Alan Shepard and MESSENGER Stamps Unveiled at Kennedy Space Center Ceremony

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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – 50 Years ago this week, Alan B. Shepard became the first American to be launched into space. Shepard blasted off on May 5, 1961 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA and the US Postal Service honored Shepard’s historic achievement today (May 4) at an Official First-Day-of-Issue dedication ceremony at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Alan Shepard was one of the seven Project Mercury astronauts – who will be collectively known for all eternity as – “The Original 7”.

The US Postal Service simultaneously released two new 44 cent Forever Stamps at today’s commemoration, which bookend two historic space achievements – Shepard’s inaugural manned spaceflight aboard the Mercury capsule and NASA’s unmanned MESSENGER mission which recently became the first probe from Earth to achieve orbit about the Planet Mercury.

Alan Shepard and MESSENGER First-Day-of-Issue Stamp dedication ceremony at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on May 4, 2011. Alan Shepard is the only American astronaut to be honored with his image on a US postal stamp. Credit: Ken Kremer

Fellow Mercury Astronaut Scott Carpenter attended the ceremony and unveiled the stamps along with Steve Masse, United States Postal Service Vice President of Finance at the Rocket Garden at the KSC Visitor Complex.

Mercury Astronaut Scott Carpenter poses in front of a Mercury Atlas rocket at the Rocket Garden at KSC. Carpenter was propelled to space by the Atlas rocket as the 2nd American to orbit the Earth on May 24, 1962. Credit: Ken Kremer

“Today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of many, many important issues, among them is the first steps from the home planet that were taken by the family of man,” said Carpenter.

Although Shepards suborbital flight aboard the one man “Freedom 7” Mercury capsule lasted barely 15½ minutes, the flight ignited America’s Moon landing effort and propelled American Astronaut Neil Armstrong to become the first human to set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969 during the Apollo 11 mission – one of the crowning technological achievements of the 20th Century.

The success of “Freedom 7” emboldened President John F. 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.

“That was largely a response to Alan’s success,” Carpenter told the crowd of assembled officials, journalists and visitors. Also on hand for the stamp dedication was Shepard’s daughter Laura Shepard Churchly; Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator and former shuttle astronaut; Bob Cabana, KSC Director and former shuttle astronaut; and Jim Adams, NASA deputy director, Planetary Science.

“A decision was made not to put 44 cents on the stamp, but it is forever,” Carpenter emphasized. “It is appropriate to the time we should honor and remember Alan B Shepard and Freedom 7.”

Alan Shepard display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Credit: Ken Kremer

Shepard’s tiny capsule measured just six feet by six feet, reached a maximum speed of 5,100 MPH, roughly eight times the speed of sound, and a zenith of 116 miles above the Earth. Freedom 7 was bolted atop a Redstone rocket that generated only 78,000 pounds of thrust, followed a ballistic arc and landed 300 miles down range in the ocean.

“These stamps, which will go out by the millions across this country, are a testament to the thousands of NASA men and women who shared dreams of human spaceflight and enlarging our knowledge of the universe,” said Bolden.
Shepard’s flight and MESSENGER both blasted off from launch pads quite close to one another at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station which is adjacent to the Kennedy Space Center.

Mercury Astronaut Scott Carpenter is applauded at tribute to Alan B. Shepard, first American in Space ceremony at the Rocket Garden at KSC on May 4, 2011. Credit: Ken Kremer

On Thursday May 5, watch for my on site coverage of NASA’s special ceremony marking the 50th Anniversary of Shepard’s milestone “Freedom 7” mission – and an interview with Scott Carpenter.

Shepard’s mission came barely three weeks after Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the Earth. The bold flights of these brave Cosmonauts and Astronauts – backed by a few insightful political leaders – began the Era of Human Spaceflight. As the shuttle program winds to a close, the future of US Human Spaceflight is very uncertain.

Read my related articles about Yuri Gagarin and the 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight:

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

NASA Administrator and former shuttle astronaut Charles Bolden praises Alan Shepard at KSC stamp unveiling ceremony on May 4, 2011. Credit: Ken Kremer

USPS Commemorates Spaceflight Past and Present

Postage stamps honoring Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard, America’s first man in space, and NASA’s MESSENGER probe, the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury, will be presented on May 4th at a public event taking place at the Aviation Heritage Park in Dayton, Ohio.

Alan Shepard poses in his pressure suit before his historic flight on May 5, 1961. Credit: NASA.

The first stamp salutes NASA’s Project Mercury, America’s first manned spaceflight program, and astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr.’s historic sub-orbital flight on May 5, 1961 aboard the spacecraft Freedom 7.

The other stamp highlights NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft currently exploring the planet Mercury. It successfully established orbit around the planet on March 18, 2011, the first spacecraft ever to do so.

These two historic missions frame a remarkable fifty-year period in which the U.S. has advanced space exploration through more than 1,500 manned and unmanned flights.

Both stamps were designed by professional artist Donato Giancola of Brooklyn, NY, who based the stamp designs on NASA photos and images.

Both stamps will be issued as “Forever Stamps” for use in mailing a one-ounce letter. Regardless of when the stamps are purchased and no matter how postage prices may change, these stamps will always be equal to the current First-Class Mail one-ounce price.

NASA's Mercury-Redstone 3 rocket, with Alan Shepard inside the Freedom 7 capsule, launches from Cape Canaveral on May 5, 1961. Credit: NASA.

Stamps are now available online at the US Postal Service store here.

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