Freedom-7 — A Half-Century of U.S. Spaceflight

Fifty years ago today — May 5, 1961 — Alan B. Shepard, Jr., became the first U.S. astronaut launched into space.


(Freedom-7 launch. NASA image.)

Shepard had named his capsule Freedom-7, though the flight was also known as Mercury Redstone-3.* The mission had several objectives:

(1) familiarize man with a brief but complete space flight experience, including the lift-off, powered flight, weightless flight (approximately 5 minutes), re-entry, and landing phases of the flight;
(2) evaluate man’s ability to perform as a functional unit during space flight by demonstrating manual control of spacecraft attitude before, during, and after retrofire and by use of voice communications during flight;
(3) study man’s physiological reactions during space flight; and,
(4) recover the astronaut and spacecraft.

Shepard’s launch from the Eastern Space & Missile Center was only 23 days after Yuri Gagarin had become the first human in orbit. Shepard’s flight was suborbital, however, so the honor of being the first U.S. astronaut in orbit would eventually go to John Glenn.

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*Speaking of Redstone rockets, why not pop over to Redstone Science Fiction and see what they have to offer? They recently posted their twelfth issue!

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