Before Going To Space, Astronauts Had to Survive the Desert

The original seven Mercury astronauts are, left to right, L. Gordon Cooper Jr.; M. Scott Carpenter; John H. Glenn Jr.; Alan B. Shepard Jr.; Virgil I. Grissom; Walter M. Schirra Jr. and Donald K. Slayton. Photo credit: NASA

The first astronauts fiercely embraced the unknown, strapping themselves onto towering stacks of explosives, accelerating at tremendous rates, and experimenting with their lives to discover the impact of spaceflight on the human body. No one will question the bravery of the Mercury Seven, but not all their adventures involved high-technology in the space race.

To ensure the astronauts would survive every eventuality during the first steps into orbit, NASA sent them to survival school to make sure they could live long enough to be rescued in the aftermath of a crash landing somewhere unexpected. The very first survival school took place in the deserts of Nevada in 1960, where the astronauts were expected to use their limited resources to survive the harsh climate.

The astronauts were abandoned in the desert for four days with a mockup of the Mercury spacecraft, parachute attached. The objective was for them to practice a survival scenario in case they were stranded for real after a landing gone awry. They took to their desert-adventure with gusto, some fashioning clothes out of their parachutes prior to being “rescued” in their grimy splendour. Via Before Going To Space, Astronauts Had to Survive the Desert.

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