Concurrently in 1963, Eugene M. Emme, the NASA Historian, was prompting the preservation and collection of documentary materials and encouraging all NASA centers and especially the Mercury Project Office of MSC to proceed with the writing of the historical accounts of the technological, managerial, and administrative development of NASA's major programs. Documentary archives for manned space flight, therefore, began first in Washington and then in Houston while Mercury was still alive. The papers and correspondence of Robert R. Gilruth, George M. Low, Paul E. Purser, John A. Powers, and the astronauts' files constitute the bulk of the material presently contained in these two essentially duplicated archives, but innumerable smaller collections on specific technical and operational matters complement and amplify their usefulness.
In May 1963 a contract was arranged between the Manned Spacecraft Center and the University of Houston to provide for professional help to assimilate and synthesize the massive documentary remains from Mercury in several forms suitable for wide distribution as historical literature. The two academic authors of this volume began full-time work immediately after the termination of Mercury, helping the MSC Historian to complete his Project Mercury: A Chronology, NASA SP-4001 (Washington, 1963). Shortly thereafter, an abbreviated and considerably sterilized "PMTHP" was published in one volume as Mercury Project Summary: Including Results of the Fourth Manned Orbital Flight, May 15 and 16, 1963, NASA SP-45 (Washington, 1963). These two works are basic reference tools; they are essential to, but not representative of, historical handicraft.
The authors studied Congressional documents; periodicals; secondary literature on space science, technology, and public policy; unclassified governmental, industrial, and military reports; and the artifacts, including audio tapes and photographic records of the program. To orient themselves, they watched sequentially a major portion of more than one million feet of motion picture film, which preserved virtually every significant event and flight operation in Project Mercury.
To maintain some historiographical balance, they sought to subject the widest variety of documents to external (or contextual) and internal scrutiny. Competitive industrial and governmental claims to priorities were weighed. Wherever possible the people who made up the Mercury team were interviewed and each location of Mercury activities visited. Finally the authors concluded that research could proceed most profitably by writing. Concurrent writing and research went on for more than a year, before a "comment edition" was distributed to some 200 critical readers, most of whom found time to offer indispensable suggestions for its improvement.
Footnote readers will have noticed the somewhat different documentary bases of the three parts of this work. Part One rests largely on open (but little used for historical purposes) channels of scientific communication. Part Two is hewn out of a jungle of unpublished technical letters, messages, memoranda, telecon notes, informal reports, and working papers. Part Three is based progressively more on official project documentation, which had improved considerably by that relatively late date.
Unless otherwise specified, all these materials, in original or facsimile form, have been gathered together in the MSC archives. Very few items among those cited in the footnotes are still classified; the vast majority are no longer sensitive and may be examined by students of the early history of manned space flight.
More than 200 personal interviews, 134 Project Mercury working papers, and most of the 4,500 typical control and report documents listed in Appendix A of the Mercury Project Summary have served as the foundation for this history. The superstructure, however, is selective, as the bibliographical listing also must be. There are many other true tales that need to be placed in survivable form about the technology, administration, public relations, and human side of Project Mercury and the men who worked its wonders. But we authors hope that This New Ocean will map the temporal shoreline from which the United States of America cast off on its voyage into space.