This Day in History: May 5th, 1961 – First American Astronaut in Space

By: CBS News
By: CBS News

On this day in history, May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard Jr., 37, of the US Navy became the first US Astronaut to go into space.

He rode a Project Mercury capsule 115 miles in a suborbital flight and came back to earth safely.

The Mercury Capsule, dubbed the "Freedom 7," weighed 2,300 pounds and was launched at 9:34am est from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The "Freedom 7" reached a maximum speed of 5,100 mph and landed in the Atlantic ocean 15 minutes after takeoff, some 302 miles from the launch site.

Shepard experienced about 5 minutes of weightlessness and suffered no adverse physical effects from the the flight.

This flight was the US Answer to the USSR Launching of Yuri Gagarin into space on April 12, 1961. Gagarin was the first man in space.

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