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Thursday, May 23, 2024

First American in Space!

Space Travel
Author: Mark Dixon
Thursday, May 5, 2016
8:05 am

Fifty-five years ago today, a long time before I knew anything about Cinco de Mayo, Alan Shepherd became the first American in space, riding the Freedom 7 Mercury space capsule atop the Mercury-Redstone Launch Vehicle for a fifteen minute sub-orbital flight. 


From Wikipedia:

Shepard’s mission was a 15-minute suborbital flight with the primary objective of demonstrating his ability to withstand the high g forces of launch and atmospheric re-entry. His spacecraft reached an altitude of 101.2 nautical miles (187.5 kilometers) and traveled a downrange distance of 263.1 nautical miles (487.3 kilometers). 

During the flight, Shepard observed the Earth and tested the capsule’s attitude control system, turning the capsule around to face its blunt heat shield forward for atmospheric re-entry. He also tested the retrorockets which would return later missions from orbit, though the capsule did not have enough energy to remain in orbit. After re-entry, the capsule landed by parachute on the Atlantic ocean off the Bahamas. Shepard and the capsule were picked up by helicopter and brought to an aircraft carrier.

The mission was a technical success, though American pride in the accomplishment was dampened by the fact that just 3 weeks before, the Soviet Union had launched the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, who completed one orbit on Vostok 1.

Although I was just eight years old, I remember this event distinctly.  I wanted to be an astronaut, just like Alan Shepard! In accord with the Cold War mentality of that time, we desperately wanted the US astronauts to beat the Russians, but it took several more years before the United States could achieve space race superiority.

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