May 15 – Launch of Mercury-Atlas-9 (MA-9)

May 15th 1963 was launch day for Mercury-Atlas-9, the last of the crewed US Mercury program, and the last time an American astronaut was sent into orbit alone. There were also a couple of firsts, including the first American astronaut to spend an entire day in space, and the first to sleep in space.

That astronaut was Leroy Gordon Cooper (he preferred Gordon or “Gordo” to Leroy), World War II US Marine Corps veteran, fighter pilot and test pilot, and just the kind of man, as you can probably see from his official photo, to think nothing of being hurled round the planet in a hi-tech tin can.

Leroy Gordon Cooper, MA-9 Astronaut. (Image: NASA)

The MA-9 orbiter, known as Faith 7, spent just over 34 hours off the ground, in which time it managed 22 orbits of the Earth (almost 900,000 km) before splashing down South East of Midway Island in the Pacific Ocean. Somehow, despite a series of technical issues, including the loss of altitude readings and a short circuit that took out the automatic stabilization system, Cooper was able to manufacture the most accurate splashdown of the entire program.

Gordon Cooper being peeled out of Faith 7. (Image: NASA)

2006 — Launch of PAMELA, the Payload for Antimatter Matter Exploration and Light-Nuclei Astrophysics (obviously) attached to the Russian Recurs-DK 1 reconnaissance satellite.