Recently got a hard question from an observant, sharp-eyed, and curious high school astronomy teacher:

Reference this article about some of the training the Mercury Seven astronauts did. Note that the photos that feature dates in their captions seem to have been taken in 1959/1960 (FWIW, this was well before Deke Slayton was taken off of flight status).

Said teacher had a question about the following photo, which appeared in said article:

enter image description here

Close scrutiny of said photo will reveal that six of the pictured "couches" appear to be assigned to six of the seven Mercury Seven astronauts. However, there does not appear to be a couch assigned to Deke Slayton. Instead, the "oddball" couch appears to be emblazoned with the stenciled letters B. NOR. (said couch is the one furthest to the right in the photo).

Deke Slayton does not appear to have a couch. Any ideas as to what is going on here?

My pathetic Google-fu was worthless...again!



2 Answers 2


OrganicMarble's answer shows that there were more couches made than just for the astronauts. The couch labeled "B. NOR" in question's photo most likely belongs to Gilbert B. "Bert" North, an employee of McDonnell Aircraft Corporation that worked on the human factors of the capsule:

[...] two other McDonnell employees began to play significant roles in man-rating [the Mercury capsule]. The company was fortunate to have its own so-called "astronaut" in the person of Gilbert B. North, another test-pilot engineer but one with a unique relationship for the NASA contract. He was always being confused with his identical twin brother, Warren J. North, who served Silverstein and George M. Low in Washington as NASA Headquarters participant and monitor in astronaut training. Gilbert North served McDonnell as chief human guinea pig in the St. Louis ground tests. Warren and "Bert" North actively promoted the incorporation of test-pilot concerns in the Mercury program from two standpoints outside [Space Task Group].

(source: This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury, chapter 7-5)

Note that the couch is the only one labeled with an initial instead of only the first 5 characters of the last name. This implies that just writing "NORxx" would have lead to confusion, making it likely that either the North twins each had a couch made, or there was another person involved whose last name starts with "NOR".

  • $\begingroup$ And, I'd say that the odds are pretty good that Deke was using his contour couch for training the day the photo in the OP was taken... $\endgroup$
    – Digger
    Commented Jan 7, 2022 at 17:13

There were more than 7 couches made.

enter image description here

Image source

They were made for "medical personnel" as well as the crew.

I have not found an explicit statement on what is shown in the picture in the question, but I suspect it shows a subset of the couches - six crew, one medical personnel, and the others are not in the picture.

Source: Project Mercury - a chronology PDF page 100

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Awesome reference - I'm sure the teacher I spoke of in the OP will love it! $\endgroup$
    – Digger
    Commented Jan 6, 2022 at 21:00
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Digger Given that the chair on the right in this picture says "North", I think the chair in your photo belongs to Gilbert "Bert" North, see chapter 7-5 of This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury. $\endgroup$
    – Ludo
    Commented Jan 6, 2022 at 21:02
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Ludo Please enter your posit as an answer - I'll let things percolate for a few days and see what shakes out... $\endgroup$
    – Digger
    Commented Jan 6, 2022 at 21:16

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