This day in history: The first American in space

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'This Day in History': 05/05/1961 - The First American in Space


On May 5, 1961, Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr. became the first American in space. He took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida aboard the Freedom 7 space capsule. His flight lasted 15 minutes and reached a height of 116 miles into the atmosphere, which was a major win for NASA at the time.

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Alan B. Shepard Jr. becomes first American in space - May 5, 1961
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This day in history: The first American in space
Mercury astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr., photographed April 1960. Alan Shepard died July 22, 1998. (Photo by NASA via Getty Images)
Astronaut Alan Shepard, being helped out to his space suit aboard carrier USS Lake Champlain, after successful sub-orbital flight, May 5, 1961. (AP Photo)
A thermometer in his mouth, Alan B. Shepard, Jr., watches as the astronaut's personal physician, Lt. Col. William K. Douglas, checks his blood pressure in Cape Canaveral, May 5, 1961. Shepard and his backup pilot, John H. Glenn, Jr., were given final physical examinations this morning at Cape Canaveral before Shepard took off on America's first manned space flight. (AP Photo)
A Marine helicopter lifts astronaut Alan Shepard from a Mercury capsule during a training session for a 'man in orbit' space shot. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
Alan Shepard, 37-year-old navy commander from East Derry, N. H., leaves NASA van to enter spacecraft, marking America’s first manned flight on May 5, 1961. This was more than a month after Russia's Yuri Gagarin's orbit of the earth. (AP Photo)
Mercury-Redstone rocket that transported Alan Shepard on May 5, 1961. (AP Photo)
In this May 5, 1961 file photo, astronaut Alan Shepard Jr. rests in his capsule awaiting his trip into space from Cape Canaveral, Fla. Shepard, who died in 1998, was one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts from the "Right Stuff" days of the early 1960s. Astronaut Scott Carpenter's death on Oct. 10, 2013 leaves John Glenn as the lone living member of the famed group. (AP Photo)
The pace capsule door is sealed at Cape Canaveral, May 5, 1961 for history making space flight by Alan B. Shepard, Jr. With his successful flight, Shepard became the first American to venture into outer space. (AP Photo)
Mercury-Redstone rocket that transported Alan Shepard into space being launched on May 5, 1961. (AP Photo)
There were many tense faces in the Redstone missile blockhouse at Cape Canaveral, May 5, 1961 during countdown for the manned space flight. Wearing glasses at upper right is Dr. Werner von Braun, father of the Redstone missile. It was the Redstone which tossed Alan B. Shepard's capsule on its historic space flight. (AP Photo)
Technicians at control panels prior to first rocket take-off tests will eventually take a man (Alan Shepard) on first U.S. Sub-Orbit Flight into space on May 5, 1961. (AP Photo)
Crowds peer across inlet toward Cape Canaveral missile test center waiting to catch a look at the launch in Cape Canaveral, Florida, May 5, 1961. The Redstone booster rocket successfully lofted Astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr., on its first United States manned space flight. (AP Photo)
An interior shot of the space capsule which took Alan B. Shepard, Jr., on America's first manned space flight from Cape Canaveral, May 5, 1961. Shepard reclined on couch in foreground; left center is a porthole, and above is the capsule's control panel. (AP Photo)
After down range landing, astronaut Alan shepard is hoisted aboard a recovery helicopter from his spaceship seen in the water below on May 5, 1961. He splashed down 302 miles out in the Atlantic after a trip 115 miles high. (AP Photo)
US astronaut Alan Shepard is lifted up to the helicopter after he splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean aboard the Mercury capsule on May 5, 1961. Alan Shepard became the first American astronaut to journey into space after a 15' 22'' suborbital flight. (NASA via AFP/Getty Images)
Astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr., the first American to journey into space, peers into his Freedom 7 space capsule after it is recovered from the Atlantic Ocean and taken aboard the aircraft carrier USS Lake Champlain, May 5, 1961. The Freedom 7 (MR-7) spacecraft was launched by a Redstone vehicle at 9:34 a.m. EST. Shepard's flight, return from space, the splashdown at sea and recovery were seen on television by millions of viewers around the world. (AP Photo)
Astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr., first American to be launched into space, flashes a smile at breakfast in Grand Bahama Islands on May 7, 1961. Shepard successfully completed his 15-minute suborbital flight 115 miles high in his capsule, Freedom 7, landing 302 miles downrange from his Cape Canaveral, Fla. launch site. (AP Photo)
While his wife watches proudly, Astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr. is presented the National Aeronautics and Space administration medal by President Kennedy at the White House on May 8, 1961. (AP Photo)
Navy Cmdr. Alan Shepard and his wife Louise return greetings to high-perched spectators during drive down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the Capitol in Washington on May 8, 1961. Police estimated that the crowd which turned out to honor America’s first man in space at 250,000 persons. At left is front seat is James Webb, director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. (AP Photo)
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