The Right Stuff
The Bell shaped MA – 6 capsule stood at 9 ft high and 6 ft across at the base. During the journey its weight declined dramatically: at launch it weighed 4,200 lbs, in orbit (after jettisoning the escape tower) it was 3,000 lbs and on recovery from the sea it weighed 2,400 lbs.
During decent at about 21,000 ft a 6ft drogue parachute opened to stabilize the craft and at 10 000ft the 63ft red and white main landing parachute unfurled from the crafts neck and was jettisoned on touchdown.
The astronauts named their own capsule, and followed it with the number 7 to signify the teamwork of the seven original astronauts. The capsules were Freedom 7 (Shepard), Liberty Bell 7 (Grissom), Friendship 7 (Glenn), Aurora 7 (Carpenter), Sigma 7 (Schirra) and Faith 7 (Cooper).
Much to the disgust of the astronauts, the capsules were designed for automatic control. These astronauts, all test pilots resented the fact that they were viewed as mere passengers. However, with the problems encountered by Glenn and Carpenter it clearly indicated that they were capable of “flying” these crafts. Following Glenn’s success NASA reconsidered the amount of automated equipment and gave the astronauts more control.
Friendship 7 on Grand Turk
A more mundane journey for the capsule was the one it took on Grand Turk. The USS Randolph brought the capsule to the shores of Grand Turk. It then took its final sea journey on a small launch, which brought it to the Grand Turk dock.
Friendship 7 was then craned onto the back of a low loader, secured, and taken to the Grand Turk airport. At the airport a protective craddle was waiting and on its arrival the capsule is lowered into it. The cradle was designed to safeguard the capsule during the rest of its journey to America. The cradle, now with Friendship 7 secured within it, is then loaded on aboard a United States Air Force plane for its final journey back to Florida.
Friendship 7 is now on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, USA. Unfortunately, it records the story of John Glenn with him splashing down and being taken to Grand Turk, Bahamas. This is one issue the Museum is trying to change.