Today in the 20th Century: Alan B. Shepard Jr. Becomes the First American in Space – May 5, 1961

On May 5, 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard spends an exciting 15 minutes in suborbital space to become the first American to travel into space, only three years after the establishment of NASA and less than a month after Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet cosmonaut became the first person in space and the first to orbit the Earth on April 12.

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Alan Shepard photographed in flight by a 16mm movie camera inside the Freedom 7         (source: NASA images)
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Alan Shepard fitted with space suit prior to first space flight (source: NASA images)
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Astronaut Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom wishes Alan B. Shepard a safe flight just before insertion into the Freedom 7 (source: NASA images)

Shepard nicknamed the Spacecraft “Freedom 7” and it was launched into space upon a modified Redstone rocket which reached a height of 116 miles into the atmosphere.

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The launch of Freedom 7 (source: NASA images)
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Alan Shepard and his Freedom 7 capsule recovered (source: NASA images)

The mission was a huge success and both Shepard and the module were in perfect condition. Just 11 minutes after landing in the water, Alan Shepard was onboard the U.S. Navy carrier Lake Champlain. After being greeted and celebrated as an American hero, he received a congratulatory phone call from President Kennedy.

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Shepard stands in front of the Freedom 7 spacecraft shortly after the recovery of Freedom 7

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