JFK+50: Volume 5, No. 1940FIRST AMERICAN LAUNCHED INTO SPACE 55 YEARS AGO TODAY
Kennedy Space Center, Florida (JFK+50) Astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr.* was launched aboard his Freedom 7 spacecraft from the National Aeronautics Launch Complex Five at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station fifty-five years ago today, May 5, 1961. Commander Shepard became the first American to fly in space.
Shepard, launched atop a REDSTONE ROCKET, completed a suborbital flight lasting fifteen minutes. His spacecraft traveled 116 miles into the Earth's atmosphere.
On the 50th anniversary of the flight, Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana said...
"The flight of Freedom 7 boosted spirits throughout the country at a time when the U.S. appeared to be faltering in the quest for a viable space program."
The Soviet Union had beaten the USA into space by successfully sending into orbit cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961. President John F. Kennedy was determined that his country would pull ahead of the Russians. He said...
"America should not be first if, first but, first when, but first PERIOD!"
Alan B. Shepard, Jr. was selected as one of 110 test pilots by NASA in 1959 for potential astronaut selection. He made the final cut to become one of the MERCURY 7.
Commander Shepard was presented with the Distinguished Service Medal by President Kennedy on May 8, 1961. A decade later, Shepard, at age 47 the oldest astronaut at the time, returned to space as commander of APOLLO 14 and walked on the moon.
Alan B. Shepard, Jr. died after a two year battle with leukemia in Pebble Beach, California on July 21, 1998. His wife, Louise, died 5 weeks later. They are survived by 3 daughters and 6 grandchildren.
*Alan B. Shepard, Jr. (1923-1998) was born in Derry, NH to Lt. Col. ABS Sr. and Renza Shepard. He graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1944 and served in WWII. Afterwards he earned his Naval Aviator wings.
Shepard graduated from the Naval War College in Newport, RI in 1957. After his selection for the Man in Space program he was chosen to be the 1st American to go into space.
"NASA, Space Community Remembers 'Freedom 7," May 5, 2011, www.nasa.gov/