Project Adam began as a post-Sputnik joint-services project proposed by Wernher von Braun. Originally dubbed "Man Very High", the idea was to use an Army Ballistic Missile Agency Redstone rocket to boost a USAF Manhigh balloon gondola with a human occupant on a suborbital trajectory. Von Braun invited Manhigh's Simons and Kittinger to Huntsville to get the program moving, but by April 1958 interservice rivalry killed the project in the womb. So Project Adam was submitted to ARPA on 13 May 1958 by the Secretary of the Army as an Army-only proposal. In July 1958 the Director of ARPA decided that Project Adam was not necessary and would not be funded by ARPA. Shortly thereafter NASA's project Mercury consolidated all of the military man-in-space projects. The Mercury suborbital flights were the only remnant of the crash program that would have put an American in space by 1959.
The objective was to carry a manned, instrumented spacecraft to a range of approximately 240 km; to perform psycho-physiological experiments during the acceleration phase and the subsequent 6 minutes of weightlessness; and to effect a safe re-entry and recovery of the manned spacecraft from the sea. Already feasible through existing hardware and recovery techniques, it would supply fundamental knowledge on human behaviour during transportation by rocket, cabin design criteria, recovery techniques for manned re-entry vehicles, emergency escape procedures, and data transmission techniques. In addition, as a pioneering achievement, it would enhance the technological prestige of the United States. Participating agencies of the Army-sponsored effort would be the U.S. Army Ballistic Missile Agency, the U.S. Army Medical Service, USN Task Force for Recovery Operations, and selected contractors.
The carrier vehicle would consist of a modified Redstone and an instrument compartment as used in satellite and re-entry firings. The human passenger would travel in a reclining position relative to the missile thrust axis so as to keep acceleration effects at a minimum. The biomedical aspects would include measurement of human reactions as follows: Electrocardiogram, blood pressure, respiratory rate and depth, galvanic skin resistance, two body temperatures, and motion picture coverage of the passenger. Measurements of the spacecraft environment would include cabin pressure, oxygen partial pressure, carbon dioxide partial pressure, cabin air temperature, spacecraft skin temperature, humidity, cosmic radiation, gravitational force (for weightlessness determination), noise, and vibration.
The proposal urged that Project Adam be approved as the next significant step toward the development of a U.S. capability for the transportation of troops by ballistic missiles, and that funds in the amount of $4.750 million be provided immediately.
In July 1958 the Director of ARPA, having studied the proposal submitted by the Secretary of the Army on May 13, stated that since it was not considered necessary for the Man-in-Space program, it would not be funded by ARPA. Through the next weeks, following the establishment of NASA, discussions were held concerning the utilisation of Redstone and Jupiter vehicles for the NASA man-in-space program; but Project Adam per se, like the Air Force MISS, was to stop in the conceptual stage.
A memorandum from the Secretary of the Army to the Secretary of Defense recommended Project Adam for a manned space flight program. This plan proposed a ballistic suborbital flight using existing Redstone hardware as a national political-psychological demonstration. This memo proposed that funds in the amount of $9 million and $2.5 million for fiscal years 1959 and 1960, respectively, be approved for program execution.
At an Army Advanced Research Projects Agency conference, the Army was advised there was little chance for approval of Project Adam.