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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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."
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
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
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
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
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?"
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.
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."
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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."
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."
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!
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
Carpenter then asked Schirra, "Wally
are the particles luminous or
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.