As originally envisioned by the engineers at NASA and McDonnell Aircraft, the Mercury capsule was designed to fly through space using only an automatic control system to keep the spacecraft’s attitude in correct alignment. One of the first requests by the Mercury astronauts was the installation of a three-axis hand controller used to gain manual control of the spacecraft in case the automatic system failed.

This request proved prophetic when the automatic system malfunctioned during John Glenn’s Friendship 7 space flight on February 20, 1962. Glenn successfully used the three-axis hand controller to manually keep the spacecraft in alignment during the second and third orbits.

After the space flight, NASA engineers presented Glenn with the hand controller from the Friendship 7 spacecraft to commemorate his achievement. It is mounted on a wooden plaque along with the thruster that failed during the space flight.

These two pages contain John Glenn’s early notes on the design of a three-axis hand controller and the corresponding instrumentation for the Mercury capsule.

The hand controller used in the Friendship 7 spacecraft.

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