National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) marked the 60th anniversary of the first mission to send an astronaut to space on Wednesday. On May 5, 1961, Alan B. Shepard became the first American in space as he climbed 188 km above Earth, during a suborbital flight aboard his Mercury capsule named Freedom 7.
Alan’s successful mission to reach the impressive height motivated the then US President John F. Kennedy to ask NASA to work on achieving a lunar landing before the end of the decade. Alan’s achievement came at a time when both the United States and the erstwhile Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) were involved in the space race. The two countries were trying to establish their supremacy in the field of astronomy.
60 years ago today, astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American to travel in space, climbing ~116 miles (188 km) above Earth! Shortly after, President John F. Kennedy committed the United States to a lunar landing before the end of the decade: https://t.co/1syroEq84g pic.twitter.com/TO1GtAUgZA— NASA (@NASA) May 5, 2021
To ace this race the US initiated Project Mercury in 1958 to put the first American into space and created its first group of astronauts in 1959 who began training for the mission. Similarly, even the Soviet Union began their own human spaceflight program and selected a team of 20 cosmonauts in 1960. The first round of the space race was won by the Soviets when cosmonaut Yuri A. Gagarin completed a single orbit around the Earth aboard his Vostok capsule on April 12, 1960. However, Americans went a step ahead and sent man to Moon with Apollo 11 that landed on July 20, 1969.
NASA’s Project Mercury was created with three goals in mind. The first goal was orbiting a crewed spacecraft, the second was investigating human’s ability to function in space, and lastly safely recovering both spacecraft and crew members. To execute this plan, NASA got the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation of St Louis to build the Mercury spacecraft. According to NASA, their Initial plan was to call for up to seven early suborbital flights launched on Redstone rockets to test the single-seat spacecraft, followed by Earth orbital missions using the more impactful Atlas booster. There were some launch failures in the beginning but the team did manage to send Alan to earth’s orbit.
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