MAJOR GENERAL LEIGHTON I. DAVIS, U.S. Air Force, Department of Defense Representative for Mercury Support Operations




[155] The Mercury-Atlas 9 mission marked the successful conclusion of the nation's first manned space flight program to which extensive operational support had been provided by the Department of Defense. This support covers any assets uniquely available within the broad scope of this nation's military structure and includes such areas as early wind- tunnel studies, astronaut training facilities, parachute development, launch vehicles and launch operations, aeromedical assistance crews, network facilities, recovery forces, and public information.


Early in the program a need was recognized for a more precise planning and control of the many areas of DOD support to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. A Department of Defense Representative for Mercury Support Operations was designated by the Secretary of Defense and was the sole point-of-contact within the DOD for coordinating all NASA requirements with DOD resources. A coordinating organization, the Mercury Support Planning Office, was established to administer the plans policies, and directives of the DOD Representative.


Both the Redstone and Atlas launch vehicles developed by the DOD for other programs were modified and together with launch operations provided support for the Mercury flight program. Military facilities and persons associated with tracking and telemetry stations within the DOD complex were made available to complete the Mercury Worldwide Network. By far the largest DOD support effort in terms of people, was the level of recovery forces deployed for the various Mercury missions. This manpower level was approximately 14,000 people for the manned orbital missions. For those missions where an occupant was included in the spacecraft, DOD medical teams were deployed to provide assistance to NASA medical specialists. The global DOD communications complex was activated for use during Mercury missions to lend support in a variety of areas where high-speed information flow was required. This communications complex, in addition to facilities of the Mercury Worldwide Network, was especially valuable in coordinating the deployment and operation of the recovery forces for an orbital mission. The DOD also supported the NASA in disseminating and controlling Mercury mission information for public consumption through its public information organization.


Providing support to Mercury flights has contributed greatly to the Department of Defense's knowledge and experience in areas of launch, network, recovery, communications, and medical space operations. Future space-flight operations can be effectively supported by applying the experience and procedures derived during Project Mercury.




Throughout the Mercury Project, the Department of Defense (DOD) provided valuable and timely support in critical operational phases of the Project. As the project progressed and the scope of its activities increased, a need for a centralized coordinating agency within the DOD was recognized. The person in charge of this agency was designated the DOD Representative who had the sole responsibility of coordinating the resources of the various military organizations to satisfy the project requirements of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. In this regard the DOD Representative was the primary point-of-contact for the NASA Operations Director in conjunction with specific requests for Mercury support.


[156] Prior to the designation of a DOD Representative for Mercury support operations, operational support. for the project was handled on an official hut somewhat informal basis. The intent of this paper is to describe the operational support that was provided after the designation in 1959 of a DOS Representative for Mercury support operations. This designation also provided NASA with a single point-of-contact for the submission of their DOD support needs.


Early in the Mercury Project wind tunnel facilities such as the Arnold Engineering and Development Center, Tullahoma, and the crew training devices such as the Centrifuge at Johnsville, Pa., were also made available; however, these support areas will not be discussed. The support areas which are discussed comprise launch vehicles and operations, worldwide tracking, recovery, communications, aeromedical, and public information. These areas are discussed separately as they pertain to Mercury-Redstone and Mercury-Atlas mission activities and are followed by a summary of DOD support provided for each specific mission. Although the DOD provided launch, range, and recovery support for the first Atlas launch, named Big Joe, and for the Little Joe spacecraft development flights, these are not presented. The Big Joe flight was conducted to provide early aerodynamic and thermodynamic data by reentering a boilerplate spacecraft. A greater emphasis is placed on describing the gradual build up of operational support from the relatively simple ballistic flights, requiring assistance primarily in the area designated the Atlantic. Missile Range, to the worldwide orbital missions requiring DOD medical, network, and recovery forces stationed around the globe.


This paper is intended only as a summary of the concepts and techniques employed in the various support areas relating to the Department of Defense. The Aeromedical Activities, Network Development and Performance, Recovery, Redstone Development and Performance, and Atlas Development and Performance papers should be consulted for greater detail in the operational aspects of these subjects.


Planning and Organization


The National Aeronautics and Space Administration had sole responsibility for conducting the Mercury project. The NASA Operations Director was designated as the single point-of-contact with the Department of Defense. The talents, resources, and facilities of the Department of Defense were used to assist NASA in attaining the overall objectives of the project The Secretary of Defense approved DOD support of Project Mercury in areas of launch, network, recovery and bioastronautics.


The Commander, Atlantic Missile Range Test Center (AFMTC), was designated as the Department of Defense Representative for Project Mercury support operations by the Secretary of Defense and was made responsible to coordinate the efforts of the many DOD elements involved and to provide a single point-of-contact for NASA for the Mercury Project. The DOD Representative was authorized such staff as he might need to accomplish his duties and was required to make maximum use of existing DOD organizations and procedures. Broad plans of DOD support for Project Mercury were developed by the DOD Representative and published in an Overall Plan on January 15, 1960.


The Mercury Support Planning Office, consisting of representatives from the major participants in DOD support of Project Mercury, was created to administer the plans and policies of the DOD Representative. This office coordinated NASA's support requirements for Mercury with the DOD elements to insure that needed support in the form of talent, facilities, organization and other resources, was timely and sufficient to the extent compatible with DOD's primary defense mission. The Mercury Support Planning Office was the final coordinating staff office for the DOD Representative in all matters relating to DOD support of Project Mercury operations.


Department of Defense support was originally divided into two stages: preoperational and operational. The operational stage included launch through recovery phases and the preoperational stage included all other times during which DOD supported Project Mercury. During each of these stages control of DOD support differed, and a separate functional organization was required. In the preoperational stage, the DOD Representative had responsibility for coordinating the action of DOD [157] forces in Project Mercury activities. In the operational stage, full decision-making, responsibility was exercised by the NASA Operations Director. In either stage, additional guidance was provided by direct contact between the DOD Representative and the NASA.


These planning, coordination and control procedures, set up in the early days of Project Mercury, remained basically unchanged until the end of the seventh Mercury-Atlas mission (MA-7). After MA-7, it was decided to amend the charter of the DOD Representative to insure a tighter control of the diverse DOD elements during mission operations, because of the expanding scope of the program, the need for a change in operational procedures and realinement of recovery communications. As a result, the duties and responsibilities of the DOD Representative were revised in June 1962. Significant changes were incorporated into the revised terms of reference for the DOD Representative which established two phases of operational support: the coordinating phase and the operational control phase which, at times, ran concurrently. The coordinating phase was that time during which plans were developed and resources arranged to support future operations. This phase was continuous and included training and simulation exercises preparatory to flight operations. The operational control phase included the launch through recovery aspects of the mission and began at 24 hours before the scheduled launch at which time the DOD Representative assumed operational control of the DOD forces, assets, and facilities used for support of Mercury operations. This phase terminated at the time the spacecraft and its occupant were recovered and turned over to NASA officials.


To provide for the centralization of overall operational control of the global recovery forces, the DOD Representative established the DOD Mercury Recovery Control Center at Cape Canaveral. Another method used by the DOD Representative for exercising operational control of the support forces was the publication of operations orders and directives prior to each mission. These orders proved to be an effective means for conducting these missions and contained a more detailed description of the procedures by which operational control would be exercised by the DOD Representative.


Based on these orders, the supporting commanders prepared their individual directives for the control of their assigned forces.




Several methods were used by the DOD Representative to evaluate DOD performance during the Mercury Project. Monthly status reports were submitted by the DOD Representative to the Secretary of Defense and Annual Reports summarized calendar year operations. Postmission reviews and preoperational conferences were held by the DOD Representative and attended by representatives from NASA, the National Ranges and DOD support forces.


Prior to each mission, the DOD Representative received readiness reports from the support forces and kept NASA informed as to the DOD's ability to support the mission. DOD forces were kept apprised of countdown status, lift-off time, flight progress, and landing information during an operation.


To consolidate and standardize the administrative and operational procedures for the DOD National Ranges, Operations Plan 60-1 was published in 1960. The procedures proved so effective for the early Mercury flights that a joint DOD/NASA document, Network Operations Directive 61-1, was published with a detailed description of the manner in which the DOD, NASA and the Australian Weapons Research Establishment (WRE) facilities would operate as an integrated global network in support of Project Mercury. The documentation flow which transferred information between NASA and DOD started with the NASA Program Requirements Document which requested specific items of support from the ranges. The ranges, in turn, replied with a Program Support Plan which specified how they would meet NASA's requirements.


Launch Support


Launch operations for Project Mercury were conducted at the Cape Canaveral Missile Test Annex of the Atlantic Missile Range. The Redstone vehicles were launched by NASA Marshall Space Flight Center assisted by members of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency. Other DOD participation in the Redstone launches was limited to standard launch complex and [158] instrumentation support normally provided to missile programs by the AMR.


The DOD role in Atlas launches were extended to include the Atlas D launch vehicle, guidance system, and launch complex, and was provided by the Space Systems Division (SSD) of the Air Force Systems Command (AFSC). The 6555th Aerospace Test Wing of SSD located at Patrick AFB was given the responsibility for final installation, prelaunch checkouts, and actual launch of the Atlas launch vehicle to insert the Mercury spacecraft into a proper orbit.


Network Support


The mission of the Mercury Worldwide Network was to enable flight control people to monitor, by electronic means, the status and performance of the spacecraft, its systems, and its occupant and to communicate with the pilot. To accomplish this mission, NASA, with the assistance of the DOD, implemented a global tracking and telemetry network. This network required the use of certain existing DOD stations as well as the construction of additional facilities. As originally planned, the network consisted of 14 land-based stations, two DOD tracking ships, and a communications center.


A listing of the network stations is as follows:

Station number

Station name

Operating agency


Cape Canaveral


Grand Bahama


Grand Turk






Rose Knot



Canary Island









Coastal Sentry











Canton Island






Pt. Arguello






White Sands



Corpus Christi





The network was later modified on a mission-to-mission basis by other DOD facilities, including additional stations of the Atlantic Missile Range and two radar tracking ships. The DOD Communications Center was replaced by the NASA Communications and Computing Center at the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) and some Mercury stations became identified by names more descriptive of their actual location.


During Mercury missions, the entire network was under operational control of the DOD Representative's network commander, assisted by the network status monitor, who advised the NASA Operations Director on the status of the network to perform its mission. Upon termination of the mission, operational control of the stations reverted to the respective range commanders or the NASA, as appropriate. After the network had been established, NASA provided the technical planning, augmentation, and modification of the network to complement the DOD operational control.


Instrumentation for the initial Mercury flights involved only the facilities of the AMR. The entire network, except for the Coastal Sentry , was first called up for support of MA-3.


The first time a Mercury network instrumented ship was used in support of a Mercury mission was during MR-3. The Coastal Sentry ship was located in the landing area for telemetry and communications between the spacecraft and the ground.


For the second manned flight, MR-4, the AMR Rose Knot ship, was deployed in the landing area. It was during MA-4 that most of the network stations had their first opportunity to attempt radar track. In general, radar track from the stations was poor and the Bermuda, White Sands, and Woomera data were not usable at Goddard. A postflight review was held at AMR and was attended by representatives from all of the radar sites. It was learned from this review that the antenna patterns for both the C-and S-band beacons were not good because of deep nulls in the antenna patterns. A decision was made to install an antenna pattern-phase shifting device on the spacecraft for the next mission. This device introduced a phase relay of 400 cycles per second to shift the antenna pattern and effectively smear over the deep nulls.


The installation of the phase shifter on the C-band antenna system for MA-5 proved successful. During the MA-.5 postmission review, indications were that the radar coverage was [159] much improved. This improvement was the result of the use of the phase shifter, the intensive training received by the radar operators between missions, and by the use of a radar controller on the handover net.


During the MA-7 flight, several stations reported amplitude modulation by the phase shifter on the C-band beacon; however, reentry data were smoother than on previous missions. The two relay aircraft obtained SARAH beacon bearings on the spacecraft and confirmed its location prior to sighting.


Failure of the magnetron driver unit on the Canary Islands Verlort radar caused a 15-minute hold in the MA-8 countdown. Some communications problems were encountered during periods of poor propagation conditions and aircraft relay was unsuccessful because the distance between spacecraft and aircraft was too great.


The launch for the Mercury-Atlas 9 (MA-9) mission was the first mission rescheduled because of network difficulties. Bermuda's C-band radar had unacceptable range data errors because of a faulty shift register in the range digital data channel and a faulty preamplifier in the azimuth digital data channel.


The network for MA-9 was augmented by the addition of the Twin Falls Victory Ship (AMR), the USNS Range Tracker (PMR), Antigua Island, Ascension Island, East Island, Wake Island, and Kwajalein Island.


Relay aircraft were equipped with high gain antennas and the spacecraft- to-ground voice relay was successful. Voice relay was also accomplished through Ascension, Wake, and Kwajalein. Radar aircraft of the Air Defense Command, used as part of the network for the first time, obtained a good skin track of the spacecraft during reentry, including blackout, and were able to obtain some contact during orbit. For the first time, stations were allowed to go on standby status during the orbital phase, and computer and data flow tests were conducted to confirm their return to operational status.


Recovery Support


During Project Mercury the DOD contribution to planned and contingency recovery operations expanded considerably. Starting with a concentration of all recovery efforts about a single planned landing area, recovery support multiplied until the DOD was supporting 32 planned landing areas and 51 contingency landing areas for the final Mercury mission. For MR-1A, the first unmanned ballistic flight, the recovery support forces consisted of 8 ships and 15 aircraft all located within 1,500 nautical miles of Cape Canaveral. Recovery support for the final MA-9 mission consisted of 28 ships and 171 aircraft.


Mercury-Redstone Series


The Mercury-Redstone series of four flights which required recovery support took place during the period December 1960 to July 1961. These missions all involved ballistic trajectory flights, with the primary planned landing area located directly downrange northeast of Grand Bahama Island. Naval ships and aircraft formed the recovery task force and were assigned stations within the designated recovery areas. Aircraft units from the Air Rescue Service (ARS) and the Air Force Missile Test Center (AFMTC) assisted the surface recovery forces. Contingency recovery commanders were designated and units of their commands were pre-positioned along the ballistic track to insure readiness should a contingency recovery situation have occurred.


Mercury-Atlas Series


Mercury-Atlas missions MA-3 to MA-9 were all planned as orbital flights varying from one orbital pass to the extensive 1-day, 22-orbit mission which concluded the Mercury program.


With the advancement from ballistic to orbital flight, the support provided by elements of the DOD substantially increased. No longer was it sufficient to consider only a downrange flight path, but now it was necessary to view the entire earth-circling orbital paths as potential contingency recovery operation areas. Although the number of planned landing areas increased from 1 to 32, the greatest expansion of DOD recovery effort occurred in the area of contingency recovery operations. The support of contingency recovery landing areas was primarily borne by aircraft, and in many instances by the same aircraft used in support of planned landing areas. The number of aircraft directly participating in recovery operations for this series increased from 22 located along the AMR [160] ballistic track to 171 located at 30 land-based sites and onboard two aircraft carriers.


The unmanned flight of MA-3 was the first planned one orbital pass mission, but failure in the launch vehicle resulted in its destruction by the Range Safety Officer. The spacecraft escape system worked perfectly and the spacecraft was retrieved by a launch-site recovery-force helicopter, 200 yards off shore. This was the only time during the program that the launch-site recovery forces had to put into practice the many hours of training for just such an emergency.


Because of extensive slippages in the original scheduled dates for the orbital missions, two separate and distinct recovery-force deployments were required. The DOD recovery forces in support of these missions adjusted and substituted units as necessary to meet normal military commitments during the periods between recovery deployments. Despite these reorganizations, all recovery elements and units were ready and effectively performed their recovery missions.


The MA-7 mission of Astronaut Lieutenant Commander Carpenter, USN, terminated after a three-orbital flight with a 250 nautical mile overshoot of the primary landing area. Recovery was effected, however, about 3 hours after landing. A postmission review of this flight revealed the need for a change in recovery communications and operational procedures. This review led to the establishment of a DOD Mercury Recovery Control Center (MRCC) jointly staffed by Commander Cruiser- Destroyer Flotilla Four (CTF-140)) and his deputy, Commander Air Rescue Service, who performed the recovery mission for the DOD representative. Furthermore, recovery communications equipment and procedures were changed for future missions so as to provide a more tightly controlled recovery organization capable of quick response to changing situations.


The last two missions of the Mercury Project, MA-8 and MA-9, constituted a culmination of all the lessons learned in previous missions, and reflected the flexibility of the recovery forces when the primary planned landing area was relocated from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. The final flight had the greatest number of recovery forces providing support and required the closest coordination of effort.


The Pacific recovery force trained intensively in preparation for these missions, and the smoothness with which the two operations were conducted reflected their efforts and refined procedures. In both flights the manned spacecraft landed within 4 1/2 miles of the primary recovery ship and was recovered and on board within 45 minutes in each case.


Recovery forces supporting MA-8 were deployed with 19 surface units in the Atlantic and 7 in the Pacific. A total of 134 aircraft provided the planned and contingency recovery support for this mission. For MA-9, surface support forces in the planned landing areas numbered 15 ships in the Atlantic and 11 in the Pacific. Air support was provided by aircraft from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and the U.S. Coast Guard. Commander, Middle East Force, provided a contingency surface recovery force of two ships for the north Indian Ocean areas.


Aeromedical Support


To fulfill the objectives of Project Mercury, the NASA requested the Department of Defense to provide certain medical support. The purpose of this support was to assure thorough on scene medical care and a prompt and complete assessment of the astronaut's postflight condition.


On December 1, 1959, the Department of Defense Representative for Project Mercury Support Operations designated the Staff Surgeon, AFMTC, as his Assistant for Bioastronautics. The principal function of the Assistant was to plan, organize, and deploy worldwide medical support for Mercury flight operations in response to NASA medical requirements.


The Department of Defense provided medical support in the categories of administration, people, training, facilities, and equipment. The extent of this support is discussed to show the magnitude of such support.


Administrative Support


Administrative support included selection and deployment of medical resources and facilities and the formulation of medical support plans. The scope of this support included the following:


(1) Development of medical plans and programs.

[161] (2) Acquisition, siting, and making operationally ready, the required medical facilities.

(3) Requisition, preparation, and deployment of all needed medical equipment.

(4) The preparation of plans to provide blood for an injured astronaut and procedures in case of non-survival of an astronaut.

(5) Medical staffing of a Forward Medical Station, an Operational Support Unit, and launch site recovery forces.

(6) Deployment of people and equipment to fleet recovery units.

(7) Establishment of specialty teams and alerting of specific DOD hospitals.


In addition, administrative actions were taken to procure medical specialists from Australia and the Public Health Service to support each mission. Arrangements were made for immunizations, distribution of publications to recovery medical forces, and training programs.




For the later manned missions, 84 medical officers were trained by the AFMTC in June 1960 and in April 1963, 23 DOD medical officers were trained specifically for MA-9 by NASA.




During the program 233 medically trained people were made available by the DOD in support of Project Mercury flight operations. These people served in the following areas:

(1) As aeromedical monitors. The monitors were assigned to Mercury network tracking stations. Their functions were to monitor, using telemetry displays, the physiological condition of the astronaut.

(2) At Cape Canaveral, to provide emergency surgical support in the event of a launch site incident or disaster.

(3) On recovery vessels, to provide immediate on-scene medical assistance in the event of a medical emergency during recovery operations.

(4) At advanced medical units in high probability landing areas at Grand Bahama Island and Grand Turk

(5) In the Bioastronautic Holding Facility in Hangar "S ' Cape Canaveral, to assist in preflight preparations.

(6) A dietitian and food service supervisor were provided in the astronauts' dining facility to prepare and serve prescribed diets to the flight astronaut and his backup.




The following medical facilities were provided:


(1) Cape Canaveral: Two blockhouses were modified to provide a forward Medical Station, a Medical Command Post, a Medical Communications Center, an astronauts' diet kitchen and dining room, and a ready room for the Medical Specialty Team.

(2) Downrange: Two prefabricated surgical hospitals and medical debriefing units were erected at Grand Bahama Island and Grand Turk Island.

(3) The Wilford Hall USAF Hospital, Lackland AFB, Texas; the US Navy Hospital, Portsmouth, Virginia; the Walter Reed Army Hospital, Washington, D.C.; the Tripler General Hospital, Honolulu, Hawaii; were designated as specialty team hospitals. Seven other DOD hospitals were alerted in high probability landing areas, to support the astronaut if needed.


Senior medical officers from the three armed services established the medical equipment needs in support of Project Mercury. The medical supplies and equipment were provided to NASA on a loan basis and will be available for support of future manned space flights.


The DOD medical participation in Project Mercury has been mutually beneficial in that the NASA received support otherwise unavailable to them and the Department of Defense medical services gained extensive experience in medical support operations. These trained experienced people represent a core of technically competent specialists to support future manned space programs.




The termination of Project Mercury was also the termination of an extensive communications complex used by the Department of Defense forces in support of this NASA project. This complex started with the early Mercury ballistic missile communications limited to that of radar [162] and telemetry data needed within the confines of the Atlantic Missile Range (AMR).


As the project progressed to the orbital flights, communications grew in complexity to a point which involved the resources of the national ranges, Defense Communications Agency, and the equipment and facilities available to the separate commands, commercial agencies, and foreign governments.


Programs were initiated to provide communications that were uniquely required by the Mercury mission. Some of the equipment resulting from these programs was adopted by NASA for incorporation into future facilities support.


As Mercury missions advanced from unmanned suborbital to manned orbital flights, it became necessary for the DOD representative's staff to have communications specialists immediately available to assist in the overall DOD communications support as well as to participate actively in the operational phase of the missions. Beginning with the MA-7 mission, the function of the Communications Coordinator was performed for the DOD Representative by the Chief, Range Support Communications Division, AFMTC, assisted by other communications specialists in the AFMTC organization. The value of this group was fully realized during the course of the MA-9 mission. For this mission the most complex communications system employed in the support of the national space effort was implemented. From 48 hours before lift-off through test termination, this group of communicators supervised and maintained constant surveillance of the worldwide communications systems insuring that the best possible support and performance was afforded this Mercury mission.


Network Support


Communications for the Mercury suborbital flights consisted basically of the following:


(1) Launch pad intercommunications systems with associated circuitry to other Cape Canaveral instrumentation areas, such as command control, telemetry, radar, and central control. These systems were interfaced with those provided by NASA within the Mercury Control Center for internal communications.

(2) Voice, teletype, data, and timing circuits to Grand Bahama and Grand Turk Island tracking sites through the use of the AMR submarine cable.

(3) Ultra-high frequency (UHF) and high frequency (HF) communications between the spacecraft and ground with equipment provided by NASA and operated by the AMR at Cape Canaveral, Grand Bahama, and Grand Turk.


Additional communications support for the first manned suborbital flight consisted of a basic teletype and voice plan to provide for the passing of traffic to a recovery force consisting of 10 surface vessels and 11 aircraft in the Atlantic area. Teletype circuits connected the Mercury Recovery Control Center (MRCC) at Cape Canaveral to the three service communications centers, Andrews AFB, Ft. Detrick, and Cheltenham, in the Washington complex; the AMR submarine cable connected the MRCC with the recovery forces in Puerto Rico; and simple high-frequency single sideband (HF/SSB) voice communications connected the MRCC to the recovery ships and aircraft.


As the missions progressed into orbital flights, the NASA tracking network could not meet the need for expanded global tracking and communications requirements. The DOD augmented the existing NASA network by providing coverage at such stations as Antigua, Ascension, Pretoria, Kwajalein, Wake Island, and San Nicholas Island. DOD also provided range ships and aircraft specially configured for spacecraft voice relay.


During MA-8 and MA-9 the DOD provided communications support for the xenon flashing-light experiment being conducted at Durban, South Africa, by routing communications through the AMR station at Pretoria, South Africa.


The DOD Interrange tie line connecting Pt. Arguello, White Sands Missile Range, Eglin Air Force Base, and Cape Canaveral was widely used during the Mercury mission for radar handover and for intersite coordination. The value of this circuit was realized by both NASA and DOD elements for radar control. Beginning with the MA-6 and subsequent missions, modifications were made to include the sites at Guaymas, Mexico, and Corpus Christi, Texas. The line was extended to the Hawaii tracking site for MA-8 and MA-9.


[163] To overcome problems associated with spacecraft-to-ground communications especially during the reentry period, the DOD initiated a developmental program on the use of airborne platforms as automatic relay stations. Special C-130 aircraft were configured with equipment capable of the receipt and automatic retransmission of the modes of communications, HF/UHF, available from the spacecraft or ground stations. Included in the program were various patterns by which the aircraft would fly so as to provide the best coverage and relay conditions. During MA-8 and MA-9 this system u as also incorporated aboard the telemetry aircraft operated by the PMR in the Pacific area.


Shortly after MA-8, the AMR developed a technique for the relay of telemetry data by way of single-sideband radio. This system was successfully demonstrated in November 1962 from AMR stations Antigua and Ascension Islands to Cape Canaveral involving distances of 1,200 to 4,400 miles, respectively.


The system was offered to the NASA for use during MA-9 as a means of relaying real-time aeromedical data. The NASA accepted this proposal and the system performed successfully.


Recovery Support


In addition to the basic teletype and voice plan for passing communications traffic to the recovery force deployed in the Atlantic, provisions were also made for the handling of classified traffic by the installation of a secure teletype circuit between Patrick AFB and Cape Canaveral. The AMR submarine cable was used to interconnect the MRCCC at Cape Canaveral with the recovery forces in Puerto Rico. High-frequency single-sideband (HF/SSB) voice communications were used between the recovery ships and aircraft in the Atlantic and MRCC.


For the MA-9 mission communications were needed to support 28 surface vessels, 171 aircraft, and various Recovery Control Centers and contingency forces deployed around the world. To tie this vast complex into an effective communications network, the communications resources of the DOD with its inherent capability to interconnect with other governmental and commercial systems, were available to the DOD Representative's communications staff for support of MA-9.


The hub of the DOD recovery communications effort was the Mercury Control Center at Cape Canaveral. As missions progressed from suborbital to full orbital flights, the center was modified from one of limited communications support to an extensive and complex system which supported the 22-orbital flight (MA-9). This Center was designed to provide for the receipt of status information from worldwide deployed forces and for the passing of directions to the task force commanders. Desks were replaced by operational-type consoles equipped with communications systems capable of providing direct communications between the deployed forces and individuals on the recovery staff. Visual display equipment was provided for the rapid dissemination of information, as needed, within the MRCC and intercommunications links were installed for coordination between DOD and NASA elements.


General Support


As originally planned, the Mercury network communications system did not provide voice communications to network stations having an HF link connecting them with the Goddard Space Flight Center. In order to maintain voice communications with AMR range vessels operating under their control, the AMR established a voice circuit to two range vessels by using the unused sideband of the NASA SSB teletype circuit. This method of operation, commonly in use though not applied to the Mercury network. proved exceptionally useful to the flight controllers during early missions. This method of operation was extended to other Mercury stations so that during MA-9 voice communications were available to all sites.


Prior to MA-9, teletype communications from the Mercury Recovery Control Center were routed to the three military services communications stations in the Washington area complex. The basic service, although satisfactory, created delays when it became necessary to provide alternate routing or to correct technical difficulties and was also cumbersome in effecting coordination during the course of the mission. For MA-9, a plan was created which routed all teletype communications for the recovery forces through one station, Army Fast Coast Relay [164] Station at Ft. Detrick, for further dissemination by automatic means to the final destination. This new system proved very effective during MA- 9 by providing a single point of contact for coordination purposes, a reduction of circuitry between Cape Canaveral and Washington, D.C., and an ability to react quickly to alternate routine requirements.


The Area Frequency Coordinator at AFMTC was given the responsibility for providing procedures and controls necessary to insure that the 11 spacecraft frequencies were protected from harmful interference. Critical times were established as being from 6 hours before lift-off through mission termination. The frequency protection plan, as developed, was applicable throughout a belt extending some 700 miles north and south of the predicted orbital paths. To provide the control agencies with timely information on implementation and termination of frequency protection, some 87 addressees were contacted by use of Address Indicator Group teletype messages. In addition to these actions, it was necessary during the course of Project Mercury to coordinate the assignment and use of 171 HF frequencies. Throughout the Mercury program n total of 43 cases of electronic radiation interference was reported and satisfactorily resolved or alleviated.


Public Information


Department of Defense support of the NASA public information effort on Project Mercury began with logistic support of news media covering the early launches. A press site which offered a direct view of the Redstone launch complex was built near the Mercury Control Center for the flights of Astronaut Commander Shepard, USN, and Astronaut Major Grissom, USAF (MR-3 and MR-4, respectively). A new, improved press site was constructed near the Cape Canaveral landing strip, near the Atlas launch complex, for the orbital flights.


Logistic support of the news media covering the Mercury activities developed into a general pattern with the greatest amount of support required at Cape Canaveral. The number of accredited news media representatives covering the flights increased with each launch until more than 700 covered the MA-9 flight. Support included transportation, escorts, communications lines (525 pairs of telephone lines and six wideband video lines from the Cape press site), shelter, and public- address systems. AFMTC had a full-time representative at the NASA news media center; and for MA-8 and MA-9, a DOD information officer was on duty at the Pacific News Center in Honolulu.


For coverage of recovery operations, news media representatives were positioned with DOD forces in the primary landing areas and communications channels were furnished so that real-time reporting was possible. Excellent cooperation was received from all DOD agencies in the preparation of information material and in the support of news media people by DOD forces.


After MA-8 and MA-9, NASA Headquarters convened in a meeting of the press pool representatives from all news media to critique the information aspects of the flights. The reports of the media personnel indicated that the logistic support furnished by DOD was sufficient and timely.


Review of Mercury Missions


The Department of Defense support discussed here is limited to that provided for the Mercury-Redstone (MR) missions and nine Mercury-Atlas (MA) missions during the Mercury Project. DOD support in the early phases of the Mercury Project was primarily in the areas of launch and network. As the project developed and missions became more complex in scope and objectives, DOD support expanded into the additional areas of recovery, communications and bioastronautics. The scope of this support, in terms of people, aircraft, and ships for the manned orbital flights is shown in tables 9-I and 9-II. A brief summary of each mission with regard to DOD support follows.


The first Mercury-Atlas vehicle (MA-1) was launched on July 29, 1960. The spacecraft was unmanned and was intended to land northeast of Antigua Island in the West Indies. Standard AMR tracking and data acquisition equipment was available and the recovery support consisted of units from the Atlantic Fleet (CINCLANT), Air Rescue Service (ARS), and AMR forces deployed as a task force. A structural failure occurred approximately 1

[165] Table 9-I. DOD support for Project Mercury Manned Orbital Missions.



People Activity





Commander in chief, Atlantic Fleet

Recovery forces in Atlantic





Commander in chief, Pacific Fleet

Recovery forces in Pacific





Atlantic Missile Range

Range supprt, three tracking stations, safety, telemetry aircraft, radar ships.





Base support Division/Space Systems Division

Booster, guidance, pad (Canaveral/West Coast)





European Command

Contingency recovery forces in Africa





Pacific Missile Range

Three tracking stations, telemetry aircraft, radar ship.





Air Rescue Service

Contingency recovery inland area and Atlantic






Support of medical operations, Air Force, Army, Navy





White Sands Missile Range

2 tracking stations





Air Proving Ground Center

Tracking station






Air Force, Navy, Army Communications Centers





Commander Middle East Force

Contingency recovery (2 ships)





Pacific Command

Contingency recovery





Military Air Transport Service

Recovery aircraft (12 C-130's) Wx Recon





Carribean Air Command

Contingency recovery






Radar aircraft, Air Photographic and Charting Service, Adm Aircraft, RF silence










166] Table 9-II. DOD Aircraft and Ship Support for Project Mercury







Atlantic Area





Pacific Area a










Inland U.S.















Photo Recon





Weather Recon





Admin A/C










Recovery ships





a Includes 4 aircraft from RAAF.


minute after lift-off. After a 2 1/2 hour search by the launch-site recovery group, without success, activity reverted to regular salvage operations by AMR forces augmented by two Navy minesweepers. Approximately 98 percent of the spacecraft and some parts of the launch vehicle were ultimately recovered.


On November 21, 1960, the first Mercury-Redstone mission with an unmanned spacecraft using the Redstone launch vehicle was unsuccessful because premature engine cut-off activated the emergency escape system when the launch vehicle was a few inches off the pad. The launch vehicle settled back on the pad and was damaged slightly. The spacecraft was recovered for reuse.


The unmanned Mercury-Redstone 1-A mission (MR-1A) on December 19, 1960, was a reattempt of MR-1, and was successful. The recovery phase started with visual sighting by ship and aircraft lookouts and search and rescue and homing (SARAH) detection by search aircraft prior to spacecraft Ianding. A helicopter hoisted the spacecraft clear of the water 16 minutes after Ianding and deposited it onboard ship 17 minutes later.


The spacecraft for the Mercury-Redstone mission 2 (MR-2) was launched on January 31, 1961, and carried a 37-pound chimpanzee 420 statute miles downrange. The spacecraft was tracked by the AMR almost to landing, although it had overshot by about 100 miles. Ultra-high frequency (UHF) transmissions were detected by several recovery aircraft during the flight. Recovery aircraft located the spacecraft, and a helicopter returned it to a dock Ianding ship. Medical support people and material were provided on ships, at Cape Canaveral and at Grand Bahama Island to assist in medical operations.


The second Mercury-Atlas mission (MA-2) on February 21, 1961, was successful and the landing was northeast of Antigua Island. A recovery helicopter retrieved the spacecraft 42 minutes after launch and delivered it to a dock landing ship from which it was delivered to Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico.


The unmanned Mercury-Atlas 3 (MA-3) mission on April 25,1961, was planned as a one-pass orbital flight with landing east of Bermuda. All network stations except the Coastal Sentry ship were called up to support the mission. The Recovery task force was deployed to cover the designated landing area. A recovery team from U.S. Commander in Chief, Europe (USCINCEUR) provided a contingency capability to 0° longitude. A failure in the launch vehicle resulted in the Range Safety Officer's aborting the mission 40 seconds after launching. The spacecraft was retrieved 200 yards off shore by a recovery helicopter which was deployed for this purpose.


The first manned Mercury flight, Mercury- Redstone 3 (MR-3) took place on May 5, 1961. After a successful reentry, the spacecraft, with Astronaut Commander Alan B. Shepard, Jr., USN, aboard, was sighted prior to its landing in [167] the planned landing area by deployed helicopters. One of the helicopters delivered the Astronaut and spacecraft safely to the recovery aircraft carrier 26 minutes after landing. All phases of DOD support, including range, recovery, and medical, were excellent. For this mission the AMR Coastal Sentry ship was located in the landing area for telemetry and spacecraft-to-ground communications. Medical support consisted of aeromedical monitors aboard the Coastal Sentry Ship, emergency medical teams aboard recovery vessels and at the launch site, and a medical debriefing team at Grand Bahama Island. Aircraft of the ARS were on station to assist in search operations.


The second manned flight, Mercury-Redstone 4 (MR-4), was conducted on July 21, 1961. DOD support was comparable in scope to that of MR-3. For this mission the AMR Rose Knot ship, was used in the landing area. The flight and landing phases were successful. After landing, premature actuation of the spacecraft side hatch resulted in an emergency situation in which the spacecraft filled with water and began to sink. Astronaut Major Virgil I. Grissom, USAF, egressed from the spacecraft, and, after a short but difficult period in the water lasting approximately 3 minutes, was hoisted aboard the recovery helicopter and delivered on board the recovery ship for medical examination 19 minutes after spacecraft landing. A second helicopter attempted to recover the sinking spacecraft . The weight of the flooded spacecraft exceeded the lift capability of the helicopter at full power and the pilot elected to release the spacecraft rather than to jeopardize further the safety of the helicopter and crew. The spacecraft sank in 2,800 fathoms of water.


A second attempt, to orbit an unmanned spacecraft, was scheduled for August 25,1961. This mission was designated Mercury-Atlas 4 (MA-4). All network stations were scheduled to participate. Recovery forces were deployed similarly as had been for MA-3. Contingency support was increased in scope to include full deployment by forces from CINCLANT, and partial deployment by forces from USCINCEUR, CINCPACFLT, and ARS. Bioastronautic support included additional forces deployed for training in the launch-site area. Shortly prior to beginning the count


down, launch-vehicle problems were identified which resulted in a 3- week delay of the launch. All deployed forces were recalled, then redeployed for a September 12 launch. On September 13, the mission was successfully conducted with the spacecraft completing one orbital pass and landing in the planned landing area. A C-54 search aircraft located the spacecraft and retrieval was accomplished by the USS Decatur and delivered to Bermuda Island. Network performance, with the exception of generally poor radar tracking, was good. The tracking problem was traced to the lack of operator training and poor spacecraft antenna patterns.


Mercury-Atlas 5 (MA-5) was scheduled for November 14,1961, to carry a chimpanzee on a three-pass orbital flight. Recovery planning included the primary landing area at the end of the third pass, as well as the probable areas for Ianding at the end of the first and second orbital passes. Recovery forces were deployed accordingly and contingency recovery commanders planned for a full deployment. Additional medical forces included veterinary specialists for postflight care and examination of the chimpanzee, as well as a complete launch site support team. On November 12, spacecraft problems resulted in a 2-week delay in the launch. During this period, recovery forces reverted to normal operational control, were reorganized, and redeployed for a November 29 launch date. The launch was successful and flight was normal until spacecraft problems prompted a decision to land the spacecraft at the end of the second orbital pass. Radar tracking was greatly improved through intensified training prior to the flight and better spacecraft antenna patterns as a result of a beacon modification. Reentry and landing proceeded normally and the spacecraft was sighted in the planned landing area by recovery aircraft about 260 miles south of Bermuda. It was retrieved within 80 minutes after sighting. The spacecraft and occupant were delivered to Bermuda.


Mercury-Atlas mission 6 (MA-6) on February 20, 1960, was the first manned orbital flight and involved three orbital passes. The spacecraft, with Astronaut Lieutenant Colonel John O. Glenn, USMC aboard, landed about 166 miles due east of Grand Turk Island, approximately [168] 4 miles from the recovery destroyer which retrieved the spacecraft 21 minutes after landing.


All network instrumentation remained operative and provided full coverage throughout the three orbital passes. Telemetry and communications were excellent in spite of some telemetry recording and radio-propagation problems. Radar coverage was better than expected, exceeding the performance for MA-5. Although a 4-minute ionization blackout occurred during reentry, the C-band radars were able to maintain track of the spacecraft which resulted in an accurate prediction of the landing point.


The landing areas after passes 1, 2, and 3, were treated as primary recovery areas for this mission. The recovery task force comprising a total of 24 ships and 41 aircraft was stationed in the nine planned landing areas in the Atlantic Ocean. An additional 37 aircraft were standing by at Jacksonville, Florida: Bermuda, Lajes Air Force Base, Azores: BenGuerir, and Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. Forces from USCINCEUR, CINCPAC, and USAF were deployed along the remaining orbital tracks for contingency recovery.


A full Bioastronautic Task Force, consisting of 159 medical people was provided by the DOD and deployed to support this mission. These people staffed or augmented 4 medical treatment facilities, 21 recovery ships, and 14 medical monitoring stations. The medical evaluation and debriefing of the astronaut was completed at the advanced medical treatment facility at Grand Turk Island on February 28, 1962.


The seventh Mercury-Atlas mission ( MA-7 ) was launched on May 24, 1962. This mission was the second three-pass orbital flight. Astronaut Lieutenant Commander M. Scott Carpenter, USN, was the pilot for this mission. All network stations were scheduled to participate except the AMR Rose Knot ship which was undergoing modification for a command- control system. Only the landing area at the end of the third orbital pass was designated as primary for this mission, requiring support of only one aircraft carrier. The spacecraft was launched and inserted into a nominal orbit with exceptionally good precision. Just prior to retrofire, at the end of three passes, a failure in the automatic control system was noted. A manual retrofire maneuver was planned and the countdown was sent from the California site. Attitude errors at retrofire caused the spacecraft to overshoot the planned Ianding point by approximately 250 miles. A directional finding (D/F) bearing on the spacecraft was quickly obtained by search aircraft and a SC-54 arrived within 1 hour after spacecraft landing with an auxiliary flotation collar and other survival equipment. Helicopters were launched from the carrier U.S.S. Intrepid when the carrier was within flight range. Although an ARS SA-16 arrived on scene before the helicopters, the Task Force Commander decided to effect recovery by helicopter. The astronaut was retrieved 3 hours after landing and returned to the carrier. The spacecraft was retrieved by a recovery destroyer for delivery to Puerto Rico.


A postmission review held at Patrick Air Force Base Florida, revealed the need for a more rapid flow of information between the Mercury Recovery Control Center (MRCC) at Cape Canaveral and the on-scene forces. Recovery communications equipment and procedures were changed for future missions so as to provide for a more tightly controlled recovery organization capable of quick response to changing situations.


On October 3, 1962 the eighth Mercury-Atlas mission (MA-8) was launched. This mission, planned for six passes, was successfully completed and the spacecraft with Astronaut Commander Walter M. Schirra, USN, aboard, landed in the primary landing area approximately 4 1/2 miles from the recovery aircraft carrier. For the first time in the Mercury Project, recovery forces were deployed in the Pacific Ocean for a primary landing northeast of Midway Island. The landing area in the Atlantic Ocean at the end of the third pass was also treated as a primary area in the event that a full six-orbital mission could not be completed. Contingency recovery forces were expanded to cover the additional ground tracks in the South Atlantic, Caribbean, and Western Pacific Ocean. The AMR Coastal Sentry ship was positioned in the Pacific Ocean to monitor the planned retrofire maneuver. Two S-band radar ships from the Pacific Missile Range and an Army C-band radar ship were positioned uprange from the primary landing area for reentry tracking. The Bioastronautic Task Force [169] consisted of 84 medical specialists assigned to the launch area, network stations, and recovery units. An additional 22 specialists were available on a standby basis.


Centralized operational control together with the cooperation of the DOD forces participating in MA-8 were instrumental in achieving an integrated and responsive organization.


The ninth Mercury-Atlas mission (MA-9) was launched on May 15, 1963. This manned 1-day mission was planned for 22 orbital passes with the primary landing area in the Pacific Ocean southeast of Midway Island. The MA-9 spacecraft, with Astronaut Major Gordon Cooper, USAF, aboard, was placed into a near-perfect orbit by the Atlas launch vehicle. After 33 hours of normal flight during which the major objectives were met, a malfunction in the spacecraft control system required manual control of the spacecraft during retrofire and reentry. This was accomplished successfully and precisely by the astronaut and the spacecraft landed in the primary landing area within 4 1/2 miles of the recovery aircraft carrier.


There were a total of 26 planned landing areas in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans for the MA-9 mission. These areas were selected so that the ships of the Atlantic and Pacific task forces could cover more than one area. A worldwide deployment of contingency recovery forces was required to cover the entire ground track of the spacecraft. All theater forces were augmented by long-range C-130 MATS airplanes. There were 98 aircraft deployed for contingency recovery by the Air Rescue Service (ARS), Caribbean Air Command (CAIRC), Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), and CINCUSAREUR. Two AMR network ships were positioned in the Pacific Ocean to give command-control coverage. Reentry tracking in the Atlantic and the Pacific was available from two C-band radar ships. The Bioastronautic Task Force included 78 medical people deployed, 32 specialty team members on standby, two specialty team hospitals, and 7 recovery support hospitals.


Support efforts of DOD also included the successful accomplishment of voice relays both in the Atlantic and Pacific. Relay to Mercury Control Center (MCC) of the astronaut's voice while in orbit was obtained by the AMR C-130's stationed near Bermuda. During reentry and after landing, voice communications were relayed through PMR aircraft to the Hawaii network site where it was patched through network voice circuits to MCC. Radar airplanes of the Air Defense Command stationed in the Atlantic and Pacific obtained skin track of the spacecraft. The network provided excellent tracking coverage throughout the flight, considering the lengthy operating period for the equipment and long working hours for site people. Thoroughness in planning and excellent performance of assigned missions by DOD forces were reflected in the success of the MA-9 mission.


Concluding Remarks


Many changes in procedures and techniques used in providing Department of Defense support were developed during the course of the Mercury Project. Many lessons were learned and put into effect during successive missions; however, only those significant items which may have possible application in supporting future manned space programs are described.


The organization for the coordination and control of the overall DOD participation in Project Mercury was highly satisfactory. The designation of a DOD Representative for coordination of DOD support for Project Mercury operations was effective in that NASA was provided with a single point-of-contact for the submission of their overall DOD support requirements.


The operation of the global Mercury network comprising DOD ranges, NASA stations, and two stations in Australia was a significant achievement in coordinated team effort and was only accomplished by the complete cooperation of all concerned. Network management and operational procedures were clearly defined and compiled in a comprehensive joint DOD-NASA Mercury Network Operations Directive which proved to be a very useful and effective document.


The demonstrated ability of several ranges to combine their collective resources effectively to support global missions proves the possibility of combining all such national missile tracking resources under a single management control for the support of all missile and space programs of all agencies.


[170] The integration of radar-tracking equipment into a tracking system at the DOD missile ranges increased the capability of each range to support future missions. Technological experience and achievements of each range were pooled to permit all ranges to take advantage of such advancements or modifications.


The application of relay techniques for transmitting remote telemetry data from the downrange stations, derived from AMR experience in data transmission, was reported to NASA for possible adaptation to the wire and radio circuits of the Mercury network. Subsequently NASA secured a telephone line for data transmission between Pt. Arguello and the Mercury Control Center. During the ninth Mercury-Atlas mission the Mercury Control Center was supplied with a real-time display of electrocardiograph functions from the DOD sites at California, Antigua, and at Ascension. In addition to increasing the potential at each site by such improvements, a considerable saving in research and development costs was also realized by virtue of this exchange of technical information.


The use of radar-tracking aircraft during Mercury missions and especially the results obtained during the reentry phase of the MA-9 mission added significantly to the flexibility of network operations.


The use of the vast communications resources within the DOD and their integration into existing NASA and commercial systems to support network and recovery operations contributed significantly to the operational success of the project.


One of the more important considerations for support of Mercury operational planning was to provide for the safe and rapid recovery of the astronaut. Plans made by the DOD elements provided for the deployment of forces in a large number of strategic locations to cover possible aborts during all phases of the mission. Much of the effort in training was expended by forces that were deployed to act in contingency situations which essentially never developed. Their efforts, nevertheless, contributed to the success of the recovery mission.


Providing support to Mercury flights has contributed greatly to DOD's knowledge and experience in areas of launch, network, recovery, communications, and medical space operations. Future space-flight operations can be effectively supported by applying the experience and procedures derived during Project Mercury.

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