Gordon Cooper's Mercury-era personal journal written in pencil and ballpoint, 41 pages on 22 lined loose-leaf 5.5 x 8.5 sheets, plus several additional inserted documents and papers, housed within a black 6.5 x 8 hardcover binder, spanning January 29, 1959, to April 22, 1960.
The first page is headed "Project Mercury," with the first entry dated January 29, 1959, in part: "I was called to Col. Royal N. Baker's office and informed that I was to report to a room in the Pentagon, Wash DC, on 2 Feb 59. He knew only that it was something to do with a future space program." He goes on to mention the "batteries of tests" that he took over the next few days after reporting to the Pentagon, including general knowledge exams on scientific subjects, and various technical and psychological interviews; a pass and exam schedule are inserted into the binder. On February 6, he writes: "I had been chosen as one of the 1st 6 to go on in the competition and would proceed Saturday morning to…Albuquerque N. M. for physical testing." An eight-page document is inserted after this page with medical instructions, including processes for dental X-rays, giving urine and stool samples, and various other medical exams; a couple sketches have been drawn on the document, including a tree and a diagram of the building.
On February 13, Cooper writes: "We were all called in…and drew cards to see who would drop out until the next group. An excellent man lost and had to return home to wait until the next group." Cooper's copy of another schedule of tests and a sheet describing the "Crew Selection Development Program" are inserted in this portion. On February 21, he writes: "Departed for home and the long wait to know if I was chosen." On March 31, he writes: "Expecting word any day now." He finally hears the news on April 2: "Mr. Donlan (NASA) called from Langley and welcomed me to the team—what a thrill!! I already had packed my stuff so was almost ready to depart."
On April 9, Cooper writes of the Washington, DC press conference that introduced the Mercury 7 to the world, in part: “Met Gen White and Gen Nate Twining @ Pentagon—had a few pictures made…1400-met all the press @ the NASA auditorium it was really quite an ordeal sitting under all the glaring spot lights and having pictures made and questions fired at you. This lasted until 1600. Spent night in Washington anonymously some papers didn’t come out until late.”
On May 28, Cooper describes some of the formalities he attends in Washington: "Met with the House Space Committee in a formal closed hearing—very interesting, informative, and beneficial to program." Cooper's page of handwritten notes on how to speak to Congress is inserted here, including how to address the congressional leaders, "Brooks—House, 'Congressman' or 'Mr,' Johnson—Senate, 'Senator.'" He also notes: "Be careful on technical questions." He goes on to write: "Had the…of meeting Vice President Nixon and having a small chat with him, then picture session. Watched the Senate in session from the Gallery…Met with Senate Space Committee in Senator Lindon [sic] Johnson's office."
Cooper writes of his excitement during flight tests on June 3, 1959: "Had 1st taste of zero g…in an MC-2 suit…in C131—Joe Edwards piloting, Gus Grissom…and I. This zero g is what man has been looking for for thousands of years: its a complete feeling of freedom—as if shackles have been removed!!! It is difficult to describe, but wonderful is an adjective that will apply!!"
At the end of June he writes of a couple more interesting meetings: "Went up to Rocket Society's observatory and looked @ Jupiter and 5 moons with 16 inch mirror (324 power)." On the next day: "Had a long conversation with Dr. Von Braun on the various possibilities of space and space travel in the next few years." On June 30: "Extremely impressed to find how far along ABMA is on the Saturn…Had late afternoon bull session with all ABMA technical types on everything we wanted to discuss on 'Space'…had Schirra, Glenn, Douglas, Von Braun, and I for an excellent dinner…Then proceeded to Von Braun's house to look over his library…and at his fabulous picture albums of German rocket development."
At the beginning of August, Cooper describes several discouraging days of space suit fitting and criticizes the "political purchase of Goodrich pressure suit." He then comments on centrifuge testing, writing: "It appears that there is a definite workload that a human can handle…It appears that around 11 to 14 g's is the max g load that a man can handle."
A three-page agenda for the astronauts' visit to AFBMD from September 12-15 is loosely inserted into the binder, with pencil notes by Cooper on the reverse of one page listing various contractors and their associated products, and a sketched diagram of a spacecraft on the reverse of another page. Cooper's handwritten three-page 'log sheet' from this trip is also present. Cooper then mentions a visit to Cape Hatteras with his family at the beginning of October, and on October 4th writes: "Returned to Langley. Stopped by on way to see Wilbur and Orville Wright Memorial @ Kitty Hawk. Was very impressed to see the birthplace of the airplane."
On October 22, Cooper writes of a flight with a fellow astronaut: "Flew to Cape in T-33 w Al Shepard for Rescue Committee meeting." On February 9, 1960, he writes: "Went to Cape Canaveral w Wally, Deke, and John Glenn." An intensely personal entry comes on February 19: "Saw Dad late this evening—was quite shocked how far he has slipped—paralysis has really twisted his face—however his mind is still quite sharp when he is awake." On March 1-2, Cooper writes: "Excellent study of various star constellations along our orbital path." His father passes away at the end of March, and Cooper describes the emotional scene and funeral, but remarks that it "seems a relief to have it over @ last." The remaining portion of the diary describes various activities and training over the course of the next month. In fine condition, with a couple loose pages. Accompanied by a letter of provenance from Cooper's wife, in part: "The 1959-1960 period journal…belonged to my husband L. Gordon Cooper. It is approximately 71 pages with many written in Gordo's own hand and/or annotated along with some preprinted materials he chose to include. He maintained this most personal account of events in real time leading up to, during and following his selection by NASA as one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts."
Cooper’s thorough training proved important during his first mission, Mercury-Atlas 9, which was the final Mercury spaceflight. The Faith 7 capsule was designed for fully automatic control, but it experienced power failure during the 19th orbit. Cooper’s understanding of star patterns became essential as he took manual control of the tiny capsule and successfully estimated the correct pitch for re-entry into the atmosphere. He needed to be precise in his calculations because the g-forces could exceed human tolerance if he came in too steep, but if the trajectory were too shallow the capsule would shoot out of the atmosphere and back into space. His natural piloting skill and the training he mentions in this journal—such as study of constellations and g-forces—allowed him to make Mercury-Atlas 9 a successful flight. An amazing journal from Cooper’s earliest preparations for his career as an astronaut.
Terms and abbreviations used in our descriptions.