In 1959, NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) began an extensive process to select the United States’ first astronauts.
The agency looked for jet pilots with more than 1,500 hours’ flight experience. The astronauts had to be younger than 40 years old, in excellent shape, and shorter than 5’11”, to fit into a small space capsule.
NASA also wanted college graduates or people with engineering degrees. More than 500 applicants met these requirements. In April 1959, after several months of intense physical and psychological tests, NASA picked seven men to be the first American astronauts:
Navy Lieutenant M. Scott Carpenter; Air Force captains L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, and Donald K. “Deke” Slayton; Marine Lieutenant Colonel John H. Glenn, Jr.; and Navy lieutenant commanders Walter M. Schirra, Jr., and Alan B. Shepard, Jr.