John Glenn, the best known of the Mercury astronauts, the first American to orbit the earth. A freckle-faced country boy with reddish blond hair and a winning smile, he flew combat missions in both World War II and Korea and was one of the Marines’ best-known pilots. The oldest of the original seven astronauts and the only Marine, he sets the moral tone for the astronauts at their first press conference by invoking God, country, and family. He is ambitious, hard-working, a bit self-righteous, and a great favorite of the press and public. After the flight of Friendship 7, he becomes a hero like few others in the history of the United States.
Chuck Yeager, the first pilot to break the sound barrier. The short, wiry, tough-looking Yeager had a successful career as a fighter pilot and went on to win every major decoration and honor available to test pilots. He set the standard by which members of the flying community measured themselves, and his Appalachian drawl was imitated by fliers from commercial airline pilots to astronauts. Lacking a college education, Yeager is not eligible to be an astronaut, but he has no interest in abandoning flying to serve as a “lab animal” in a space capsule.
Gordon Cooper, who pilots the last and longest orbital flight of Project Mercury, becoming the most celebrated of the astronauts since John Glenn. The thin, handsome, confident son of an Army Air Force officer, he neither flew combat missions nor distinguished himself as a test pilot, but instead flew for the less prestigious engineering corps. So relaxed that he falls asleep on the top of the rocket before liftoff, he handles problems with the electrical system during the flight with equanimity. Forced to operate the capsule manually during the last orbit and reentry, he still manages to land nearly on target....
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