Skip to main content

Photos: Freedom 7, America's 1st Human Spaceflight

The Trajectory


Fifty years ago on May 5, 1961 only 23 day after Yuri Gagarin of the then-Soviet Union became the first person in space, NASA astronaut Alan Shepard launched at 9:34 a.m. EDT aboard his Freedom 7 capsule powered by a Redstone booster to become the first American in space. His historic flight lasted 15 minutes, 28 seconds.

Put on Your Best Suit


Astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr., posing here in his Mercury flight suit, was born in New Hampshire in 1923. After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1944, he served in World War II and became a Navy test pilot. His May 5, 1961, launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a suborbital mission was the first U.S. manned spaceflight.

Let's Go For a Ride


Astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr. approaches his Freedom 7 capsule, ready to climb in for his historic launch on May 5, 1961.

NASA's First Spaceship: Project Mercury (Infographic)

Karl Tate/

See how the first American astronauts flew in space on NASA's Mercury space capsules in this infographic.

"Light This Candle"


Astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr. sits in his Freedom 7 Mercury capsule, ready for launch. Just 23 days earlier, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had become the first man in space. After several delays and more than four hours in the capsule, Shepard was ready to go, and he famously urged mission controllers to ''fix your little problem and light this candle."

Checking It Out


Astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr., peers into his Freedom 7 Mercury capsule before launch on the morning of May 5, 1961.

Have a Good Trip


Fellow Mercury astronaut Gus Grissom (in suit) wishes Shepard good luck as he gets set to climb into his Mercury capsule, dubbed Freedom 7, on the morning of May 5, 1961. Glenn looks on in the background.

I See Freedom 7 in the Air


The Redstone booster carrying Mercury astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr. lifts off from Cape Canaveral at 9:34 a.m. Eastern on May 5, 1961. His 15 minute sub-orbital flight lifted him to an altitude of over 116 miles and a maximum speed of 5,134 miles per hour. Shepard had become the first American in space.

Alan Shepard: First American in Space


NASA astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space on May 5, 1961 aboard his Mercury spacecraft Freedom 7.

Flames of Freedom 7


In this view, the Mercury-Redstone 3 (MR-3) spacecraft carrying Alan Shepard in Freedom 7 is already headed towards its suborbital maneuver, shortly after lifting off from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

A Whole New Way of Looking at the Day


Astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr. had a view of Earth that no American had seen before, looking down on the home planet from his history-making suborbital flight on May 5, 1961.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: