50th Anniversary Ceremony Recreates First US Manned Spaceflight by Alan Shepard

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NASA celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first American manned spaceflight at a special ceremony on May 5, 2011 which recreated every moment of that short suborbital flight by the late Mercury astronaut Alan B. Shepard. The event unfolded from the very spot and launch pad 5/6 where he blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on May 5, 1961.

Shepard’s entire 15 ½ minute suborbital spaceflight aboard the “Freedom 7” capsule was replayed in a multimedia audio and video presentation that was projected on a Jumbotron erected off to the side of an 82 foot tall replica of his Mercury-Redstone 3 rocket.

Three daughters of Alan Shepard (Laura Churchley, Julie Jenkins and Alice Wackermann) pose in front of 82-foot- tall replica of Mercury-Redstone rocket which Shepard rode to space 50 years ago. Credit: Ken Kremer

The recreation was precisely timed to coincide with the exact events of the historic mission from the launch at 9:34 a.m. to the ocean splashdown some 15 minutes later at 9:49 a.m. just as they occurred 40 years ago on May 5, 1961.

The multimedia replay began at the T minus 5 minute mark in the countdown with restored voice tapes and film footage and included every single word spoken by Shepard, live views from inside his “Freedom 7” capsule, shots of the Earth below, the spaceship descending by parachute and the naval recovery vessels.

The memorial event took place at Alan Shepard’s launch pad at Cape Canaveral to recall and honor the results and legacy of the flight.

Fellow “Original 7” Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter did a lively play by play commentary of all the events of Shepard’s flight as it was broadcast on the Jumbotron. Carpenter was the 2nd American to orbit the Earth after John Glenn.

A crowd of more than 700 folks attended including top NASA officials and spaceflight dignitaries; NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, fellow Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter; 20 members of Shepard ‘s family including his three daughters; Jack King, former chief of NASA’s Public Information Office; Bob Moser, former Chief Test Conductor, many people who worked on Project Mercury, Florida Space Coast community leaders as well as numerous space exploration fans who journeyed here from all across the globe.

Apollo 16 Moonwalker Charlie Duke, a friend and colleague of Shepard was also on hand for the festivities.

Speakers at the May 5, 2011 celebration marking the 50th Anniversary of Alan Shepard’s first flight in space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on May 5, 1961. Credit: Ken Kremer

“In the audience today, we have more than 100 workers from the Mercury era who devoted their lives to flying humans safely in space,” said Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana.

“You should be extremely proud of what you did for our country and for humankind,” Cabana added, as he asked them to stand and be applauded and thanked for their service by the audience.

The 50th anniversary commemoration was sponsored by NASA and local space historians and community officials.

“I remember every time he spoke, he always gave credit to everyone in NASA who built the good ships that brought him home to us safely,” said Shepard’s daughter Laura Churchley. “We thank you all very much.”

“To me — and I’ve gone through hundreds of launches and done countdowns in hundreds of launches — the first is always very special,” said Jack King. “I must admit, it’s the only one when I was misty-eyed. The first American in space! I couldn’t be prouder. And I couldn’t be prouder for being a part of it.”

Project Mercury Astronaut Scott Carpenter and Hugh Harris, Shepard event organizer and NASA shuttle launch commentator. Carpenter is one of only two surviving “Original 7” Mercury astronauts.
Credit: Ken Kremer

The ceremony was organized by Hugh Harris, retired NASA space shuttle Launch commentator, and longtime NBC Newsman Jay Barbree who is the only journalist to cover every American manned space mission.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden salutes Alan Shepard and all the space workers who made Shepard’s historic mission possible at the 50th anniversary event on May 5, 2011 celebrating this milestone achievement in human history. Credit: Ken Kremer
“It’s an honor to share this day with so many people who helped NASA pioneer human spaceflight and enable the agency’s many accomplishments throughout our existence,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “I salute all of you.”

Shepard’s flight blasted off barely three weeks after Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the Earth on April 12, 1961.

The successful outcome of Shepard’s mission emboldened then President Kennedy to declare that America “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,” just three weeks later on May 20, 1961.

Alan Shepard later became the fifth human to set foot on the Moon as Commander of the Apollo 14 mission. Apollo 14 blasted off on Jan. 31, 1971.

Shepard was the only member of the “Original 7” Mercury astronauts to walk on the moon and did so along with Lunar Module Pilot Edgar Mitchell. They touched down in the Fra Mauro region originally intended as the landing site for Apollo 13.

Kudos to Harris and Barbree for an outstanding effort taking everyone back in time and staging a thrilling “You are There!” experience to relive the events as they unfolded 50 years ago.

Read my related articles about Alan Shepard, Yuri Gagarin and the 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight:
Alan Shepard and MESSENGER Stamps Unveiled at Kennedy Space Center Ceremony
Yuri Gagarin and Vostok 1 Photo Album – 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight
Countdown to Yuri’s Night and the 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight !
Stirring Video Tributes to Yuri Gagarin
Yuri Gagarin From the Earth to Mars Tribute

Over 100 space workers from the Mercury era attended the Alan Shepard ceremony and posed for a group photo on the 50th anniversary of the historic flight. Credit: Ken Kremer
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Ken Kremer
chat following the 50th Anniversary memorial event recreating Alan Shepard’s first manned spaceflight by an American astronaut. Bolden is a former astronaut and flew 4 times on the Space Shuttle and helped deploy the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: Ken Kremer
Apollo 16 Moonwalker Charlie Duke and Ken Kremer speak at Alan Shepard ceremony.
Credit: Ken Kremer
82-foot- tall replica of Mercury-Redstone rocket which blasted Alan Shepard to space 50 years ago on May 5, 1961 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Credit: Ken Kremer

Yuri Gagarin From the Earth to Mars Tribute

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50 Years ago, the dream of human spaceflight opened with the courageous blastoff of Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin inside the Vostok 1 spacecraft on April 12, 1961. Gagarin was the first person to orbit the Earth. Less than a month later on May 5. 1961, Astronaut Alan Shepard bravely set forth on America’s first human spaceflight – Freedom 7.

Barely three weeks afterward on May 25, 1961, these momentous events of the early Space Age led directly to Project Apollo and the historic announcement by President Kennedy that the United States “would land a man on the moon” by the end of the 1960’s.

In honor of Yuri Gagarin, NASA’s Opportunity Mars Rover explored a small and highly eroded crater dubbed “Vostok Crater” in 2005 during its journey in the Meridian Planum region on the Martian surface. Along the edge of the crater, researchers commanded Opportunity to use the Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT), to drill into a rock dubbed “Gagarin” on Sols 401 and 402 in March 2005.

Yuri Gagarin - first human in space. Credit: Russian Archives

I created the poster collage above as a tribute to the first human spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin and his legacy which eventually led to the exploration of Mars by the Spirit and Opportunity rovers

Opportunity landed on Mars on Jan. 24, 2004 for a planned 90 sol mission. By the time that Opportunity arrived at Vostok Crater, she had already lasted more than 4 times longer than expected and found that water existed on ancient Mars.

Opportunity is still alive today on Sol 2571, more than 28 times beyond its design lifetime !

Opportunity used its rock abrasion tool (RAT) on a rock named "Gagarin" during Sols 401 and 402 on Mars (March 10 and 11, 2005). This false-color image shows the circular mark created where the tool exposed the interior of the rock Gagarin at a target called "Yuri." The circle is about 4.5 centimeters (1.8 inches) in diameter. Gagarin is at the edge of a highly eroded, small crater that was named "Vostok" for the spacecraft that carried Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in the first human spaceflight, on April 12, 1961. This image combines exposures taken through three different filters by Opportunity's panoramic camera on Sol 405 (March 14, 2005). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./ASU

Scientists are using the data gathered from “Gagarin Rock” and other locations explored by Opportunity to help elucidate the history of the past flow of liquid water on the red planet and determine whether the wet environmental conditions could ever have supported martian microbial life – past or present.

“The 50th anniversary of mankind’s first fledgling foray into the cosmos should serve as an important reminder of the spirit of adventure and exploration that has propelled mankind throughout history,” said Mars rover science team member James Rice of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md, in a statement. “We are a species of explorers; it is encoded into our very DNA.”

“Half a century ago Yuri Gagarin was lofted into a totally unknown, remote and hostile environment and in doing so opened up a new limitless frontier of possibilities for mankind,” Rice added. “A mere 23 days later another brave human, Alan Shepard, climbed aboard a rocket and ventured into the starry abyss. Their courage and vision continue to inspire and lead us into the unknown. Hopefully, one day in the not too distant future it will lead humanity on a voyage to Mars.”

Many people, including myself, were inspired by the Space Race to become scientists and engineers and hope that continues for the next generation of students today.

Read more about Yuri Gagarin and Opportunity in my related stories:

Yuri Gagarin and Vostok 1 Photo Album – 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight
Countdown to Yuri’s Night and the 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight !
Stirring Video Tributes to Yuri Gagarin
Opportunity Rover Completes Exploration of fascinating Santa Maria Crater

Opportunity used its rock abrasion tool on a rock named "Gagarin" during the 401st and 402nd Martian days, or sols, of the rover's work on Mars (March 10 and 11, 2005). This image, taken by Opportunity's navigation camera on Sol 405 (March 14, 2005), shows the circular mark left on the rock. The circle is about 4.5 centimeters (1.8 inches) in diameter. At the end of the rover's arm, the tool turret is positioned with the rock abrasion tool pointing upward in this image. The abrasion target on the rock Gagarin was informally named "Yuri." Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Opportunity Traverse Map during 7 year long journey across Mars.
Map shows the long journey of Opportunity spanning the Meridiani Planum region from landing in Jan 2004 to recent stop at Santa Maria crater. Opportunity explored Vostok Crater in March 2005, about 1 year after landing as indicted by marker in yellow. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell Marco Di Lorenzo, Kenneth Kremer

Yuri Gagarin and Vostok 1 Photo Album – 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight

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50 Years ago on April 12,1961 the era of Human spaceflight opened with a roar to the heavens above with the thunderous blastoff of Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin aboard the Vostok 1 capsule from the Baikonur Cosmodrome Site No.1 at 9:07 a.m. Moscow time. Gagarin, at the age of 27, dared to brave the perils of the unknown and became the first human being to be strapped atop a rocket, ascend to outer space and view what no one else had ever seen, the entire Earth as a sphere. A bold and courageous test flight in every dimension. And the effects of weightlessness had only been tested on dogs – not people.

Herein is a picture album of significant launch day events, including three collages of rare photos of Yuri Gagarin climbing up the launch tower and boarding the Vostok 1 spacecraft for the historic liftoff of the first manned spaceflight on April 12, 1961.

Sergei Korolev, “Chief Designer” of the Soviet Space program radioed, “LIFT OFF! We wish you a good flight. Everything is all right.”

Yuri Gagarin in orbit
“Poyekhali!”, Gagarin replied “[Off we go!].”

“I see Earth! It is so beautiful!” Gagarin said from orbit. “I see rivers. Visibility is good.”

Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, put out a call for anyone interested in Yuri Gagarin and the birth of the human space exploration era to share their documents, photos and other information with the public – and the fabulous collages resulted from the response.

Do you have photos or memories of Gagarin ? Send them to Ken. Gagarin traveled widely as an ambassador of goodwill, bridging the dangerous ideological gulf between East and West during the height of the Cold War.

Gagarin’s flight lasted 108 minutes for a single orbit around the Earth. The mission was brought to a close with the de-orbit firing of the reentry rockets. Gagarin ejected from the capsule at 7 km altitude because the hard landing of the capsule was too dangerous for people. So he parachuted safely to the ground. April 12 has been celebrated as Cosmonautics Day in Russia every year since 1962. Vostok 1 was Gagarin’s only flight

Tragically, Gagarin’s life ended on March 27, 1968. He was flying a routine training mission in a MiG-15UTI fighter with flight instructor Vladimir Seryogin when the plane suddenly crashed near the town of Kirzhach. Gagarin was laid to rest in the wall of the Kremlin on Red Square.

In honor of this 50th anniversary of the dawn of Human spaceflight, a global network of over 444 Yuri’s Night parties are being staged worldwide on April 12, 2011 to celebrate one of the humankind’s greatest achievements – that’s double the number from 2010.

20 years after Gagarin’s flight, NASA’s first space shuttle blasted off on the STS-1 mission on April12, 1981.

You can join in the local Yuri’s Night festivities taking place in more than 70 countries from Afghanistan (visited by Gagarin in Dec. 1961) to Vietnam. Or join Ken in Princeton Junction, New Jersey for a free presentation about Gagarin’s flight and my behind the scenes look at the space shuttle and beyond.

Send Ken your “Yuri’s Night” event photos/report and any photos of Yuri Gagarin to publish at Universe Today. Email kremerken at yahoo dot com

Read Ken’s other stories about Yuri Gagarin and Yuri’s Night:
Countdown to Yuri’s Night and the 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight !
Stirring Video Tributes to Yuri Gagarin

Roscosmos website
Yuri’s Night Website
Yuri’s Night Party list
Yuri’s Night Party with Ken in Princeton Junction, NJ, USA
First Orbit Website
STS-1 NASA Mission Website
Ken Kremer

Yuri Gagarin - First Spaceman
On 12 April 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space, launched into orbit on the Vostok 3KA-3 spacecraft (Vostok 1). Credits: alldayru.com
Rollout and Erection of Vostok 1 Credits: alldayru.com
Yuri Gagarin suits up for launch
Yuri Gagarin seen dressing in a heating/cooling garment worn under his orange pressure suit. On 12 April 1961, Gagarin became the first human to travel into space, launched into orbit on the Vostok 3KA-3 spacecraft (Vostok 1). Credits: alldayru.com
Gagarin heads to the launch pad on April 12, 1961
Yuri Gagarin on the bus on the way to the launch pad with cosmonaut German Titov behind him. Titov was the back-up pilot who later became pilot of Vostok 2. Credit: NASA
Rare Photos of Yuri Gagarin and Vostok 1 Launch on April, 12, 1961 – First Human Spaceflight.
Collage of rare photos of Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin boarding Vostok 1 spacecraft and historic launch of first manned spaceflight on April 12, 1961 from Baikonur Cosmodrome Site No.1 at 9:07 a.m. Moscow time (607 UTC), Soviet Union. Gagarin is greeted by Oleg Ivanvosky who now works in the museum of Lavochkin R&D. Credits: Oleg Ivanvosky/ Evgeny A. Sivukhin/Lavochkin R&D/Roscosmos
Rare Photos of Yuri Gagarin and Vostok 1 Launch on April, 12, 1961 – First Human Spaceflight.
Collage of rare photos of Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin boarding Vostok 1 spacecraft and historic launch of first manned spaceflight on April 12, 1961 from Baikonur Cosmodrome Site No.1 at 9:07 a.m. Moscow time (607 UTC), Soviet Union. Gagarin is greeted by Oleg Ivanvosky who now works in the museum of Lavochkin R&D. Credits: Oleg Ivanvosky/ Evgeny A. Sivukhin/Lavochkin R&D/Roscosmos
Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin strapped inside Vostok 1 capsule on April 12, 1961
Launch of Yuri Gagarin and Vostok 1 on 12 April 1961 opens Era of Human Spaceflight
Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to journey into outer space by launching to orbit aboard Vostok 1.
Vostok 1 Landing
Here the reentry capsule of the Vostok 3KA-3 spacecraft (Vostok 1) is seen with charring and its parachute on the ground after landing south west of Engels, in the Saratov region of southern Russia. Gagarin ejected from the capsule at 7 km altitude and parachuted safely to the ground. Credits: alldayru.com
Stamps published to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Gagarin's mission. Credit: Roscosmos

Countdown to Yuri’s Night and the 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight !

Celebrate Yuri’s Night on April 12, 2011 -- 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight
On April 12, 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (left, on the way to the launch pad) became the first human in space, making a 108-minute orbital flight in his Vostok 1 spacecraft.
Newspapers like The Huntsville Times (right) trumpeted Gagarin's accomplishment.
Credit: NASA
Send Ken your Yuri’s Night event reports and photos

Mark your calendars. April 12, 2011 marks the 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight and Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s astonishing First Orbit of our precious planet Earth on April 12, 1961. Gagarin was the first human to enter outer space and see what no one else had ever witnessed – our commonly shared Earth as a planet and beautiful blue globe with no borders.

Space enthusiasts worldwide are celebrating this watershed moment in Human history at a network of over 400 “Yuri’s Night” parties taking place in more than 70 countries on 6 continents and 2 worlds, according to the official “Yuri’s Night” website.

Gagarin’s flight took place in the midst of the inflammatory Cold War rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States and shocked the world into new realities. The Space Race led to the first lunar landing by the United States and Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moons surface in 1969. Eventually, the world’s superpowers beat swords into plowshares and united their efforts to build the International Space Station.

Yuri Gagarin - first human in space. Credit: Russian Archives
Yuri Gagarin was the first person to boldly leave the bonds of Earth’s gravity and thus became the first “Spaceman”. Gagarin blasted off inside the bell-shaped Vostok 1 spaceship from the launch pad at Baikonur at 9:07 a.m, Moscow time (607 UTC) to begin the era of human spaceflight.

Gagarin flew around the Earth in a single orbit at an altitude of 302 kilometers (187 miles). The flight lasted 108 minutes and safely ended when he descended back and parachuted to the ground, just north of the Caspian Sea. At the age of 27, Gagarin was instantly transformed into a worldwide hero. After the momentous flight he soon embarked on an international tour.

20 years later on April 12, 1981, NASA’s first space shuttle blasted off on the STS-1 mission on a daring test flight with astronauts John Young and Bob Crippen strapped inside Space Shuttle Columbia.

Russian postcard featuring Yuri Gagarin

The first “Yuri’s Night – World Space Party” was held on April 12, 2001 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Gagarin’s spaceflight. Over 10,000 people attended 64 events located worldwide. The goal was to inspire people, increase awareness and support for space exploration across the globe and foster the spread of new ideas to broaden our access to space.

“Yuri’s Night” has been growing in popularity every year. Events range in size from a few folks to numbers in the thousands. Attendees range from astronauts and cosmonauts, NASA and global space agency officials and reps, scientists and engineers, famous actors, playwrights, writers, artists, athletes and musicians to just everyday folks and kids of all ages and backgrounds. Everyone can get involved.

Yuri Gagarin in orbit
In honor of the 50th anniversary of Gagarin’s flight, documentary film maker Christopher Riley conceived and created a film titled “First Orbit” to try and show the approximate view of Earth that Gagarin actually saw. There is only scant footage of Gagarin’s actual flight and he himself took no pictures of the Earth from orbit.

“First Orbit” recreates much of the view of the Earth’s surface that Gagarin would have seen fifty years ago. Mostly he flew over the world oceans as well as the Soviet Union and Africa.

Riley collaborated with the astronauts aboard the International Space Station, chiefly Paolo Nespoli of ESA, who took film footage from the new 7 windowed Cupola as the station matched the actual flight path of Gagarin and Vostok 1 as closely as possible. The free film celebrates 50 years of human spaceflight.

“First Orbit” premiers worldwide on YouTube in a special global streaming event for Yuri’s Night on April 12 . Watch the short trailer below, with original and stirring music by Philip Sheppard.

Orbital flight path of Yuri Gagarin and Vostok 1 on April 12, 1961
Gagarin’s call sign was Cedar or Kder - which means Siberian Pine in Russian. Map courtesy of Sven Grahn

It’s easy and free to register your local party at the Yuri’s Night event website. There is still time to register your Yuri’s Night party – Indeed the list has grown as I typed out this story !

Some events are already set to kick off this weekend. I’ll be presenting at an interactive and free Yuri’s Night evening event in Princeton Junction, New Jersey, about Gagarin’s flight and my experiences with the space shuttle and what‘s beyond.

Send Ken your “Yuri’s Night” event photos/short report to post in a round up story at Universe Today about the global festivities celebrating the historic achievement of Yuri Gagarin. Email kremerken at yahoo dot com

First Orbit Trailer II

Russian built Mini Research Module MRM-1 launched aboard US Space Shuttle Atlantis in May 2010.
Shuttle Atlantis delivered MRM-1 (known as Rassvet) to the International Space Station.
MRM-1 undergoes final prelaunch processing inside clean room at Astrotech Space Operations Facility in Florida. Docking port to ISS is protected by red colored covering. Equipment airlock for experiments at top. Russian Flag mounted at left.
Rassvet underscores the cooperation that exists today, in stark contrast to their rivalry during the Cold War. Russia, the United States, Europe, Japan and Canada have now united their space exploration efforts to build the International Space Station. The worlds space powers cooperate in other space exploration projects today as well that venture to the Moon, Mars and beyond to Deep Space. Credit: Ken Kremer

Read Ken’s other stories about Yuri Gagarin and Yuri’s Night:
Yuri Gagarin and Vostok 1 Photo Album – 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight
Stirring Video Tributes to Yuri Gagarin

Yuri’s Night Website
Yuri’s Night Party list
Yuri’s Night Party with Ken in Princeton Junction, NJ, USA
First Orbit Website
STS-1 NASA Mission Website
Ken Kremer