National Aeronautics and Space Administration Logo
Follow this link to skip to the main content NASA Banner
Solar System Exploration
News & Events
Facebook Twitter YouTube Facebook Twitter YouTube Flickr iTunes
Follow Us
50 Years: Alan Shepard, First American in Space

Spaceman Alan

28 April 2011
Image showing space snapshots that says Great Shots Blog, iconic images from our solar system.
50 years ago Project Mercury astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr. became the first American in space.

It was 9:34 (EST) in the morning on 5 May 1961 when Alan, strapped to his seat on board Freedom 7, blasted off for a 15 minute, 28 second suborbital flight above Earth. The flight carried Alan to an altitude of 116 statute miles above our home globe.

After splashing down to Earth, Alan was met with fanfare and even received a personal phone call from President Kennedy who had watched Alan's flight on television. The "Kennedy Call" would become a tradition for all manned Mercury flights.

After medical tests and debriefings Alan was found to be in excellent shape, which meant that future manned flights could take place without fear. A few days later President Kennedy presented Alan with the NASA Distinguished Service Award.

Take a look at the following images which chronicle Alan Shepard's flight and return to Earth. (10 Images total):

Alan Shepard
Left: Alan Shepard was the second human -- and first American -- to fly in space. Shepard later commanded the Apollo 14 mission and is one of only 12 people who have walked on the Moon.

Right:Inside the Capsule: Alan Shepard in the cramped Freedom 7 capsule before he became the first American in space.

Alan Shepard Launch
Light the Candle: Astronaut Alan Shepard is hurled into space atop a Mercury-Redstone rocket.

Earth from Space
View from Above: Mercury-Redstone 3 (MR-3) flight Earth observations of a cloudy Earth.

Splash Down
After observing the Earth from his suborbital view Alan within his capsule splashed down into the Atlantic Ocean. A U.S. Marine helicopter retrieved Alan and the Freedom 7 capsule.

Alan Shepherd and Helicopter
Shepard Completes His Mission: Alan is shown being hoisted aboard a U.S. Marine helicopter after splashdown.

Crowd Upon the Arrival of Alan Shepard
Crew members of the U.S. Navy Carrier Champlain cheer and take pictures of the arrival of Alan Shepard.

Press Conference
Astronaut Alan Shepard arrives at Grand Bahamas Island and is greeted by Astronauts Virgil I. (Gus) Grissom (right) and Donald Slayton (left) and also by Keith Lindell (between Shepard and Grissom) after the first American suborbital flight. Shepard participated in a press conference with Grissom and Slayton.

Kennedy and Shepard
Astronaut Alan B. Shepard receives the NASA Distinguished Service Award from President John F. Kennedy in May 1961, just days after his history making space-flight. Shepard's wife and mother are on the left and six other Mercury astronauts are in the background. How many can you identify?

Alan Shepard Stamp
The Alan Shepard Stamp celebrating Alan's flight and momentous event in history is available beginning 4 May 2011.

More information:
Awards and Recognition   Solar System Exploration Roadmap   Contact Us   Site Map   Print This Page
NASA Official: Kristen Erickson
Advisory: Dr. James Green, Director of Planetary Science
Outreach Manager: Alice Wessen
Curator/Editor: Phil Davis
Science Writers: Courtney O'Connor and Bill Dunford
Producer: Greg Baerg
Webmaster: David Martin
> NASA Science Mission Directorate
> Budgets, Strategic Plans and Accountability Reports
> Equal Employment Opportunity Data
   Posted Pursuant to the No Fear Act
> Information-Dissemination Policies and Inventories
> Freedom of Information Act
> Privacy Policy & Important Notices
> Inspector General Hotline
> Office of the Inspector General
> NASA Communications Policy
> NASA Advisory Council
> Open Government at NASA
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2011