Fifty years ago today Alan B. Shepard Jr., became the first American in space when he flew in the Freedom 7 mission. He got 116.5 miles up and his flight lasted 15 minutes, 28 seconds. He made history, but has been generally forgotten.
Why? Because he was the second man in space. Yuri Gagarin made it into space 23 days earlier and won the second round of the US-Soviet space race. The Soviets won the first round too, when they got the first satellite into orbit in 1957.
Neither man achieved full orbit, but they did prove you could survive the trip and they paved the way for future space missions. Both deserve to be remembered.
NASA has an excellent interactive webpage about the mission and the capsule he flew in is on display at the Armel-Leftwich Visitor Center at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Shepard was an alum (Class of 1945) so needless to say they’re pretty proud of him over there.
Shepard later landed on the Moon in the Apollo 14 mission and drew laughs and criticism when he played golf in low gravity. You can see the Apollo 14 command module at the John F. Kennedy Space Center.
[Photo courtesy NASA]