Mercury-Atlas 9

Ears, we have lift off. ?

Thanks again to @chabotspace for allowing Kuiper to make a special visit to this replica Mercury capsule.

On May 15, 1963, Project Mercury launched its final mission. Aboard “Faith 7,” Gordon Cooper spent over 34 hours in space. That’s more than the first five Mercury astronauts put together!

Among other experiments, Mercury-Atlas 9 had the first test of slow-scan TV in space. The picture wasn’t all that great, as it could only send one black and white frame every 2 seconds and the image was only 320 lines. TV transmissions to Earth wouldn’t be seen on an American mission again until Apollo 7.

By that time, NASA and RCA had refined the system to transmit a whopping 10 frames per second. At the time, “standard” broadcast TV was 525 lines at 30 frames per second, which would have required 10 times as much bandwidth to transmit. Color TV would have tripled the amount of bandwidth.

For live, public TV broadcasts, there was no easy way to convert 320 lines at 10 frames per second to 525 lines at 30 frames per second. The folks back on Earth effectively had to display the slow-scan broadcast on a really bright screen, use a regular TV camera to film it and then broadcast that.

In addition, because of how the cameras’ timings worked (I’m simplifying this), they ended up having to cut the resolution in half to 262 lines. That’s why our B&W live TV recordings from e.g. Apollo 7, 8 and 11 are potato ? quality. 320 lines converted to 262 lines converted to 525 lines.

But I digress. ? Gordo Cooper orbited the Earth 22 times on Mercury-Atlas 9. On orbit 19, a warning light appeared on the dashboard. On orbit 21, Gordo completely lost power to the autopilot system. To make matters worse, gyroscopes failed, CO2 levels started rising, and it got hot.

He ended up having do a completely manual reentry. With the help of John Glenn, he NAILED it, landing just a few miles away from the recovery ship. According to the mission transcript, Gordo radioed the ship and formally requested permission to come aboard.

Whew! We’re a third of the way to the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11! Stay tuned for the thrilling saga of Project Gemini!

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