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The Daily Need

Photo: The 15-minute flight

Alan Shepard in the Mercury capsule, "Freedom 7" before launch in 1961. Photo: NASA

On this day 50 years ago, Navy test pilot Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr. became the first American astronaut to travel into space. He launched aboard the Freedom 7 space capsule and made a 15-minute suborbital flight. Just weeks before, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had become the first human in space when he orbited the Earth for 108 minutes.

Several delays before launch forced Shepard to remain in the capsule for more than four hours. Tired of waiting, he urged the mission controllers to “fix your little problem and light this candle.”

According to the book “Failure Is Not an Option,” written by a member of the mission control team, Gene Kranz, when reporters asked Shepard what he thought about as he sat atop the Redstone rocket waiting for liftoff, he replied, “The fact that every part of this ship was built by the low bidder.”

The flight was successful nevertheless, and here is a totally awesome NASA depiction of the entire mission:

Image: NASA

A few days ago on May 2, 2011, NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity took pictures of a crater on the Martian surface that measures about 25 meters in diameter. The crater has been informally named “Freedom 7” and is believed to be the result of an impact that happened about 200,000 years ago.

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