29 March 2018 reviews

NASA Mercury Owner’s Workshop Manual

Here is another addition to the Workshop Manual series that is fast-becoming a collectors’ series for space aficionados: it’s the story of the development, construction and use of NASA’s one-man Mercury capsule of the early 1960s. In common with the other books in this series, it is based on original space agency and contractor documents from the time, which are appropriately detailed but often indistinct because of the small text.

Of course, no-one is going to go out to their garage and work on a Mercury capsule, so to some extent this arguably excessive detail does not matter, but I can’t really see the point of including pages of control system schematics with multiple circuits, switches and inverters. Luckily these modern-day Haynes manuals are tied together with black-and-white and colour photographs which make them more accessible to the intended readership. This one includes the ‘usual suspects’, but there are plenty of other shots that many readers will not have seen before, and production quality is up to the usual Haynes standards.

The book itself is divided into five main sections covering Mercury’s origins and development, and detailing its main subsystems (structure, power, life support, etc) before concluding with an overview of missions and relevant launch vehicles. There is a list of abbreviations and acronyms and a three-page, four-column index.

Although this is basically a history, there is enough coverage of engineering aspects such as ‘blunt body’ design and structure (along with details of cockpit, couch, periscope and other items) to satisfy more technical readers. In fact, the average reader will probably feel they know the Mercury capsule pretty well by the end of the book. Hopefully, they will also realise that, despite its apparent simplicity, Mercury was an extremely complex spacecraft – especially for an era when many cars were still supplied with starting handles!

Mark Williamson, Space Technology Consultant

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