Alan Shepard, Freedom 7: May 5, 1961

48 years ago today, the US launched their first human to space. Alan Shepard flew on Mercury 3, a suborbital mission with a duration of only 15 minutes and 28 seconds. Shepard’s ship, Freedom 7, reached an altitude of 116.5 statute miles (186.4 km) and flew a distance of 303 statute miles (485 km). Enjoy this great video, which includes original footage, as well as Alan B Shephard talking about the flight. He also gives the real story about the “request to relieve himself” which was made famous in the movie “The Right Stuff.” Alan Shepard also flew on Apollo 14 (and made the famous golf shot on the moon.) He passed away in 1998.

Even though the flight was short, it was successful which was a huge boon to NASA and the US, trying to keep up up with the Soviet Union who had launched Yuri Gagarin into space about a month earlier, on April 12, 1961. The political implications of the flight were huge for the US, as this flight kept them in sight of the Soviet Union’s advances in human spaceflight. The US was so encouraged by the success of Alan Shepherd’s flight that less than three weeks later President John F. Kennedy, in speaking before a joint session of Congress, made an announcement that would have seemed unthinkable just years before: “I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”

And the rest is history. Happy anniversary, Freedom 7!