Space: An Epilogue to Ineptitude

With a pinpoint, mid-Pacific landing by Major Leroy Gordon Cooper, a roar of triumph and a burst of national pride, the Mercury phase of the U.S.'s man-in-space program ended last May. Last week it seemed apparent that, save for sheer luck and pluck, Project Mercury might just as readily have ended in disaster. In a 444-page epilogue to Mercury, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration told a hair-raising tale of failures, ineptitude and just plain carelessness among the private contractors who built and equipped the space capsules.

The contractors, NASA reported, delivered...

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