The cockpit, while a detailed and accurate copy of the Mercury capsule, is and isn’t fully clickable. In order to manipulate the various knobs, buttons and switches mentioned previously, you first click on the panel where the switch you want to flip is located. Then you manipulate the control after the panel is brought up in its own window, zoomed in so that all buttons and the labels are easily read. Fine in practice, but the end result is instead of continuous view of the 2-D cockpit, you get a jumbled collection of panels. In order to close the panel, you shift-click it.
This can be very confusing in flight if you’re trying to watch several panels at once as you can see above. While this isn’t a problem for the most part, having to move panels around as you hunt for each control switch can be a little frustrating. The Falcon cockpit does a much better job of this, but for a program so small, WOM gets the job done.
The depth of this simulation is very surprising. I selected an orbital flight for my next task to see if there were any differences in how the simulation played out. I didn’t notice a difference in the capsule, but I was under the impression that while Freedom 7 and Liberty Bell 7 had only periscopes for the astronaut to see the outside world, Friendship 7 was the first to have an actual porthole window. The only thing to give you an indication that anything had changed was the outside view, where you saw yourself sitting not on top of a tiny little Redstone rocket, but on top of that ugly beast, the Atlas.
The sound is enthralling and my Audigy2 shook the lamp on my wife’s piano and my pictures of my children on my desk as the two-stage giant raged off the launch pad, the coastline of Florida falling away quick. My flight path tracker accurately showed my position over the Atlantic as the mission clock ticked away.
The Atlas, if you recall, was never intended for space flight. It began its career as the Air Force’s primary delivery vehicle for nuclear weapons. NASA needed a rocket intended for orbital flight to be heavier, carry more fuel, and burn much longer for the capsule to reach LEO, or Low Earth Orbit. This would be the point where Earth’s gravitational pull is strong enough that you don’t go tumbling off into space, but not so strong it pulls you back down and you’re crispy. The Redstone (which was nothing more than an improved version of the German V-2) was too small, if much safer. Because the Atlas was an ICBM, use as a booster rocket was never taken into account during its design, and so its already questionable safety record (it hovered around 75%) while acceptable for a weapons platform, made it unacceptable for manned space flight. Hurried into service as an ICBM, pressed into service for manned space flight, the tests were marred by a disastrous launch pad failure in July of 1960.
After several other failures, the Atlas finally achieved a 99.9% reliability rating through quality control that would have made Nurse Ratched smile. Major John Glenn had to be acutely aware of this. So was I as the monster sent me into my orbit, with me a helpless lab rabbit until Secondary Engine Cut-Off.