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This Day in History, 1961: First American in Space

On May 5, 1961, forty-four years ago today, Navy Commander Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr. was launched into space from Cape Canaveral, Florida, 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.

(cf. http://www.historychannel.com/tdih/tdih.jsp?category=general&month=10272957&day=10272970 )

(Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Shepard)
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Off topic

Sorry, but reading this reminded me of my first hearing about a tradition that Yuri Gagarin started. It's mentioned in a short story by Dan Simmons, End of Gravity, I believe.. about Yuri needing to empty his bladder on the way to the liftoff and urinating on the tire of his bus, so every cosmonaut from then out would do the same.. rumors of why it was so long before there was a woman cosmonaut..


Re: Off topic

This isn't off-topic; and I've heard the story too.

December 2016

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