Enos the chimpanzee after his two
orbit test flight.
Control that it would end in horror,
as the status of his capsule’s heat
shield was unknown for much of the
And all of this was brand new
technology — the Atlas rocket used for
Mercury flights had only been first
launched in 1959. The smaller
Redstone suborbital rocket actually
had more experience, having been
first launched in 1953.
In Charles Murray and Catherine
Bly Cox’s classic book Apollo (
originally published in 1990, recently
reissued), which focuses on the
engineers who staffed Mission
Control during NASA’s golden era,
there’s a photo of the first Mercury
capsule being delivered to Cape
Canaveral on the back of a pickup
truck. Similar shots in Spacecraft
Films’ Mercury collection also hint at
how far and how fast NASA and its
subcontracted industries progressed
in the 1960s. But at the start of the
decade, it was burly men building
Mercury capsules in short-sleeve L.L.
Bean camp shirts, not the white clean
room jumpsuits and booties we’d
come to associate with NASA.
Meet the Man
Behind the Discs
Of course, Project Mercury is
merely the latest in an extensive line-up of DVDs from the Spacecraft Films
( www.spacecraftfilms.com), a North
Carolina-based firm that documents
all of the missions of NASA’s halcyon
days. The man behind them is Mark
Gray, who grew up the son of a
Huntsville-based NASA contractor.
After over 20 years in the television
industry, ending with a stint as a
station manager, Gray says he was
Examining the model.
“kind-of dissatisfied with what I was
doing in the TV business. I didn’t feel
as though it was necessarily handing a
lot back,” and looked for a change.
The near-simultaneous birth of
DVD, and advancement in film transferring technology in the second half
of the 1990s helped him make up his
mind. “I had always wanted to see this
material,” says Gray “and knew that if
it were transferred to video today, it
would look much better than the
transfers from the 1970s. And you
almost needed DVD to do this,
because with the amount of stuff I
wanted to provide, you would have to
fast-forward and back-up and do all
kinds of stuff to get to the areas in the
presentation that you’d want, and it
wouldn’t have worked near as well
So I basically decided that this
might be something that there would
John Glenn and Scott Carpenter.
Glenn examines the suit.
be enough interest in, and I could
create a business out of.”
Tremendously Loyal Fans,
but Not for All Tastes
The result for Gray has been a
steady business with a group of
tremendously loyal fans. “It’s not a
huge market, but it’s a niche market
that’s been large enough that it’s been
good. It’s enabled us to get through
basically the major areas of space
history, and now we’re branching out
into more. So I can’t complain about
that at all.” Branching out includes a
more terrestrially bound division
Gray’s launched called Aircraft Films.
Not everyone appreciates the
Spacecraft Films style, which,
admittedly, is fairly clinical, uncompromising, and unedited — especially
compared with Hollywood’s attempts
Alan Shepard doing some training.
June 2006 69