinged" with the popping of the flash bulbs. On December 1, Enos reached the Cape for another round of physicals, and a week later he departed for his home station at Holloman, and well-deserved retirement.66

Enos' fame was short-lived. Public attention now turned to the supposedly imminent American manned orbital flight, although there still was no assurance that a spacecraft would next carry a man. Speculation mounted when Atlas 109-D was hauled into the Cape on the night of November 30. Newsmen immediately gathered around B. G. MacNabb, the Convair preparation chief, to ask when the checkout would start. "Tomorrow," he replied. When asked if there would be a crash effort in order to make the flight in 1961, [409] Williams said that three shifts were working a 168-hour week (all the hours possible), and that no special pressure would be applied. None of these statements dampened speculation by the press early in December. Signs, rumors, and portents cropped up daily. One correspondent, for example, noted that John Glenn had moved into special quarters at the Cape, adding that NASA had requested Atlantic Missile Range support beginning on December 20 and continuing to year's end.67

If NASA had ever been involved in a drive to put an American in orbit in the year of the Vostoks, that effort halted on December 7, the 20th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. Almost casually Gilruth and Williams announced that the flight was now scheduled for early 1962. The decision, said MSC officials, had been influenced by "minor problems dealing with the cooling system and positioning devices in the Mercury capsule." The official press release did state that NASA considered the spacecraft, its systems, and the tracking network qualified for manned flight. It had been apparent to many NASA officials for some time that the manned orbital launch might have to be postponed until 1962. George Low, at NASA Headquarters, had recognized the probability soon after mid-October, when he wrote, "The pad conversion time between MA-5 and MA-6 is exceedingly short if MA-6 is to remain on schedule." On schedule meant December 19.

Hugh L. Dryden summed up his philosophy regarding adherence to schedules for manned flight when he said, "You like to have a man go with everything just as near perfect as possible. This business is risky. You can't avoid this, but you can take all the precautions you know about."68

Although there was regret that this country did not get a man into orbit before the Soviets, or at least in the same year, 1961 had recorded substantial progress toward making the United States a spacefaring nation. In contrast with the atmosphere of uneasiness marking the end of 1960, the Manned Spacecraft Center engineers now knew that they were on the brink on fulfilling Project Mercury's basic objectives. The rehearsals were over.

65 "MA-5 News Conference."

66 Washington Evening Star, Dec. 1, 1961; New York Times, Dec. 1, 1961; Chicago Tribune, Dec. 1, 1961; Results of the Mercury Chimpanzee Flights, 38, 54. A little less than a year later, on Nov. 4, 1962, Enos died of dysentery caused by shigellosis, which resists antibiotics. He had been under night-and-day observation for two months before his death. Pathologists at Holloman reported that they found no symptom that could be attributed or related to his space flight a year before.

67 New York Times, Dec. 1, 1961; Kolcum, "Chimp Shot Raises Hope that U.S. Can Orbit Man Before Year's End"; Washington Evening Star, Dec. 6, 1961. The fact that Christmas leaves of absence for thousands of naval personnel in the recovery forces might have to be canceled without assurance that the flight schedule would be kept also entered into the decision to postpone MA-6, Williams said in interview.

68 House Committee on Science and Astronautics, 87 Cong., 2 sess. (1962), Aeronautical and Astronautical Events of 1961, 71; Baltimore Sun, Dec. 7, 1961; Low memo.

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