August 1, 2008

Mercury Capsule Lands in St. Louis

By Amanda Palleschi, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Aug. 1--No. 19 never got a chance to fly.

Unlike 11 of his brothers and sisters, No. 19 didn't get a monkey to ride him into space, or a famous astronaut-turned-politician like John Glenn (his seventh sibling received that honor). No. 19 was always the backup singer, the tester, the assistant.

But on Thursday, No. 19 became a proud symbol of St. Louis aerospace history. The space capsule rode through his hometown to his new home at the St. Louis Science Center.

No. 19 was the second youngest in a family of 20 capsules from Project Mercury, the nation's first human spaceflight program, which ran from 1959 to 1963. Along with his 19 siblings, Mercury 19 was built by the former McDonnell Aircraft Corp. The others were destroyed or lost on unmanned missions.

According to Roger Lanius, the lead curator of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, Mercury 19 was shipped to Cape Canaveral in 1962. Before the homecoming Thursday at the McDonnell Planetarium, where the capsule will be on display indefinitely, No. 19 did stints in Houston's Johnson Space Center, in a Swiss museum and at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum.

Mercury 19 will take his place at the planetarium beside the Gemini 3A capsule -- part of the generation following the Mercury and preceding the Apollo missions. There, No. 19 may take on a role more important than any before in his life as a low-profile member of a high-profile family. That's what planetarium director Gregg E. Maryniak hopes.

Maryniak said Mercury 19's arrival is not only an opportunity to showcase St. Louis' special place in the heyday of America's venture into space but of the importance of space technology today.

"We have cell phones and PDAs because of space technology, so space technology actually has a larger impact on us today than in 1962," he said.

Visitors to the planetarium can view the capsule, which fits comfortably in an 8-by-8-foot cradle, beginning today. It's the result, Maryniak said, of much lobbying on the city's behalf.

"You apply to get it and you're hopeful ... these things are all over the world," Maryniak said. "We asked them to bring it back to us in St. Louis. We are the gateway of space. If anyone should have one of these things on display, it's us."

[email protected]



To see more of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to

Copyright (c) 2008, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

For reprints, email [email protected], call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.