After the Soviet space program’s launch of the world’s first artificial satellite on October 4, 1957, the U.S. Congress, alarmed by the threat to national security and technological leadership, urged immediate and swift action.
In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA for short, to run the country’s space programs.
NASA contracted the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation (McDonnell-Douglas) to produce its design for a 9.6-foot (2.9-m) tall x 6.2-foot (1.88-m) wide capsule, just big enough for one person in a space suit.
The name of the capsule design was Mercury; the specific capsules carried names such as Liberty Bell, Freedom, and Friendship.
They were launched by various models of Saturn rockets.