[v] WHEN the Congress created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 1958, it charged NASA with the responsibility "to contribute materially to . . . the expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and space" and "provide for the widest practicable and appropriate dissemination of information concerning its activities and the results thereof." NASA wisely interpreted this mandate to include responsibility for documenting the epochal progress of which it is the focus. The result has been the development of a historical program by NASA as unprecedented as the task of extending man's mobility beyond his planet. This volume is not only NASA's accounting of its obligation to disseminate information to our current generation of Americans. It also fulfills, as do all of NASA's future-oriented scientific-technological activities, the further obligation to document the present as the heritage of the future.
The wide-ranging NASA history program includes chronicles of day-to-day space activities; specialized studies of particular fields within space science and technology; accounts of NASA's efforts in organization and management, where its innovations, while less known to the public than its more spectacular space shots, have also been of great significance; narratives of the growth and expansion of the space centers throughout the country, which represent in microcosm many aspects of NASA's total effort; program histories, tracing the successes - and failures - of the various projects that mark man's progress into the Space Age; and a history of NASA itself, incorporating in general terms the major problems and challenges, and the responses thereto, of our entire civilian space effort. The volume presented here is a program history, the first in a series telling of NASA's pioneering steps into the Space Age. It deals with the first American manned-spaceflight program: Project Mercury.
Although some academicians might protest that this is "official" history, it is official only in the fact that it has been prepared and published with the support and cooperation of NASA. It is not "official" history in the sense of presenting a point of view supposedly that of NASA officialdom - if anyone could determine what the "point of view" of such a complex organism might be. Certainly, the authors were allowed to pursue their task with the fullest freedom and in accordance with the highest scholarly standards of the history profession. They [vi] were permitted unrestricted access to source materials and participants. Furthermore, they have with humility and some courage attempted to document what emerges as a complex accounting of the purposes of science, technology, and public funding in a challenging new area of human endeavor.
Some classical historians may deplore the short lapse of time between the actual events and the historical narration of them. Others may boggle at the mass of full documentary sources with which the Project Mercury historians have had to cope. There are offsetting advantages, however. The very freshness of the events and accessibility of their participants have made possible the writing of a most useful treatise of lasting historical value. Future historians may rewrite this history of Project Mercury for their own age, but they will indeed be thankful to their predecessors of the NASA historical program for providing them with the basic data as well as the view of what this pioneering venture in the Space Age meant to its participants and to contemporary historians.
Case Institute of Technology
Chairman, NASA Historical
Lloyd V. Berkner, Graduate Research Center of the Southwest
James L. Cate, University of Chicago
A. Hunter Dupree, University of California at Berkeley
Wood Gray, George Washington University
Lawrence Kavanau, North American Aviation, Inc.
Marvin W. McFarland, Library of Congress
Paul P. Van Riper, Cornell University
Alan T. Waterman, National Academy of Sciences
This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury
Previous | Next
Page numbers from the original publication are included within the text within square brackets.