55 years ago today, at 9:35 a.m. EST on May 5, 1961, NASA astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr. became the first American to travel into space with the launch of his Freedom 7 vehicle atop a Mercury-Redstone rocket. Shepard reached an altitude of 116.5 miles during his 15-minute suborbital flight before splashdown in the Atlantic, setting the stage for the first orbital spaceflight by John Glenn on Feb. 20 of the next year and all future Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo lunar missions (the 14th of which Shepard was commander of in 1971.)
The video above by Matthew Travis shows Shepard’s historic flight from liftoff to splashdown with annotated views from the pad as well as from inside the Freedom 7 capsule, showing Shepard and his instrument panel.
The date of this important event is not coincidentally shared with the newly-dedicated National Astronaut Day, which celebrates America’s brave spacefaring heroes. (Do you have a favorite astronaut story? Share it in the comments below.)
Want to learn more about the inimitable Al Shepard? Check out Neal Thompson’s excellent biography Light This Candle — read my review here.