Formed by the merger of McDonnell Aircraft and the Douglas Aircraft Company on April 28, 1967, McDonnell Douglas was a major aerospace manufacturing corporation and defense contractor. It became defunct after Boeing merged with the company in 1997.
McDonnell Aircraft was one of the first aerospace firms to join NASA in its manned spaceflight program, winning a contract to design, test, and build the spacecraft and training simulators for Project Mercury in 1959. The company produced 20 Mercury capsules—including Freedom 7, which carried astronaut Alan Shepard on the first American human spaceflight. NASA next selected McDonnell to build the spacecraft, Agena target vehicle, docking adapters, and simulators for Project Gemini in 1961. The Gemini capsules produced by McDonnell embarked on 10 spaceflights, helping to establish records such as the longest duration flight and the first rendezvous of two orbiting spacecraft. The Douglas Aircraft Company also got involved with NASA’s manned spaceflight program at this time, building the third stage of the Saturn V launch vehicle, also known as S-IVB, in 1961.
The two companies continued their professional relationship with NASA following their merger. In 1969, McDonnell Douglas proposed an extension to Project Gemini—called Big Gemini—and received a contract to build the Orbital Workshop, the United States’ first space station. Later known as Skylab, the station launched on May 14, 1973, and orbited the Earth 34,981 times.