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
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
trust in God, my country, and my
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
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
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
30 seconds Cooper reported, "Thirty seconds, and fuel is GO.
Oxygen is GO. Cabin pressure is on the
top peg. Altimeter is working."
Schirra replied, "Roger. You're looking beautiful."
Astronaut Cooper exclaimed, "Wow, what an
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
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."
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.
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."
4 minutes and 48 seconds, Capcom Schirra
reported, "You have a real
sweet trajectory, Gordo." Cooper
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.
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.
6 minutes and 47 seconds, Cooper reported, "Booster is still smoking. It
looks silver, Wally." Schirra
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
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