On April 9, 1956, America got its first look at the seven astronauts selected for Project Mercury, our country's first manned space flight program.
They're shown here in a "family portrait" from 1962. Bottom row: Walter M. "Wally" Schirra, Donald K. "Deke" Slayton, John Glenn and Scott Carpenter. Top row: Alan Shepard, Virgil Grissom and Gordon Cooper.
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Everybody into the capsule
Chosen from a pool of 508 military test pilots, the seven underwent vigorous training before the Mercury mission.
In this photo from 1959, the astronauts are seen training at Virginia's Langley Research Center with a model of a space capsule.
The astronauts had to endure training in the Mohave Desert before the mission.
First American in orbit
On February 20, 1962, astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth on the Friendship 7 mission.
He was the fifth person in space after Russian cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin, Gerhman Titov followed by fellow Americans Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom who completed sub-orbital flights.
In 1962, Donald K. "Deke" Slayton was tapped to pilot the second U.S. manned orbital spaceflight, but was grounded by an irregular heartbeat. He was finally cleared to fly in 1972. At age 51, he became the oldest person to fly in space.
Slayton is shown here in 1961.
In this October 3, 1962 photo, Mercury astronaut Walter M. Schirra Jr. is seen suiting up before piloting the Mercury-Atlas 8 earth orbital space flight from Cape Canaveral, Fla.
That's fellow astronaut Deke Slayton on the right.
Walter M. Schirra Jr. in his Mercury pressure suit in 1962.
Schirra was the only astronaut to fly in all three of the first space programs for the U.S.: Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. He also was the third American to orbit the earth.
Credit: NASA/Getty Images
Not the first primate
This photo from May 5, 1961 shows Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard with chimpanzee Ham, who beat Shephard into space with his own 16-minute sub-orbital flight.
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Astronaut John H. Glenn, Jr., is pictured during the Mercury-Atlas 6 spaceflight. Glenn was the first American to orbit Earth, on February 20, 1962.
The second U.S. space explorer was Virgil "Gus" Grissom. His Mercury capsule, Liberty Bell 7, unexpectedly sank during the astronaut's splashdown.
Grissom was at risk of drowning but was safely recovered. The capsule was found on the Atlantic Ocean floor 38 years after the landing.
L. Gordon Cooper Jr. (shown in the raft) piloted the longest and final Mercury spaceflight in 1963.
He went on to pilot the Gemini 5 space ride, the 11th manned American flight. He's shown here practicing for the splashdown.
Sports on the moon
By 1971, the astronauts really knew how to have fun out there. Here is Alan B. Shepard Jr. playing golf with a javelin and a golf ball he had smuggled in during a later mission, Apollo 14, on February 6, 1971.