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Mercury Atlas 9

"Roger. Right on the old gazoo." Mercury and Gemini Astronaut Cooper autographed this astronaut portrait of himself for me. Photo Credit: NASA
                        Gordon Cooper In Mercury SpacesuitWith Schirra's flight, the United States had five men who had been to space.  The Soviets had four men who could make that claim.  It seemed like another long gap since the last Vostok had flown.  The Soviets had not given up, but what were they up to?

The Soviet space effort was a program was shrouded in secrecy.  The Soviets would take bold steps, but they would not announce them in advance.  This was in stark contrast with the open policy of the Americans.

The final chapter in the Mercury program would be the flight of Mercury Atlas 9.  Leroy Gordon Cooper was selected as the commander for that mission.  The name that Cooper chose for his spacecraft was Faith 7.  Cooper said that this name expressed "my trust in God, my country, and my teammates."

The launch of MA-9 was targeted for May of 1963.  This was two full years after Shepard's historic first Mercury flight in 1961.  Over those two years many improvements had been made with the Mercury spacecraft.

The goal of Cooper's mission was to remain in orbit for a full day. During the flight Astronaut Cooper would eat, drink, and sleep in space.  He would also take many medical measurements. All of these tasks were intended to study how man adapted to the space environment.

On May 15, 1963, the countdown proceeded towards the moment of ignition.  The person in the launch complex blockhouse who communicates with the astronaut in the spacecraft is referred to as "Stony".  Stony counted down "10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0." One second after ignition, Capcom Schirra informed Astronaut Cooper, "Liftoff."

At 2 seconds after liftoff, Astronaut Cooper reported, "Roger. I have liftoff and the clock is operation."  Capcom Schirra acknowledged, "Roger, clock."  Astronaut Cooper responded, "Sigma Seven, Faith Seven on the way."

At 25 seconds into the mission, Capcom Schirra informed Astronaut Cooper, "You look good here, Gordo." Cooper replied, "Roger. Feels good buddy." 

At 30 seconds Cooper reported, "Thirty seconds, and fuel is GO. Oxygen is GO.  Cabin pressure is on the top peg.  Altimeter is working."  Capcom Schirra replied, "Roger. You're looking beautiful." Astronaut Cooper exclaimed, "Wow, what an afterburner!'

At 1 minute and 37 seconds, Schirra informed Cooper, "Pitch 32 [degrees], looks good." Cooper reported, "Roger. The sun is coming in the window now." Capcom Schirra replied, "Roger. Standing by for your BECO." It was now nearing the time when the booster engines were scheduled to cut off and stating should occur.

At 1 minute and 58 seconds, Astronaut Cooper reported, "Running pretty smooth now." Capcom Schirra replied, "Good show." At 2 minutes and 2 seconds, Cooper reported, "Two minutes. Standing by for BECO." Schirra answered, "Roger. Timeout good."

Cooper reported, "Roger. Have BECO." Schirra acknowledged, "Roger. Your BECO. Confirm staging." Cooper responded, "And you can feel the staging - waiting on the tower." The tower he was referring to was the jettison of the escape tower at the top of the rocket.  Schirra reported to Cooper, "Very good on BECO time. SECO should be nominal."  This meant that the sustainer engine cutoff should occur at the expected time.

At 3 minutes and 24 seconds, Astronaut Cooper reported, "All electrical is GO. Pressure is GO. Oxygen is Go. Sigma, Faith Seven is all GO."  Schirra answered, "We have a full GO here for you, Gordo."

At 4 minutes and 48 seconds, Capcom Schirra reported, "You have a real sweet trajectory, Gordo." Cooper replied, "Excellent."

At 5 minutes and 4 seconds, Cooper reported sustainer engine cutoff, "I have SECO, Sep Cap." Schirra replied, "Right in there, baby."  Cooper reported, "Have Sep Cap green.  SECO. I'm no Aux Damp. - Going fly-by-wire." "Sep Cap green" meant that on Cooper's control panel an indicator light confirmed that the capsule had separated from the booster.

At 5 minutes and 24 seconds, Cooper reported, "Everything is green here." Schirra replied "middle of the plot."  Schirra then added, "Seven, your turn around looks beautiful."  Cooper replied, "Roger.  She's yawing around very nicely.  What a view.  Boy oh boy!"  The launch phase for Mercury Atlas 9 was picture perfect right along the flight plan.

At 6 minutes and 47 seconds, Cooper reported, "Booster is still smoking.  It looks silver, Wally." Schirra replied, "Good."

The beginning of the MA-9 flight was fairly nominal.  As time went on in the mission, systems on board Faith 7 begin to fail and Cooper's required activities became much more hectic.  Astronaut Cooper managed these problems very well.  He was able to remain in orbit for 22 revolutions and this exceeded his goal of staying in space for one day.

The time was nearing when Cooper's spacecraft would return to Earth.  At 33 hours, 57 minutes and 27 seconds into the flight, Capsule communicator John Glenn asked Cooper about his alignment, "How's the window attitude?  Check Okay?"  Cooper answered, "Roger. Right on the old gazoo."  Glenn's response was, "That's the way boy."

Cooper would be required to fire the retrorockets manually.  At 33 hours, 59 minutes, and 30 seconds, Capcom Glenn informed Cooper, "The next 10 count will be a countdown to your manual retro. Over." Coper acknowledged, "Roger." Glenn then gave cooper the retrofire count, "10, 9, 8, 7, 6, squib arm, 4, 3,2,1, fire."  Cooper replied, "Roger, I think I got all three."  Glenn replied, "Roger. How did your attitude hold, Gordo?" Cooper's response was, "Well, pretty fine."  Indeed Cooper's alignment and retro timing were done with great precision.

Cooper was right on.  Faith 7 landed only 4 miles away from the prime recovery ship USS Kearsage.  It would be the most accurate landing in the Mercury program.  It beat Schirra's standard by one half mile.

The mission duration for MA-9 was 1 day, 10 hours, 19 minutes, and 49 seconds.

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UPDATED : May 30, 2008
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