The National Aeronautics and Space Administration came into being on October 1, 1958. NASA announced the seven Project Mercury Astronauts on April 9, 1959, only six months later. They are: (front, l to r) Walter H. Schirra, Jr., Donald K. Slayton, John H. Glenn, Jr., and Scott Carpenter; (back, l to r) Alan B. Shepard, Jr., Virgil I. Gus Grissom, and L. Gordon Cooper.
Less than a year after its birth, the National Aeronautics and Space Agency announced its first astronaut class, the Mercury Seven, on April 9, 1959. Project Mercury proved that humans could live and work in space, paving the way for all future human exploration.
This 1958 scale model shows the Mercury capsule shape B design, indicating the position of the astronaut.
See how the first American astronauts flew in space on NASA's Mercury space capsules in this SPACE.com infographic.
Bearded, with makeshift clothing, the seven original Mercury astronauts participated in U.S. Air Force survival training at Stead Air Force Base in Nevada. Pictured in this 1960 photograph are (l to r): L. Gordon Cooper, M. Scott Carpenter, John Glenn, Alan Shepard, Virgil I. Grissom, Walter Schirra and Donald K. Slayton.
This Mercury-Redstone rocket placed the first American astronaut, Alan Shepard, in suborbit on May 5, 1961.
Astronaut Alan Shepard, the first American in space, poses here in his Mercury flight suit.
Astronaut Alan Shepard is hurled into space atop a Mercury-Redstone rocket. Freedom 7 was the first American manned suborbital space flight, making Shepard the first American in space
Fellow Mercury astronaut Gus Grissom (in suit) wishes Shepard good luck as he gets set to climb into his Mercury capsule, dubbed Freedom 7, on the morning of May 5, 1961. Glenn looks on in the background.
Alan Shepard flew in space on May 5, 1961, the first American to do so. He launched aboard a Mercury-Redstone 3 rocket named Freedom 7. The suborbital flight lasted 15 minutes.
NASA astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space on May 5, 1961 aboard his Mercury spacecraft Freedom 7.
Navy test pilot Alan Shepard becomes the first American in space.
On May 5, 1961 Astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr. arrives at Grand Bahamas Island and is greeted by astronaut Virgil I. (Gus) Grissom after the first American suborbital flight.
Astronaut John H. Glenn Jr., pilot of the Mercury-Atlas 6 earth-orbital space mission, confers with Astronaut Nurse Dolores B. O'Hara, R.N., during MA-6 prelaunch preparations.
On Feb. 20, 1962, John Glenn rode the Friendship 7 capsule into space, the first time an American orbited the Earth. In this image, Glenn enters the capsule with assistance from technicians.
This image shows the launch of Friendship 7, the first American manned orbital space flight. With astronaut John Glenn aboard, the Mercury-Atlas rocket is launched from Pad 14, February 20, 1962.
A weightless applesauce tube floats free following a snack by astronaut John Glenn in the course of his first orbit during the Mercury "Friendship 7" mission on February 20, 1962.
Astronaut M. Scott Carpenter is inserted inside his Aurora 7 spacecraft, before the launch of the Mercury-Atlas 7 mission. Photo taken May 24, 1962.
The Mercury-Atlas 7 (MA-7), carrying Astronaut M. Scott Carpenter, was launched by NASA from Pad 14, Cape Canaveral, Florida, on May 24, 1962.
Walter Wally Schirra poses in his Mercury pressure suit with a model of the Mercury spacecraft behind him.
Astronaut M. Scott Carpenter, prime pilot for the Mercury-Atlas 7 (MA-7) mission, is seen being recovered from Atlantic Ocean after MA-7 flight. A diver helps Carpenter into a life raft while the capsule floats nearby. Photo taken July 10, 1962
This aerial view of Launch Complex 14 (LC-14) at Cape Canaveral was taken in 1963. Project Mercury Rising proposes to restore and revive LC-14 as a classroom.
Pictured is astronaut Walter M. Schirra, one of the original seven astronauts for Mercury Project selected by NASA on April 27, 1959. Schirra's Mercury-Atlas 8 mission, during which he piloted his Sigma 7 spacecraft, was the third manned orbital flight by the United States.
Graphic artist Cece Bibby with Wally Schirra, as she applies the Sigma 7 logo to his Mercury spacecraft.
Launch of the Mercury-Atlas 8 "Sigma 7" mission, bearing astronaut Walter M. Schirra, Jr.
Landing with parachute extended of Astronaut Walter M. Schirra's Mercury-Atlas 8 (MA-8) capsule, called the Sigma 7, after a world orbital flight. Photo taken October 11, 1962.
Technicians were performing pre-launch testing of the Mercury-Atlas 9 (MA9) on Launch Pad 14 at Cape Canaveral when this photo was taken on May 14, 1963. A day later on May 15, Gordon Cooper successfully piloted this his 'Faith 7' spacecraft for more than 34 hours and 22 orbits.
Astronaut L. Gordon Cooper Jr.,prime pilot for the Mercury-Atlas 9 mission, inside his Mercury spacecraft runs through one of the numerous pre-flight checks surrounded by dials, switches, indicators and buttons.
NASA Administrator James E. Webb (center) cites the space achievements of the Project Mercury Astronauts who received the 1963 Collier Trophy Award in a ceremony held at the White House on October 10, 1963. President John F. Kennedy (left) and Vice President Lyndon Johnson accompanied Webb at the ceremony. Five of the Mercury Seven astronauts are visible in the row behind James Webb. They are (starting from JFK's left): Alan Shepard, Donald "Deke" Slayton, John Glenn, Virgil "Gus" Grissom, and Scott Carpenter.
Alan Shepard's Freedom 7 Mercury spacecraft as it is displayed at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. The capsule will soon be moving to Boston and then Washington, D.C.
U.S. Postal Service Vice President Stephen Masse, left, and Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter, right, unveil new stamps honoring first American in space Alan Shepard and NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft.
The U.S. Postal Service issued on May 4 a pair of stamps for the first U.S. astronaut and the first probe to orbit Mercury.
NASA commemorates the 50th anniversary of the first American spaceflight, the Freedom 7 launch of Alan Shepard.