Early space suits for the Mercury program (1961–63) were derived from a 1959 US Navy aviation suit design. The tight-fitting suit served as a backup to keep the astronaut alive in the tiny Mercury spacecraft if the vehicle developed a leak and lost its atmosphere.
This suit represents the one worn by U.S. Air Force Maj. (later Col.) Gordon Cooper in May 1963 aboard his Mercury craft called Faith 7, in which he flew 22 orbits in a 34-hour mission. His was the last and longest Mercury flight.
Each Mercury suit was precisely tailored to fit, and its silver color is from aluminum-coated fabric that helped reflect external heat. Air for breathing and cooling entered the suit through the connector on the waist and exited through the helmet. The connector on the right thigh is for instruments measuring temperature and heart rate. Mercury suits did not have multiple insulating layers like later suits because astronauts stayed inside their ships—the spacecraft protected them from heat and cold. Under the suit, astronauts wore long underwear that helped circulate cooling air.
Throughout the Mercury program, space suits continued to be improved. Lessons learned during the six Mercury flights allowed engineers to design more advanced, flexible, and comfortable suits.
This suit is a reproduction and on display in the museum's fourth building.
(Video) Space Suits Lecture from museum historian Dr. Doug Lantry
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