National Geographic : 1960 Jul
Instruments will monitor the Atlas constantly; at the first hint of malfunction, an escape rocket will blast the capsule free of its booster. Alternate systems provide a backup for each key mechanism in the satellite, and its oxygen enriched atmosphere will last 48 hours. Model capsules have been tested endlessly in wind tunnels, a sight I frequently en countered during my tour. Full-scale ver sions, some carrying monkeys, have been fired into space and retrieved after brief flight, and NASA is now setting up a global net of sta tions to track manned capsules. My interest, however, centered not upon machines but upon the seven men who bear that strangest of all official titles, astronaut. Talent Scouts Interviewed Astronauts I knew they represented the pick of an unusual talent hunt. NASA issued rigid specifications for an astronaut; he must be a military test pilot with jet credentials and 1,500 hours or more flight time, a graduate of a test-pilot school, an engineer, under age 40, and no taller than five feet eleven. More than 100 volunteers responded; NASA interviewed 69 and picked 32 for a harrowing ordeal of physical and mental examination. Judges finally selected these seven men: Capt. Leroy G. Cooper, Jr., Capt. Virgil I. Grissom, and Capt. Donald K. Slayton, Air Force; Lt. Malcolm S. Carpenter, Lt. Comdr. Walter M. Schirra, Jr., and Lt. Comdr. Alan B. Shepard, Jr., Navy; Lt. Col. John H. Glenn, Jr., Marine Corps (page 54). The Space Task Group maintains its head quarters at Langley Research Center, a sprawling collection of laboratories and wind tunnels in a campuslike setting near Hampton, Virginia. There I talked to the astronauts in a series of meetings squeezed into their busy schedules. Much that has been written gives them the aura of supermen-an impression they deplore. In their own minds they remain test pilots and engineers, now called to the most chal lenging job of their careers. They won't let fame spoil them. An intimate of theirs told me that if one seems to be basking too enjoy ably in the spotlight, the others rake him with frank words and unmerciful gibes. They wear civilian clothes, often carry briefcases, and-except for a tendency toward sports jackets-might be mistaken anywhere for earnest businessmen. Their mature years bolster this impression. Cooper, the young est, is 33; Glenn, the oldest, will be 39 this month. 59 KODACHROME(BELOW) AND HIGH SPEED EKTACHROMESBY NATIONALGEOGRAPHICPHOTOGRAPHERBATES LITTLEHALES© N.G .S.