Alan Shepard Becomes The First American in Space

Alan Shepard Becomes The First American in Space


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On May 5, 1961, Navy Commander Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr. is launched into space aboard the Freedom 7 space capsule, becoming the first American astronaut to travel into space. The suborbital flight, which lasted 15 minutes and reached a height of 116 miles into the atmosphere, was a major triumph for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

NASA was established in 1958 to keep U.S. space efforts abreast of recent Soviet achievements, such as the launching of the world’s first artificial satellite—Sputnik 1—in 1957. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the two superpowers raced to become the first country to put a man in space and return him to Earth. On April 12, 1961, the Soviet space program won the race when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was launched into space, put in orbit around the planet, and safely returned to Earth. One month later, Shepard’s suborbital flight restored faith in the U.S. space program.

NASA continued to trail the Soviets closely until the late 1960s and the successes of the Apollo lunar program. In July 1969, the Americans took a giant leap forward with Apollo 11, a three-stage spacecraft that took U.S. astronauts to the surface of the moon and returned them to Earth. On February 5, 1971, Alan Shepard, the first American in space, became the fifth astronaut to walk on the moon as part of the Apollo 14 lunar landing mission.

READ MORE: Space Exploration: Timeline and Technologies


Alan Shepard: First American in Space

Alan Shepard became the first American in space when the Freedom 7 spacecraft blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on May 5, 1961, aboard a Mercury-Redstone rocket. Ten years later, Shepard would leave Earth's atmosphere again to become the fifth man to walk on the moon — and the first one to play a bit of lunar golf.

Born on Nov. 18, 1923, to Renza Emerson and Alan Shepard, Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr. grew up in rural New Hampshire. After graduating from high school, he attended the U.S. Naval Academy and graduated on June 7, 1944, one day after D-Day. Shepard spent the last year of World War II on a destroyer in the Pacific.

During the next 15 years, Shepard served in the Navy in various capacities. He received a civilian pilot's license while in naval flight training and spent several tours on aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean. He attended the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in 1950 and participated in developmental tests for various aircraft. He also tested landing on the first angled carrier deck. Shepard later became an instructor in the Test Pilot School and logged more than 8,000 hours of flight time during his career. [Photos: Freedom 7, America's 1st Human Spaceflight]

He attended the Naval War College in Rhode Island and following his 1957 graduation, was assigned as an aircraft readiness officer on the staff of the Commander-in-Chief Atlantic Fleet.


The Solitude of Space

A graduate of West Point, Collins joined the Air Force in 1952, and his years as a fighter and test pilot made him eligible to apply for the astronaut corps. NASA selected Collins among its third group of astronauts in 1963 his first mission in space, the July 1966 Gemini 10 mission, successfully demonstrated orbital rendezvous and docking — a critical component of any trip to the moon.

The Apollo 11 mission put all the lessons that Collins and NASA had learned in Gemini to the test. It also saw Collins occupy a unique role, as he orbited the moon in the command module Columbia while Armstrong and Aldrin traveled down to the surface in the lunar module Eagle. That role made Collins one of the few Westerners alive at the time who couldn’t watch the lunar landing as it happened, as he didn’t have access to a television aboard Columbia.

Every time Collins orbited around the back side of the moon — out of reach of any radio signal from Earth — he was, as he wrote, “truly alone and absolutely alone from any known life.” While he said at the time of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission that he experienced “exultation” during his day of solitude in space, Collins also spent that time pondering his worst fear: That a mechanical failure aboard Eagle would prevent Aldrin and Armstrong from rejoining him, forcing him to return to Earth alone.

My secret terror for the last six months has been leaving them on the Moon and returning to Earth alone now I am within minutes of finding out the truth of the matter.…If they fail to rise from the surface, or crash back into it, I am not going to commit suicide I am coming home, forthwith, but I will be a marked man for life and I know it.

Fortunately, such a fate met neither Collins nor his colleagues. Collins retired from the astronaut corps following Apollo 11, ultimately heading the National Air and Space Museum during seven critical years (1971-78) that saw the construction and opening of Washington’s most-visited museum. As his Apollo comrade Aldrin eulogized of him last week, Collins’s public service exemplified “the best of America, someone who instinctively put himself out for others, a lifetime commitment.”


Paving the Way

Yuri Gagarin was a young Soviet air force pilot when selected with 20 others for cosmonaut training in 1960. His historic single orbit around Earth on April 12, 1961, took only 108 minutes from ignition to landing. After Gagarin returned and the Soviet press released news of his flight, he became an international hero.

Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shepard may have been the first people in space, but they weren't the first living creatures.

The Soviet Union launched the dog Laika into space in November 1957 and proved it was possible to maintain life in space for at least a limited amount of time.

NASA launched a chimpanzee on a suborbital flight in January 1961.


Shepard Goes to Space

At 9:34 a.m. EST, with 45 million Americans watching or listening, Shepard heard the launch command and instinctively reached for the mission timer as the Redstone’s engine breathed fire with 78,000 pounds (35,000 kilograms) of thrust. And although the jolt of liftoff was gentler than he had expected, the astronaut’s heart rate nevertheless jumped from 80 to 126 beats per minute.

“Liftoff,” Shepard yelled, “and the clock is started!”

After 80 seconds of flight, this relative calmness abruptly morphed into a violent shudder as the Redstone passed through peak aerodynamic turbulence, causing Shepard’s helmeted head to jackhammer against the headrest. However, these vibrations ceased almost as soon as they began, and two minutes after launch, the rocket’s engine shut down as intended, yielding an ethereal silence in the capsule.

Flying free of the Redstone, Shepard had only a handful of minutes to test Freedom 7’s systems, twirling his ship through pitch, yaw, and roll axes while travelling at 5,000 mph (8,000 km/h) — more than three times faster than any American in history. Weightlessness manifested itself with the comical appearance of floating dust and washers before Shepard’s eyes. But the real spectacle was the view of our home planet itself.

Peering through the capsule’s periscope, Shepard beheld Lake Okeechobee at the northernmost tip of the Everglades, as well as Andros Island, the shoals off Bimini, and the cloud-covered Bahamas. “What a beautiful view,” he declared, to no one in particular.

Beautiful, indeed, but it was a view enjoyed only in monochrome tones, for Shepard had earlier flicked a grey filter over the periscope to avoid getting blinded by sunlight. For a brief instant, he considered flicking off the filter, but when his wrist inadvertently touched Freedom 7’s abort handle, he wisely thought better of it.

Shepard’s return to Earth imposed punishing loads of 11 times the force of terrestrial gravity, briefly leaving him only able to communicate with guttural grunts. Four miles (6.4 km) above the Atlantic, Freedom 7’s drogue parachute deployed, followed by the orange-and-white main canopy.


60 years ago, Alan Shepard became the first American in space

Astronaut Alan Shepard is helped out of his spacesuit aboard the aircraft carrier USS Lake Champlain after a successful sub-orbital flight on May 5, 1961. (© AP Images)

On May 5, 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American — and the second man — to travel in space when he launched a 15-minute, sub-orbital flight aboard NASA’s Mercury spacecraft Freedom 7. (Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had completed one orbit of the Earth on April 12, about three weeks earlier.) Shepard, whose mission ushered in the age of American human spaceflight, also became the first space traveler to manually control the orientation of his craft, as Gagarin’s milestone flight was largely automated.

The Mercury-Redstone rocket that transported Alan Shepard is launched into space on May 5, 1961. (© AP Images)

During his flight, which was televised live around the world, Shepard glimpsed the Earth from space, remarking: “What a beautiful view.” Ten years later, as the commander of NASA’s Apollo 14 mission, he would become the fifth astronaut to walk on the moon. He even hit golf balls on the lunar surface.

By demonstrating the feasibility of space travel, Shepard began a journey that would ultimately lead to the exploration of Mars. According to NASA, the peaceful, international exploration of space “began with a single step in 1961” and continues today.


58 years ago, Alan Shepard becomes first American in space

58 years ago, Alan Shepard was launched into history aboard a Mercury Redstone rocket (originally used by the U.S. Army for missiles), becoming the first American astronaut in space.

On May 5, 1961, Shepard rocketed into space inside his Freedom 7 capsule. The sub-orbital flight, which lasted just over 15 minutes, reached an altitude of 116 miles, and proved that NASA could send humans into space. Katherine Johnson, the trailblazing NASA research mathematician, even ran the trajectory analysis for the flight!

Freedom 7 splashed down near the Bahamas and was recovered by the nearby U.S. Navy carrier Lake Champlain.

Shepard was a hero. Upon his return, he was invited to the White House where President Kennedy bestowed him with the Distinguished Service Medal. The mission was hailed as a success and a ticker-tape parade in New York City celebrated Shepard’s daring accomplishment.

The victory came less than a month after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth.

Although Shepard’s flight did not accomplish this feat, it established the United States as a contender in the heated Space Race and paved the way for future spaceflights like John Glenn’s historic orbital flight, and the Apollo lunar landing missions further down the road.

According to Space.com, unlike the Soviet success with Gagarin which was kept top secret, Shepard’s entire flight was broadcast on live television for the world to see.

Shepard was a part of the “Mercury 7”, the first 7 astronauts selected for the first national space program, Project Mercury, which was born on Oct. 7, 1958. America’s first astronauts included Shepard, Gus Grissom, John Glenn, Gordon Cooper, Walter Schirra, Scott Carpenter, and Deke Slayton.

Project Mercury had three main objectives according to NASA: to orbit a crewed spacecraft around the Earth, to investigate the ability of a human to function while in space, and to recover both the astronaut and crew capsule safely upon their return to Earth. In just 5 short years all three objectives of the program were met.

Rear Admiral Shepard, the first American in space, and one of only twelve people to walk on the surface of the moon, died on July 21, 1998. He is remembered for his first historic spaceflight that captivated the world, and perhaps for becoming the first person to hit a golf ball on the lunar landscape during his Apollo 14 mission.

A national hero, and a true pioneer in the field of space exploration, astronaut Alan Shepard is remembered today for his contributions to human spaceflight history and for inspiring a nation to reach for the moon!

Relive this milestone in American spaceflight history by watching real footage of the event below:


Alan Shepard will be the first American in space to this day in history

Sixty years after Alan Shepard became the first American in the universe, everyday people are on the verge of following in the footsteps of his universe. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin company is finally launching short-hop tickets from Texas launched by a rocket named New Shepard. Details will be announced on Wednesday, the 60th anniversary of Shepherd’s Mercury flight. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic aims to begin a sightseeing flight next year as soon as he boarded a rocket ship launched by space skimming for a test run from New Mexico. And Elon Musk’s SpaceX will launch a billionaire and his sweepstakes winner in September. Then, in January, three businessmen will fly to the International Space Station. “It’s a big leap, isn’t it?” NASA astronaut Shane Kimbro said he was the commander of the latest flight to the SpaceX space station. “But it’s pretty cool … Citizens can have the opportunity to go into space and experience what we’ve gained.” It’s all on the 15-minute flight of Shepherd on May 5, 1961. It is rooted. Shepherd was actually the second person in space — the Soviet Union launched astronaut Yuri Gagarin three weeks ago in Shepherd’s eternal disappointment. Astronaut Mercury and a Navy test pilot, 37, cut a smooth sci-fi figure in a silver spacesuit, looking up at the Redstone rocket in the pre-dawn darkness of Cape Canaveral. Impatient with all the delays, including another hold of the countdown just minutes before the launch, he famously roared to his mic: “You fix your little problem and let this candle ignite. Hmm? ”His capsule, Freedom 7, soared to a high degree. A distance of 116 miles (186 kilometers) before parachuting into the Atlantic Ocean. Twenty days later, President John F. Kennedy promised to land the person on the moon and return it safely by the end of the decade, which was fulfilled by Apollo 11 in July 1969. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. According to NASA, Shepherd, who died in 1998, commanded Apollo 14 in 1971, becoming the fifth moonwalker and lonely lunar golfer. Since the pioneering flights of Gagarin and Shepherd, 579 people have jumped into space and reached their surroundings. Nearly two-thirds are American and over 20% are Soviet or Russian. NASA’s crew has become more diverse in recent decades, but about 90% are male and most are white. Educators at the Black Community College in Tempe, Arizona see her spot on SpaceX’s next private flight as a symbol. Cyan Proctor uses JEDI, an acronym for “Fair, Fair, Diverse and Comprehensive Universe.” NASA does not always participate in space travel, but today. “Our goal is a day when everyone becomes an astronaut,” NASA’s manned spaceflight chief Kathy Lueders said on Sunday following a splashdown of the SpaceX capsule with four astronauts. Said. “We are very excited to see it in orbit.” Twenty years ago, NASA clashed with Russian space officials over the world’s first space traveler’s flight. California businessman Dennis Tito has paid $ 20 million to visit a space station launched on a Russian rocket. Virginia-based Space Adventures has arranged a week-long trip to Tito, which ended May 6, 2001, followed by seven sightseeing flights. Anderson tweeted last week. “The universe is more open than ever, and for everyone.” There is already a line. Russian actresses and film directors are set to launch from Kazakhstan in the fall. Then in December, two of Space Adventures’ latest clients will follow, launching on the Russian Soyuz rocket. SpaceX will be next in January with three businessmen. The flight from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida was arranged by Axiom Space, a Houston company run by a former NASA employee. And as early as 2023, SpaceX will bring Japanese entrepreneurs and their guests around the moon. Although he has no fans of manned spaceflight, he prefers robot explorers, but Alex Roland, a professor of honorary history at Duke University, said the emergence of a spaceflight was “the most important change in the last 60 years.” Still he is novel. I think that a lot of attention will be drawn if there is no more and there are inevitable deaths. In that case, the admission fee will be higher. US, Canadian, and Israeli entrepreneurs using SpaceX early next year are paying $ 55 million each. Half-week mission. Virgin Galactic tickets are considerably cheaper in minutes compared to weightless days. Initially it was $ 250,000, but the price is expected to rise as Branson’s company begins accepting reservations again. For SpaceX’s private flight in a fully automated dragon capsule, tech entrepreneur Jared Isaacman doesn’t say what he’s paying for. He considers the three-day flight a “great responsibility” and has not taken any shortcuts to training. He pulled the crew to Mount Rainier last weekend to strengthen them. “If something goes wrong, everyone else will retreat their ambitions to become commercial astronauts,” Isaacman said recently. The University of Washington, which founded the John Logsdon Institute for Space Policy, Professor Emeritus of George, has mixed feelings about this transition from space exploration to adventure travel. “It removes romance and excitement from going to space,” Logsdon said in an email this week. Rather than the dawn of a new era as many have declared, “It seems like the end of an era when space flight was special. I think it’s progress.” ___ The Associated Press’s Department of Health Sciences is Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Is receiving support from. Department of Science Education at the Institute. AP is solely responsible for all content.

Sixty years after Alan Shepard became the first American in the universe, everyday people are on the verge of following in the footsteps of his universe.

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin company is finally launching short-hop ticket sales from Texas launched by a rocket named New Shepard. Details will be announced on Wednesday, the 60th anniversary of Shepherd’s Mercury flight.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic aims to begin its sightseeing flight next year as soon as it skims through space and board a rocket ship launched by plane for a test run from New Mexico.

And Elon Musk’s SpaceX will launch a billionaire and his sweepstakes winner in September. Then, in January, three businessmen will fly to the International Space Station.

“That’s a big leap, isn’t it?” NASA astronaut Shane Kimbro said he was the commander of the latest flight to the SpaceX space station. “But it’s pretty cool … Citizens can have the opportunity to go to space and experience what we’ve gained.”

It’s all rooted in the 15-minute flight of Shepherd on May 5, 1961.

Shepherd was actually the second person in the universe. The Soviet Union launched astronaut Yuri Gagarin three weeks ago, causing Shepherd’s eternal disappointment.

Astronaut Mercury and a Navy test pilot, 37, cut a smooth sci-fi figure in a silver spacesuit, looking up at the Redstone rocket in the pre-dawn darkness of Cape Canaveral. Impatient with all the delays, including another hold on the countdown just before the launch, he famously roared into Mike. “Why don’t you solve a small problem and light this candle?”

His capsule, Freedom 7, soared to an altitude of 116 miles (186 kilometers) before parachuting into the Atlantic Ocean.

Twenty days later, President John F. Kennedy promised to land the man on the moon and return it safely by the end of the decade. This was promised by Apollo 11 Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in July 1969.

Shepherd, who died in 1998, commanded Apollo 14 in 1971, becoming the fifth moonwalker and lonely lunar golfer.

According to NASA, 579 people have jumped into space and reached their surroundings since the pioneering flights of Gagarin and Shepherd. Nearly two-thirds are American and over 20% are Soviet or Russian. NASA’s crew has become more diverse in recent decades, but about 90% are male and most are white.

Educators at the Black Community College in Tempe, Arizona see her spot on SpaceX’s next private flight as a symbol. Sian Proctor uses the acronym JEDI for “fair, impartial, diverse and inclusive space.”

NASA does not always participate in space travel, but today it does.

“Our goal is to be a day for everyone to become astronauts,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s head of manned spaceflight, on Sunday’s splashdown of the SpaceX capsule with four astronauts. Followed by. “We are very excited to see it getting on track.”

Twenty years ago, NASA clashed with Russian space officials over the world’s first space traveler flight.

California businessman Dennis Tito was launched on a Russian rocket and paid $ 20 million to visit a space station. Virginia-based Space Adventures has arranged a week-long trip to Tito, which ended May 6, 2001, followed by seven sightseeing flights.

“By opening his checkbook, he started the industry 20 years ago,” Space Adventures co-founder Eric Anderson tweeted last week. “The universe is more open to everyone than ever before.”

Russian actresses and film directors are set to launch from Kazakhstan in the fall. Then in December, two of Space Adventures’ latest clients will follow, launching on the Russian Soyuz rocket. SpaceX will be next in January with three businessmen. The flight from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida was arranged by Axiom Space, a Houston company run by a former NASA employee. And as early as 2023, SpaceX will take Japanese entrepreneurs and their guests back and forth around the moon.

Although not a fan of manned spaceflight, he prefers robot explorers, but Alex Roland, an honorary history professor at Duke University, said the emergence of a spaceflight could be “the most important change in the last 60 years.” I admit that I have sex. Still, he wonders if there is a lot of interest if the novelty disappears and the inevitable deaths occur.

Then the admission fee is high.

US, Canadian, and Israeli entrepreneurs flying SpaceX early next year are paying $ 55 million each for a week and a half mission.

Virgin Galactic tickets are considerably cheaper in minutes compared to weightless days. Initially at $ 250,000, the price is expected to rise as Branson’s company begins accepting reservations again.

When it comes to SpaceX’s private flight in a fully automated dragon capsule, tech entrepreneur Jared Isaacman says he’s not paying. He considers the three-day flight a “great responsibility” and has not taken any shortcuts to training. He took the crew last weekend to hike Mount Rainier.

“If something goes wrong, it will retreat the ambition of everyone else going and becoming a commercial astronaut,” Isaacman said recently.

John Logsdon, an emeritus professor at George Washington University, who founded the Institute for Space Policy, has mixed feelings about this transition from space exploration to adventure travel.

“It removes romance and excitement from going to space,” Logsdon said in an email this week. Instead of the dawn of a new era as many have declared, “it seems like the end of an era when spaceflight was special. I think it’s progress.”

The Associated Press’s Department of Health Sciences is supported by the Department of Science Education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. AP is solely responsible for all content.

Alan Shepard will be the first American in space to this day in history

Source link Alan Shepard will be the first American in space to this day in history


Why Alan Shepard Carried a Dollar Bill on His Mercury Flight

Shortly before Alan Shepard became the first American in space on May 5, 1961, officials at NASA and the U.S. National Aeronautic Association (NAA) found themselves in a quandary. In the three weeks since Yuri Gagarin’s April 12th first spaceflight, a tempest-in-a-teacup had erupted over how that historic event should be certified. The Soviet Union was vigorously seeking official recognition from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, a Paris-based organization that has validated global aeronautical records in cooperation with national organizations like the NAA since 1905.

But the FAI had strict rules about certifying world records—including requiring witnesses.

“Many details of [Gagarin’s] flight still have not been made public,” wrote W.B. Ragsdale for the Associated Press after the Vostok 1 mission. “Russian officials had not yet produced any of the documentation mandated by the FAI.” The association gave the Soviets a deadline of August 12 to file the appropriate proof, which they eventually did. But at the time of Shepard’s flight, official recognition was still being withheld, and NASA officials didn’t want to risk the same PR speedbump.

According to the FAI’s “code of conduct,” an NAA official would need to witness and verify that the person who stepped into the Mercury capsule at Cape Canaveral was indeed the same person who exited the capsule 100 miles downrange in the Atlantic Ocean. The problem? It was only a 15-minute flight. There would not be enough time for the NAA official to get from the launch site to the splashdown site.

Working behind the scenes, NAA and NASA officials came up with a simple but elegant solution. As detailed by Frank Macomber for Copley News Service in a 1971 news wire article titled “Astronauts and the Record Book,” Shepard would carry a dollar bill aboard Freedom 7 given to him by an NAA witnessing official. Later, after recovery in the Atlantic, Shepard would produce the bill. The serial number would be transmitted via radio and compared with the number recorded by the NAA observer. A match would be accepted as formal verification.

The FAI agreed, and this became standard practice on the first U.S. spaceflights.

The Apollo 9 crew of Dave Scott, Jim McDivitt and Rusty Schweickart signed this NAA flight certification bill. (Courtesy of the author / from the estate of Dr. Robert Dillaway, an NAA flight witness official. )

“If all of this rigamarole seems a little ridiculous, the same procedure has been followed on every U.S. space mission—Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo,” Macomber wrote 10 years after Shepard’s flight. “The dollar bill fulfills the identification requirement of the FAI Sporting Code, even though modern telemetering equipment and worldwide television now effectively remove any doubt as to the astronaut identity.”

On the longer-duration flights that followed Mercury-Redstone 3, the same NAA official who supplied the dollar bill was flown to the recovery carrier, where a formal certification ceremony took place. Often, the official gave the astronauts extra bills to give out as souvenirs. At the shipboard ceremony, with the assembled press pool watching, the astronauts would autograph the flown bills in front of a witnessing NAA official.

Occasionally, as in the case of Walter E. Wentz of Pasadena, California, these officials became minor celebrities themselves. In August 1965, photos from the Gemini 5 certification ceremony aboard the USS Lake Champlain received wide media attention. Dubbed an “international referee” in the photo caption, Wentz was even invited to appear on the popular To Tell the Truth television quiz show.

Altogether, the FAI has certified 217 individual space flight records since Gagarin’s in 1961. They cover a range of categories, including distance, speed, total mass lifted into space and flight duration. NASA ended the practice of carrying dollar bills after the flight of Apollo 17 in December 1972, partly due to a minor scandal over Apollo 15 astronauts carrying postal covers into space. During the Skylab era of the 1970s, stylized NASA paper certificates designed by the Johnson Space Center and the NAA were used instead of money, as they were believed to have less commercial appeal. To this date, NASA astronauts are prohibited from carrying currency of any kind into space as a personal souvenir or memento.

The historic nature of the space-flown dollars was not lost on NASA or the National Air and Space Museum, however. Shortly after Apollo 17, Marvin L. McNickle, an official in the agency’s space transportation office, wrote to Frederick Durant, the Museum’s Assistant Director for Astronautics, to say that NASA was in possession of the Apollo 17 bills and that the Museum would be a more appropriate place for them since “these bills now, individually, have considerable historic significance and intrinsic value.”

Even though, according to McNickle, bills from Mercury, Gemini and the earliest Apollo flights were the private property of the NAA witnessing officials, the NAA kept possession of 22 dollar bills used to certify the flights of Apollo 7 through Apollo 16, including four each from Apollos 11, 12, 15, and 16. NAA Executive Director Brooke Allen agreed to NASA’s request to turn them over to the Museum.

On December 29, 1976, the bills were officially donated, and they are now part of the Museum’s Social and Cultural Space Collection in Washington, D. C. While not currently on display, some of the bills appear virtually on the Museum’s website. And while they were intended to mark the historic nature of the first U.S. spaceflights, they also made George Washington—or at least his likeness—an unlikely astronaut. Ad Astra, George.

About Richard Jurek

Richard Jurek is co-author of Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program (MIT Press, 2014), and author of The Ultimate Engineer: The Remarkable Life of NASA's Visionary Leader George M. Low (University of Nebraska Press, 2019). He is also the owner of the Jefferson Space Museum, a virtual collection of his space flown $2 bills from the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle programs and other space flown numismatic curiosities.


American Astronaut

In 1959, Shepard won a coveted spot in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration&aposs program for space exploration. He and six others, including John Glenn and Gus Grissom, became known as the "Mercury 7." They were an elite group chosen from one hundred test pilot who have volunteered for the program.

Shepard made history on May 5, 1961, as his Freedom 7 spacecraft flew up into the sky from its Florida launch pad. He became the first American in space, a month after the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had earned the distinction as the first person in space. After roughly four hours of delays, Shepard traveled more than 300 miles in his 15-minute-long mission. Shepard came down in the Atlantic Ocean near the Bahamas, where he was picked up by the aircraft carrier Lake Champlain.

Shortly after returning to the United States, Shepard traveled to the White House to receive the NASA Distinguished Service Medal from President John F. Kennedy. He was also honored with a ticker-tape parade in New York City.

For nearly a decade after his famous first mission, Shepard was grounded because of an ear problem. He had surgery to fix his condition, hoping to make it back into space. In 1971, Shepard got his wish. He and Ed Mitchell were selected for the Apollo 14 mission to the moon. They took off on January 31, 1971, and they spent more than 33 hours on the moon. During this mission, Shepard became the fifth person to walk on the moon, and the first to play golf on its surface. He had packed a specially designed golf club just for this purpose.


Alan Shepard Becomes The First American in Space - HISTORY

Today is May 5th, when modern Americans assuming this is the day of Mexican independence (it isn't) consume Mexican stuff like burritos and margaritas (those aren't Mexican) but what we should be celebrating is Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard going into space.

On this day in 1961, 60 years ago, Alan Shepard let himself be strapped into a capsule sitting on top of a skyscraper of rocket fuel using parts all selected because they were the lowest bidder on a government contract - and set off for the unknown.

Seriously, this was a risk only test pilots would happily have taken. If you look at the spec that NASA gave to all the corporations that actually put us into space, it reads like aspirational quotes more than engineering:

The big question now is, what next? Are we done with space?

We're obviously not done with sending things into space, but people may be another issue.

Early NASA was about acceptable risk. A lot of people can tell you where they were when the Challenger space shuttle exploded but most people don't even what year astronauts Grissom, White, and Chaffee died in their Gemini capsule much less where they might have been. Space flight had risks and people involved were not chosen based on race, gender, or any cultural aspect. They were selected because they had a combination of qualities that included acceptance of risk.

How do we get space exploration when NASA maintains a zero defects approach while demanding contractors check off a laundry list of cultural boxes? When we decided to go back to the moon in 2004, it was going to take 7 years longer to return than it took to create everything the first time.

Besides NASA forgetting how to be NASA, the other obstacle is politics. In 2004, President Bush created that program to go back to the moon. In 2008, his successor, President Obama, who hated everything about him(1) set about dismantling everything with his name on it. Including the Constellation program. Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong, Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell, and Apollo 17 commander Gene Cernan were critical of what was clear partisan grandstanding. President Obama replaced it with a program that had his own name on it and included a breezy assurance that instead of going to the moon we'd go to Mars.

Imagine if President Nixon had been like Obama and dismantled the Apollo program because it had the name of a Democrat on it, and promised he'd do something even better.

It's not only believable for that to happen today, it's expected. It's downright surprising Trump didn't do the same thing to Obama. Would the Constellation program have resulted in a trip back to the moon by 2020? If the chronic delays and cost overruns of the James Webb Space Telescope are any indication, no. But Obama didn't cancel that despite it being wildly over budget and behind schedule. It had President Clinton's name attached.

Given that politics is more partisan and polarizing than in the previous 60 years, and we have officials who think if we can't go back to the moon we can just go to Mars(2), it may mean the future of actual space travel - NASA does cute robots on Mars quite well so they can keep at it - may go back into the hands of the private sector. Like it was throughout the 1960s, before NASA transformed from mission-focused into a job works program.

That would mean we will get the giant leaps into the future that we got with cell phones and computers, and not more of the same old bureaucracy that ends up meaning the CDC needs 6 weeks to even tell the public that lettuce has E. coli, or in a 2020 example that in order to get a coronavirus test a hospital has to first prove the patient has coronavirus.

It means that if we get government out of the space business, we'll not only be visiting other planets, we'll be living there.

(1) Though Pres. Bush and Mrs. Obama are besties now.

(2) One of my favorite jokes involves working on my second million dollars - because I gave up on the first. Unfortunately, saying we can't go to the moon so let's go to Mars is a lot more expensive.

I founded Science 2.0® in 2006 and since then it has become the world's largest independent science communications site, with over 300,000,000 direct.