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  • Mercury-Atlas 8 was the fifth United States manned space mission, part of NASA's Mercury program. Astronaut Walter M. Schirra, Jr., orbited the Earth six times in the Sigma 7 spacecraft on October 3, 1962, in a nine-hour flight focused mainly on technical evaluation rather than on scientific experimentation. This was the longest U.S. manned orbital flight yet achieved in the Space Race, though well behind the several-day record set by the Soviet Vostok 3 earlier in the year. It confirmed the Mercury spacecraft's durability ahead of the one-day Mercury-Atlas 9 mission that followed in 1963. Planning began for the third U.S. orbital mission in February 1962, aiming for a six-or-seven-orbit flight to build on the previous three-orbit missions. NASA officially announced the mission on June 27, and the flight plan was finalized in late July. The mission focused on engineering tests rather than on scientific experimentation. The mission finally launched on the morning of October 3, having been delayed two weeks because of problems with the Atlas booster.