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Alan Shepard launches to come to be the very first American in space during the Mercury-Redstone 3 Mission. Image: NASA


Sixty years back today, on may 5, 1961, NASA astronaut Alan Shepard rocketed to room in his Mercury capsule to end up being the an initial American and also the second human in space.

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The surprised launch through the Soviet Union that the first artificial satellite dubbed Sputnik 1 in October that 1957 sparked the newest prior in the Cold war — space. The race to watch which nation would dominate room was on. However first, humanity had actually to watch if they could survive in space.


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The Mercury 7 astronauts in your spacesuits (front row, left come right) Walter M. “Wally” Schirra Jr., Donald K. “Deke” Slayton, man H. Glenn Jr., M. Scott Carpenter, (back row) Alan B. Shepard Jr., Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom and also L. Gordon Cooper, Jr. Credit transaction : NASA


A year ~ Sputnik, in October that 1958, the nationwide Aeronautics and room Administration, better known as NASA, was developed out the the national Advisory Council for Aeronautics, or NACA, and also would serve as a civilian agency that would watch the advancement of room technology. Amongst the very first objectives of the newly formed agency was project Mercury, i beg your pardon would set the goal to start a male into earth orbit, advice his capabilities, and return him safely to Earth. Out of a liked pool that 110 possible candidates, Shepard and six others were favored for the program.

Shepard was a U.S. Naval duty model perfect for choice as an astronaut. ~ spending some time and also seeing action on a destroyer in people War II, Shepard graduated from the U.S. Marine Academy through a Bachelor of Science, becoming a marine Aviator in 1946. Eventually, he would graduate the U.S. Marine Test Pilot School and become a check pilot in 1950, at some point gaining over 8,000 hours in aircraft. These experiences would collection the basis for his later on career.

On April 12, 1961, the Soviets shocked the civilization when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin ended up being the first human to view the will of space. America no going to take another blow to your pride, and it was time to placed an American in space.

On might 5 1961, Shepard would be the an initial Mercury astronaut come fly right into space. After part minor delays, and an unplanned urination, at 10:34 a.m. ET the Mercury capsule, dubbed Freedom 7, released atop that is Redstone booster indigenous Launch complex 5 in ~ Cape Canaveral in Florida.

Although the flight would just be suborbital, lasting simply 15 minutes, the mission would certainly prove American capability in space, trial and error systems such together retrorockets and attitude control systems that would certainly be crucial for the upcoming orbital trip of man Glenn and also the Mercury-Atlas rocket.


Apollo 14 commander Alan Shepard poses through the American flag on the surface ar of the Moon in 1971. Credit: NASA


After a successful reentry and also parachute landing into the Atlantic Ocean, Shepard and the capsule to be recovered by helicopter and the USS Lake Champlain. The mission was a finish technical success, albeit one through hampered pride through the Soviets having actually beaten the country to orbit 3 weeks before.

History virtually ended differently, however. Originally, Mercury-Redstone 3, the official title the the an initial American manned mission, to be to launch in April that 1960, beating the Soviets to the punch by a whole year. Unfortunately, lot of unplanned program delays would proceed to postpone the launch, paving the means for the Soviets to paris first.

The mission would start a brand-new era in room exploration. Just a few weeks later, President john F Kennedy would make his a statement come a special joint session of Congress, announcing his objectives for one American top top the surface of the Moon.

Kennedy’s score would ultimately be realized before the decade was out, v Alan Shepard being later on chosen come command Apollo 14, and also walk top top the moon.

60 year after the background making flight, we remember its heritage as the flight that started it every for NASA, and also human spaceflight in the unified States. Shepard’s career itself speaks for the advancements, v only simply 10 years in between his suborbital spaceflight, and walking on the surface ar of the Moon. Indigenous Shepard’s flight, came endless discoveries and also international landmarks in space. That is milestones and lessons learned proceed to it is in a driving pressure today.

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Video courtesy of NASA


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Matt Haskell

Matt Haskell is a released aviation and spaceflight photographer and also writer based in Merritt Island Florida. Born and raised outside Edwards Air force Base and also NASA’s Armstrong trip Research Center, he relocated to Florida’s room Coast and began photographing and reporting spaceflight professionally full time in 2018.