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Mercury Atlas 8

"Are you a turtle today?" Astronaut Wally Schirra autographed this Mercury Astronaut portrait of himself.  Photo Credit: NASA
Astronaut
                        Wally Schirra In Mercury SpacesuitScott Carpenter had become the fourth American in space.  At that time, the Soviet Union still had only two men who could make that claim.  Where were the Soviets?  The last Vostok flight with Gherman Titov had occurred ten months before.

Finally, in August of 1962, the Soviet Union took another bold step.  They launched two manned spacecraft within one day of each other.  Vostok 3 was launched on August 12 with Andrian Nikolayev on board.  The following day Vostok 4 was launched with Pavel Popovich.

The two Soviet spacecraft passed within five miles of each other in space.  It was a feat of remarkable precision.  After all, the Americans had just missed their splashdown target by over 250 miles.  Was it another sign of Soviet technological superiority?

If Scott Carpenter's Mercury mission was known as a science mission, the next flight in Project Mercury would be known as an engineering mission.

Selected to be the commander for Mercury Atlas 8 was Walter (Wally) M. Schirra, Jr.  He was very impressed with all of the engineering planning that went into his flight.  In honor of that, Schirra named his spacecraft Sigma 7.  Sigma represented the engineering symbol for summation.

Mercury Atlas 8 lifted off with Schirra on October 3, 1962. The time of liftoff was 7:15:11.84 AM Eastern Standard Time.  Schirra radioed,
"I have the lift-off.  Clock has started and she feels real nice." The Capsule Communicator Deke Slayton asked Schirra, "Wally, you got a pin for this flight?" Schirra responded, "Yeah I got the pins on my office wall."


At 21 seconds into the flight Schirra reported,
"Ah, she's riding beautiful Deke."  Slayton confirmed, "Looks real fine from here."  At 30 seconds Schirra called, "Mark 30. Okay. Fuel is okay.  Oxygen is okay.  All systems appear go, and she's getting noisy."

At 1 minute and 16 seconds into the flight Schirra lost communication reception from the control center.  Schirra radioed, "Cape Cap Com Sigma Seven.  Do you read? Over." Schirra repeated his call, "Cape Cap Com this is Sigma Seven.  How do you read? Over."

At 1 minute and 45 seconds into the flight Schirra radioed, "Cape Cap Com, Sigma Seven. I read.  I am broadcasting in the blind. G is building. All systems are go here."

Slayton finally was able to respond at 1 minute and 54 seconds,
"Roger how do you read now?" A relieved Schirra answered, "I read you beautiful." Slayton then informed Schirra, "You had your transmitter keyed that's why we couldn't read." A puzzled Schirra responded, "I'll be darn.  I'm in push to talk now."

Slayton advised Schirra at 2 minutes and 5 seconds, "Standby for staging." At 2 minutes and 7 seconds Schirra reported Booster Engine Cutoff, "I have BECO.  I could see the flash." Slayton called to Schirra at 2 minutes and 16 seconds, "Staging."  Schirra confirmed, "Roger, staging. Standing by for tower.  Fuel looks good. Oxygen looks good."

The emergency escape tower was then jettisoned and at 2 minutes 37 seconds Schirra reported, "Auto retrojett off.  This tower is really sayonara."

Capsule Communicator Slayton informed Schirra at 3 minutes and 29 seconds, "You have a go from the control center." Schirra concurred, "Roger.  You have a go from me.  It's real fat."


At 3 minutes and 39 seconds Deke Slayton razzed Schirra with the question, "Are you a turtle today?" Schirra was a member of a fraternal drinking club called the Turtles.  One of the rules of this club was that the question which Slayton posed to Schirra had to be answered. If the proper response was not given then Schirra would owe everyone within listening range a drink at the bar. 

To understand the proper response to the question on must be aware that the Turtles club assumes that every self respecting member has a donkey in their possession.  In that light, the proper response to the question, "Are you a turtle?" is "You bet your sweet ass I am."

Of course Schirra could not respond over the open radio channel, lest someone uninformed in the way of the Turtles take his response in the wrong manner.  Schirra's solution to this dilemma was to turn off the transmitter and instead record is response on the on board tape recorder for later play back. 
Schirra responded, "Going to VOX record only. You bet your sweet ass I am."

Slayton was pleased with himself at putting Schirra in the hot seat ,
"Just trying to get you on that one." Not allowing himself to fall into the trap, Schirra responded, "Nope - okay.  I've finished VOX record now.

At 4 minutes and 29 seconds into the flight Schirra reported,
"Sunlight's in my upper right hand corner of the window, just peeking at me." At 4 minutes and 59 seconds Slayton instructed Schirra to prepare for Sustainer Engine Cutoff, "Standby for SECO."

Slayton called the engine cutoff at 5 minutes and 18 seconds, "SECO."  Schirra confirmed engine cutoff and capsule separation at 5 minutes and 20 seconds, "I have SECO.  Cap sep, and in aux damp, and it's very pleasant.  Going to fly by wire."  Slayton acknowledged, "Roger. Fly-by-wire."  Schirra then reported, "Yaw is an
swering very nicely.  Roll answers nicely.  She's turning around very nicely."

The sustainer engine of the Atlas burned for ten seconds longer than planned.  This extra thrust propelled him to an altitude of 176 miles and a speed of 17,557 miles per hour.  This would be higher and faster than any other astronaut would ever fly on a Mercury mission.

At 5 minutes and 44 seconds Slayton informed Schirra, "You have a go, seven orbit capability."  Schirra replied, "Say again, I like that kind."  Schirra then reported, "I see ice little crystals, I'm sure that's what is around me now."

At 6 minutes and 2 seconds Schirra reported, "Okay. Got a good view of the Earth now." He then continued, "Coming around to retroattitude.  Coming into retroattitude; and a good shot of the sustainer here.  It's right in the window where it belongs.  I'm pitched up a little bit."  The sustainer that Schirra was commenting on was the spent booster rocket that had placed him into orbit.

At 7 minutes and 13 seconds Schirra observed, "Roger I just went into ASCS at about 7 minutes and 10 seconds.  The sustainer is sitting very steady above me.  I should say above the horizon.  And I'm in chimp mode right now and she is flying beautifully." Switching from fly-by-wire to Automatic Spacecraft Control System (ASCS) meant that  Schirra was no longer in manual control of the spacecraft.  It was instead in autopilot mode. That was the method by which the flights were controlled when the chimpanzees preceded the Mercury astronauts into space.

Schirra was pleased with the ASCS and reported at 8 minutes and 21 seconds, "Okay, I'm stopping the blood pressure run. Boy!  This ASCS made tracking very nice.  The sustainer is very stable.  It is not oscillating at all.  I see no vapors; it looks very clean.

Communications between Sigma 7 and the control center at the Cape grew weak at around 9 minutes into the flight.  At 8 minutes 56 seconds Schirra called, "Cape Cap Com, Sigma 7. Say again."  Slayton replied,
"Seven, Cape Com.  You are fading - you are fading."

At just over 14 minutes into the flight communications with the spacecraft were switched to the Canary Islands.  At 14 minutes and 31 seconds the Canary Communications Technician called to the spacecraft, "Sigma Seven this is Canary Com. Tech. Transmitting HF/UHF.  Do you read? Over."  Schirra replied, "Roger Canary Capcom this is Sigma 7. Do you read me?"  The Capcom  stationed at the Canary Tracking Station now responded, "Sigma 7, this is Canary Capcom.  Reading you loud and clear.  We have valid radar track."

At 14 minutes and 55 seconds Schirra gave a report on his experience with the flight control systems, "Roger.  Good show on radar.  Awfully sorry our good friend Julian couldn't be with us.  I would like to give you a report on my control mode.  First off, manual and fly-by-wire are excellent; aux damp works excellent.  I am now in auto mode; retroattitude.  Attitudes holding beautifully.  I am go.  My suit temperature is going up a bit.  I have set it at 4.5. Over."

At 20 minutes into the flight the spacecraft passed out of range of the Canary tracking station and was picked up now by the Kano tracking station. 
At 20 minutes and 25 seconds Schirra called, "Kano Cap Com this is Sigma Seven.  On UHF-lo.  How do you read? Over." Receiving no reply, Schirra repeated the call at 21 minutes and 1 second, "Kano Cap Com, Kano Cap Com,  Sigma Seven.  UHF-lo how do you read?"

At 21 minutes and 12 seconds the Kano Communications Technician finally replied, "Sigma Seven. Sigma Seven.  This is the Kano Communications Technician transmitting on UHF/HF. Do you read? Over."  Two way communications were now established and Schirra replied, "Roger.  Kano Capcom.  Do you read me? UHF-lo. Over."  The Communications Technician replied, "Roger.  Stand by this frequency, Seven, for Capcom."  At 21 minutes and 33 seconds the Kano Capsule Communicator called, "Hello Sigma Seven.  This is Kano Cap Com. Standing by for your short report."

Schirra's report at 21 minutes and 38 seconds was, "Roger. I am all go.  I am in ASCS auto; maneuver is off.  My Tr-10 bypass is to normal.  The fuel and oxygen are all green.  Everything is green.  I am fat here.  I would like a CET time check.

At 23 minutes and 23 seconds Schirra reported,
"I am going to try some periscope now. Rather unusual site through the periscope.  Not as thrilling as through the window, I'll have to admit.

At around 30 minutes into the flight communications grew weak between the Kano tracking station and the spacecraft.  Communications then were switched to the Zanzibar tracking station.

At 32 minutes and 38 seconds after reporting on his suit temperature Schirra continued, "In fact, that is a correction, it hasn't come down.  I would like to give you a briefing on my control mode.  I am in auto mode, the bypass switch is normal, maneuver off.  Fuel is in the green. Oxygen is way in the green.  All electrical is in the green."

 As the communications pass with Zanzibar came to a close the Capsule Communicator informed Schirra at 36 minutes and 57 seconds,
"Seven this is Zanzibar.  We have LOS in approximately 1 minute.  Anything else to report? Schirra responded, "Nothing.  I will keep the suit setting at this point until it gets a little hotter.  If it does, I may have to go up another half notch at about 45 [minutes], before I get to Woomera."

Communications then became somewhat ratty as the spacecraft left one tracking zone and entered another.  At 41 minutes into the flight Schirra reported
, "This is Sigma Seven.  I have noticed minute objects that I can knock off the capsule, one or two, in the very bright sunlight at CET 41 10."

Communications had still not improved at 45 minutes into the flight, but Schirra continued to make observations.  He reported on his experience with the periscope, "I can definitely see a right roll at this time of about 5 degrees, and I noticed the periscope is dark, meaning we are coming into the dark side.  I will attempt to look through the periscope for any observations.  At this time, I can see nothing through the periscope for night observation, at least in this attitude. I am not even sure when I have low mag, other than the position of the lever."

Schirra found that the clarity of his window was affected by the jettison of the escape tower. He reported,  "The window is cloudy.  I have sunlight on it now and it has definitely been clouded over by the escape tower rocket, not to a great degree."

Schirra then reported on the elusive fireflies that had first appeared on John Glenn's flight, "
I am seeing the so-called fireflies drift dramatically at this point.  I tried a couple of knocks and they  definitely have a relative velocity to the vehicle, but apparently are part of the same orbital system, I definitely see them as white objects."

At 48 minutes and 19 seconds Schirra reported, "With this much sunlight, I cannot see the stars at all. Sun is off to my left and I'm getting close to sunset at approximately - 49 is the schedule time.  That is just about right on.  I'm approaching 49 and the cabin lights are on white.  I am going to switch the cabin lights to red.  And turn off that blasted lift-off correlation clock light."

At 49 minutes and 13 seconds Schirra continued, "Oh, I almost missed my first sunset trying to get the right cabin light off.  It is rather rapid as I was told it would be.  I am not able to, there I have got Arcturus right on the right side where it belongs."

At around 51 minutes into the flight Schirra was in communication with the Muchea tracking station. At 52 minutes and 15 seconds the Muchea Capsule Communicator asked Schirra, "Has anyone asked you to get a drink of water, Sigma Seven?"  Schirra answered, "Negative.  I've tried not to get into that.  If I can get the suit temperature down a little bit, I'll open the visor and get some water then." Muchea Cap Com acknowledged , "Roger. Understand."

Cap Com then advised Schirra about an upcoming observation test using flares.  "Status of the Woomera test is okay.  They are going to light them, but there are broken clouds and light rain.  No lightning reported.  They will fire the flare."

At 56 minutes and 29 seconds Schirra reported, "Standing by for flare.  Roll and yaw are holding.  I see the flare on my left which is kind of wrong, I think.  I think I saw a flash of lightning.  Probably - that is lightning I am seeing, not the flare.  I'm seeing more lightning.  It is going to be hard to tell what I am seeing whether it is lightning or the flares."

At 57 minutes and 9 seconds Woomera Cap Com called Schirra, "Sigma Seven this is Woomera Cap Com. Over." Schirra replied, "Roger. Woomera. Go ahead."  The capsule communicator then informed Schirra, "This is Woomera Cap Com.  Flare ignition will be in 1 minute 20 seconds."  Schirra replied,
"That's one reason why I can't see it, because I'm looking at lightning, obviously."

At 58 minutes and 42 seconds Cap Com reported to Schirra, "Ignition."  Schirra reported his observation, "Roger.  I have lightning only.  It looks like you are just about socked in.  I'll stay here for a while and then come back up to ASCS shortly.  I think I saw lightning right below me, but it couldn't have been the flare.  It should burn steadily as I understand it."  Cap Com answered, "Correct."

At 1 hour, 24 minutes, and 20 seconds Schirra reported on his first sunrise, "I'm starting to see the sunrise in the periscope.  First light in the periscope during this particular orbit as a result of the night side.  It is obvious that the periscope has no function whatsoever in retroattitude on the night side."

Schirra continued with observations about the so-called fireflies, "Quite a large field of these objects.  Definitely is confirmed that you can knock them off the hatch, as Scotty said.  And they stream off at, definitely there is no problem in judging that they are going away from the capsule, at a different rate than you are.  They are definitely going slower, in velocity, than the capsule itself.  One rap and you can see them sliding aft.  They are too small an object for photography.  I would not even attempt to take a picture of them."

At 1 hour, 26, minutes, and 52 seconds Sigma Seven was in the range of the Guymas tracking station.  At that tracking station fellow Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter was on duty.

At 1 hour, 30 minutes, and 18 seconds Cap Com Carpenter informed Schirra that he was go for at least one more orbit ,
"One second fast and looks like your good for another one, Wally."

Schirra then reported to Carpenter about the fireflies that had captivated Glenn and Carpenter on their previous orbital missions.  Schirra commented, "And I saw some of John's friends up here;  I'm afraid to say, although I knocked them off the way you did it.  Ha! Ha!"  Carpenter responded, "Roger.  Interested in your report."

Schirra continued, "Basically, what I saw was the firefly color that John saw, which I could create at other times in white color.  I'm definitely convinced it's capsule - a capsule derivative and once in a while, even now, I see one go by."  Carpenter responded, "Roger. That's good to hear."


Carpenter then asked Schirra,
"Wally are the particles luminous or reflecting."  Schirra replied, "Scott, I think they are reflecting.  I'm going to go ahead now, Scott, and do some yaw check as long as I've got some good terrain to look at and leave the particles alone for a while."

Astronaut Schirra's flight has been referred to as a textbook flight.  Taking lessons from Carpenter's difficulty with the engorged flight plan of MA-7, Schirra's flight plan objectives were trimmed down and much more focused with more time to accomplish them. Using updated systems and redesigned procedures, Schirra was able to avoid the fuel consumption difficulties encounter on MA-7. Schirra orbited the Earth for 6 complete revolutions.

At 9 hours 7 minutes and 58 seconds into the flight Schirra dumped his hydrogen peroxide attitude control fuel and reported, "I'm dumping H202. Switch fuse on. Standing by. Recovery arm is 'arm'.  Standing by for main chute.  All switches in proper position. Manual fuel is almost all gone. "

Schirra then reported the deployment of his main parachute, "There goes drogue and main is out.  It's - she's beautiful.  Bright blue sky. And it's dereefed, and looks like a sweety pie."

 
Schirra then continued with the status of the spacecraft, "Auto fuel is dumping. Rate of decent is about 35 (fps) at this time.  I see no problems at all.  I'm going to get prepared for impact.  Auto fuel is dumping out. Cabin pressure is increasing properly.  All systems look real good.  I am cool. I am not hot.  Main chute looks delightful.  Rate of decent is 35 feet per second.  I have no reason to select anything else.  Landing bag is out."

At 9 hours, 9 minutes and 9 seconds Capsule Communicator Gus Grissom asked Schirra, "How do you feel?"  An enthusiastic Schirra replied, "I feel marvelous.  This is a beautiful flight. Wasn't it?"   Grissom acknowledged, "Understand you feel marvelous."


Sigma Seven with Schirra inside neared splash down at 9 hours, 13 minutes, and 6 seconds Schirra reported, "I am about ready to impact now.  I'm just about on the water."  At 9 hours, 13 minutes, and 46 seconds Schirra implored, "Oh! Stay dry baby."

Splashdown again had been targeted for the Atlantic Ocean.
  Schirra brought down Sigma 7 down only four and one half miles off from the pre planned target.  It was the most accurate landing in the Mercury program to date. 

Unlike his predecessors, Schirra chose to remain on board his spacecraft until it was hauled on board the recovery aircraft carrier Kearsage.   At mission elapsed time of 9 hours, 15 minutes, and 22 seconds Schirra reported
, "Okay.  I'm going to check the cockpit, to be sure we don't get the boys in trouble.  Everything looks real good, Gus.  This is a real sweety pie of a capsule.

At 9 hours, 16 minutes, and 27 seconds, Grissom informed Schirra, "You landed about 9000 yards away from the aircraft carrier.  How about that?"   Schirra was pleased, "That's pretty close, isn't it?  Boy this is a sweet little bird.  I just can't get over it."

The flight duration for MA-8 was 9 hours, 13 minutes, and 11 seconds.


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UPDATED : March 29, 2008
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