Thursday, May 5, 2011

Alan Shepard: The First American in Space

On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard piloted the Freedom 7 mission and became the second person, and the first American, to travel into space. He was launched on a Redstone rocket, and unlike Gagarin's 108-minute orbital flight, Shepard stayed on a ballistic trajectory - a 15-minute suborbital flight which carried him to an altitude of 116 statute miles (187 km) and to a splashdown point 302 statute miles (486 km) down the Atlantic Missile Range. Unlike Gagarin, whose flight was strictly automatic, Shepard had some control of Freedom 7. He made his second space flight as commander of Apollo 14 from January 31-February 9, 1971, America's third successful lunar landing mission. Shepard piloted the Lunar Module Antares to the most accurate landing of the entire Apollo program.

Following Apollo 14, Shepard returned to his position as Chief of the Astronaut Office in June. He was promoted to rear admiral before retiring both from the Navy and NASA on August 1, 1974. He died of leukemia near his home in Pebble Beach, California on July 21, 1998. Alan Shepard was a true American Hero.

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