The National Aeronautics and Space Administration was formally established on October 1, 1958.
Although NASA planned an open competition for its first astronauts, President Dwight D. Eisenhower insisted that all candidates be test pilots.
Because of the small space inside the Mercury spacecraft, candidates could be no taller than 5 feet 11 inches and weigh no more than 180 pounds.
Other requirements included an age under 40, a bachelor’s degree or equivalent, 1,500 hours of flying time, and qualification to fly jets.
After an advertisement among military test pilots drew more than 500 applications, NASA searched military personnel records in January 1959 and identified 110 pilots — five Marines, 47 from the Navy, and 58 from the Air Force who qualified.
Sixty-nine candidates were brought to Washington, DC, in two groups; the candidates’ interest was so great, despite the extensive physical and mental exams from January to March, that the agency did not summon the last group.
The tests included spending hours on treadmills and tilt tables, submerging their feet in ice water, three doses of castor oil, and five enemas.
Six candidates were rejected as too tall for the planned spacecraft.
Another 33 failed or dropped out during the first phase of exams.
Four more refused to take part in the second round of tests, which eliminated eight more candidates, leaving 18.
From these 18, the first seven NASA astronauts were selected and announced to the public on April 9, 1959.
Officially they were Astronaut Group 1, however they were soon nicknamed the Mercury Seven after the manned Mercury spaceflight program.
Today they are also referred to as the Original Seven.
These seven original American astronauts were Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra, Gordon Cooper, and Deke Slayton.
Three (Grissom, Cooper, and Slayton) were Air Force pilots; three (Shepard, Carpenter, and Schirra) were Navy pilots, and one (Glenn) was a Marine Corps pilot.
Members of this original group went on to fly on all classes of NASA manned orbital spacecraft of the 20th century — Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, as well as the Space Shuttle.
Now WE know em