Project Mercury was the United States' first successful manned spaceflight program. It ran from 1959 through 1963 with the goal of putting a man in orbit around the Earth. Early planning and research was carried out by NACA, while the program was officially carried out by the newly created NASA. The Mercury spacecraft were very small one man vehicles with only 1.7 cubic meters in volume. The spacecraft was designed by Max Faget and NASA's Space Task Group. During the launch phase of the mission, the Mercury spacecraft and astronaut were protected from launch vehicle failures by the Launch Escape System. The LES was a solid fuel rocket mounted on a tower above the spacecraft. In the event of a launch abort, the LES fired for 1 second, pulling the Mercury spacecraft away from a defective launch vehicle. The spacecraft had only attitude control thrusters. After orbit insertion and before retrofire they could not change their orbit. The Mercury spacecraft were designed to be totally controllable from the ground in the event that the space environment impaired the pilot's ability to function. NASA ordered 20 production spacecraft. Five of the twenty spacecraft were not flown.
The Atlas line of space launch vehicles was originally built by Convair and were originally designed as ICBMs in the late 1950s. It was originally a 1 ½ stage , liquid-fueled (LOX and RP-1) rocket, with three engines producing 1,590 kN of thrust. The Atlas was used as the launch vehicle for the Mariner space probes and to launch ten of the Mercury program missions. Atlas was also used throughout the mid 1960s to launch the Agena Target Vehicles used during the Gemini program. Direct Atlas descendants have continued to be used as satellite launch vehicles into the 21st century.