Getting out of Mercury… through the top!

posted in: Project Mercury | 3

Today’s Mercury feature examines a method of egress always planned but only used once – getting out of the Mercury spacecraft through the top.

John Glenn practices egress through the top at Langley. NASA.
John Glenn practices egress through the top at Langley. NASA.

The explosive side hatch on Mercury is well known, and the normal method of egress at the end of the Mercury missions became the side hatch. Shepard squeezed out of the hatch after the spacecraft had been partially lifted from the water, Grissom’s hatch blew while in the water; he was recovered and the spacecraft was lost.

John Glenn was recovered with the spacecraft, and blew the side hatch on the ship. Wally Schirra and Gordon Cooper chose the same method.

Scott Carpenter, however, chose another method. After coming down 250 miles long, the spacecraft rescue aid package was deployed, including the dye marker and radio beacon. As the Mercury spacecraft could get quite hot after splashdown, Carpenter chose to get out, but after noting how deeply it was floating, he chose to do so through the top of the spacecraft.

How was it was done? By pushing out the parachute canister and squeezing through the small space in the neck of the capsule. All of it tight, hot, and difficult, but planned.

After leaving the spacecraft, he inflated his life raft and waited on his rescuers. They arrived around an hour after splashdown. Carpenter was taken from the sea by a helicopter about two hours later.

Today’s footage: How to get out the top… along with a little bonus of Scott Carpenter relaxing on the helicopter after being plucked from the sea.


Final Note: The footage are clips from much longer pieces on our Mercury set. This week we are offering the set at a reduced price, $20 off the regular price. More fun tomorrow…

3 Responses

  1. John B
    | Reply

    So after Liberty Bell 7, it was still the pilots’ choice whether to blow the hatch while in the ocean, or to wait until the spacecraft was aboard ship? Not to parse the article’s language too closely, but after losing MR-4 I would be shocked if NASA let an astronaut take that risk again, however small it might be.

    Love these videos, thanks!

  2. Jack Hagerty
    | Reply

    How did they get up into the neck of the capsule in the first place? Isn’t the instrument panel in the way? Can they fit through the “footwell” and under the panel? Even if they did, it would seem awfully clostrophobic to turn from feet-first to head-first, sort of like Leonov’s delemma trying to get back into the Voshkod.

    • markwgray
      | Reply

      The right hand side of the instrument panel actually could be moved out of the way. Still, a very tight turnaround.

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