History: America Sends a Man into Space

The suborbital flight lasted only 15 1/2 minutes, but lifted American morale and made Alan Shepard a national hero. Uploaded by wikimedia.org.

His name was Alan Shepard, and he was the second man – and first American – into space. His flight took place on May 5, 1961.

The second man, because the USSR had sent up Yuri Gagarin less than a month earlier. The space race wasn’t a matter of dueling technologies, but of competing ideologies. For America, the challenge to beat the Russians into space paralleled the struggle to achieve political superiority over Communism.

Shepard safely completed his 15½ minute flight and became an instant hero. He had sat in a nose cone on top of a Redstone rocket and been exploded into the atmosphere. He received accolades, parades, and met President Kennedy. His successful mission motivated the President to appear before a joint session of Congress just a few weeks later and challenge the country to send a man to the moon “before this decade is out.”

Shepard went on to become the fifth man to walk on the moon. He’s the one who took the famous golf shot. By the way, when asked what he was thinking while sitting in the capsule waiting to be launched into space, he replied, “The fact that every part of this ship was built by the low bidder.”

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