Nasa / Space

Gallery: America's first small step into space - 50 years ago

If Alan Shepard's space flight took place today, it might have ended up on a reality TV show like Mythbusters, Jackass, or even Dirty Jobs. They took a pilot, put him in a funny-looking metalic suit, strapped him into a heavy metal box, attached the box to the top of a guided missile, launched it, and then watched how far it would go.

On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard was the pilot who became the first American to escape Earth's atmosphere. He spent 15 minutes in space, reached a peak altitude of 116 miles and traveled at a top speed of 5,180 miles per hour.

A Redstone, similar to the one above, was converted from a ballistic missile into the Mercury-Redstone rocket that propelled Shepard into space.

Read Larry Dignan's post about the IT behind Shepard's flight.

14 comments
joeller
joeller like.author.displayName 1 Like

I hate to tell you but it is the ignoring of the "Greenies" that will lead to the extinction of humanity. If they had continued to listen to us when Nixon signed the Clean Water Act of 1972 because America's rivers would catch fire every summer, and the Clean Air act because people were dying in California because America's air was too foul to breath, then America, the Land of Opportunity, would be leading the world in green technology instead of being a Johnny-Come-Lately to a field where we trail the rest of the industialized world by decades. A whole lot of this green technology was was based on information we acquired as a result of OUR Space program (Satellite surveillance and GEOS) or we developed to assist in OUR space program, (Apollo, life support for space ships and stations, fuel cells, solar cells). Now everyone else is making money hand over fist using OUR knowledge, while we cater to our polluting big companies that don't want to come into the twenty-first century. So now, instead of being a technological leader in this field we pioneered, we are on a lower level than the developing countries of Asia. So now, instead of making progress towards resolving climate change, there is essentially no hope of stopping it, which will eventually lead to wars over water and food, and eventually global nuclear war. It is so sad. We had the chance and blew it.

DHOLYER
DHOLYER

I've always disliked the phrase 'Space The Last Frontier'. To me it imply's that there is nothing after that. I like 'the next frontier' or 'our future frontier' or some thing simple like Humanities frontier. Even tho the Greenies do not intend to do any thing but empower themselves while they drain American power. It is true Earth will not last forever. So with out space we become extinct, and as all confined mammals that are confined develop into, versions of rabid animals. This is a flaw in mammals, and how the brain is structured. The evidence was reveled as a summary of the development of life shown on the prime Discovery channel in the 1990's. Not as one show but a cumulative summary of about a decade of shows.

DHOLYER
DHOLYER

On my second birthday May 25th, 1962, JFK gave the nation a big gift. He assigned NASA's destiny for the remainder of the Decade. The then President sent us to land on the Moon by the end of the decade. So in a little more than 7 years we reached our goal. The sad part was NASA was aimed to return by 2019. The sad part is on 1/15/2010 the then current President using the the motivation of been there do that already, lets go for Mars. I could have a biased view due to the fact that my brother works at Lockheed Martian. He was an Electrical Engineer at the Denver Plant was designing the Orion Command Capsule. Which since it was mostly finished the capsule was reassinged to become the ISS lifeboat or rescue return capsule to safely return the ISS occupants to Earth if the worse shall happen to the ISS. From conversing with my brother and his fellow Lockheed Martian employees, they had a long term plan for our future in space. First a Moon colony , then after we has experiance of living and colonizing living in Space. Humanity will have gained the experience of what it takes to live and build in Space. Then humanity would aim for Mars and using the materials from the Moon Colony's and the Moon it's self to build colony's on Mars. From there the next destiny would be the asteriods for building materials. This would be around 2050 or so and from there we could explore the rest of the Sol Solar System. By the end of the 21st Century we will have reached the Ort Cloud and then in the 22nd Century we would start aiming for the stars. The most promising part of exploring our solar system is we are just now starting to toy with ION engines to replace our chemical trust rockets we use now. The flaw with chemical rockets is you have to bring your own multi tons of chemical fuel. ION engines still need fuel and energy but those sources can be found in much denser states (i.e. Solar, Atomic, Gaseous Planets...).

joeller
joeller

Reading of Lockheed's plan makes me feel I am reading Heinlein's or Niven's future history. That was the vision we had back in the sixties for space exploration with the preliminary step of a Space Station. (ever watch 2001 A Space Odessy?) Instead it was the Soviets who spent money and time learning to build a Space Station and sending landers to other planets. We on the other hand have spend billions of dollars on four wars, and five "peace keeping" interventions, as well as many billions of dollars placing obsolete battleships back into commission, building new missiles to destroy the world 100 times over instead of 20 times over, and trying to create a star wars platform. Instead of learning how to get along with our fellow man we've been spending money on learning how to kill each other more efficiently. Siiiigghhhh. Maybe we should just have a Malthusian catastrophe and start all over again.

joeller
joeller

This was our first gradual step to "one giant leap for mankind" I was eight years old and watched the launch on TV through all the holds and postponements, through the entire flight and spash down. This experience was repeated for every other Mercury and Gemini flight, whether in school, or at home, because it was considered an educational experience for the kids. As a result a large proportion of my class went on to become engineers, scientists, and technical workers. And even those that didn't go on to college, still have a greater understanding of physics, the laws of motion and orbital mechanics than you find most college graduates today. (My niece did not even take high school physics and she was considered an advanced student.) Now children are being taught how to pass tests instead of how and why to learn about science, and technology, and being taught how to think. The competition with the Soviets caused us to spend the time and money that this endeavor deserved instead of the skimping and penny pinching that goes on today. This expenditure rebounded as a great economic boom due to the development of new technologies in miniaturization of computers and electronics. Companies like Oracle, Microsoft, Apple, Sony, and many others can look back to the technological advances made in this effort as the source of their modern day success. Most of you reading this can thank the space race for your job now. Then we won the race and cut spending and went straight into a recession, and as well into a retreat from space. Except for Voyager and Viking, most of the deep space ventures were carried out by the Soviets as well as the development of space station technology. And despite all of the triumphs we have seen since then, we are still decades behind where in 1961 we thought we would be now. Stasioc blames "socialist politicians" for this due to spending on social programs. (Are you suggesting an end Medicare and Social Security, the 2nd biggest source of expenditures besides the DoD? Or maybe just abolish the military all together the biggest source?) When all the social programs that eat up so much of the national budget were put into place, our nation was the richest in the world, but with one of the highest poverty rates in the world. People were rioting in the streets. If these "Socialist" programs had not be put into place we may have won the space race, but the Communists would have won the ensuing revolution. Since we proved we could both feed our people while putting a man on the moon, we were able to prove the superiority of our system and start the process of consigning Communism to "the dustbin of history". So at this time of celebration of American achievement let's not engage in the partisan name calling that has characterized politics recently and lets not make statements without getting all the facts. Let us celebrate the past and move forward together.

DOSlover
DOSlover

Yuri Gagarin had already been there and so started the biggest waste of public money for the sake of national posturing. The real issue was that both the Soviet and US programs were built on the work of the Nazi's at Peenemunde. They were the first to put a man made object into space and no one else would have got there when they did without those technicians, who were welcomed by both sides, despite their means to an end. Let's talk about Gerald Bull. Now there was a ground breaker to get things into space!

terry.sanderson
terry.sanderson

"When Shepard had to urinate at one point, a completely unplanned event, he was told to just go." You might have added "in his suit".

BobYoung61
BobYoung61

I was in the U.S. Air Force at the time going through Jupiter IRBM missile training at Redstone Arsenal at Huntsville, AL. In the big hangar next to our training hangar was the Redstone missile being used to troubleshoot any problem that Sheppard might have in his short flight. There was magic in the air and we were there. Really a fantastic time!

stasioc
stasioc like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

I was just 6 years old and so proud and involved with everything that "was space". Look at us now,,, we have completely withdrawn from future exploration because of the spendaholic bad choises we have made at the voting booth. We deserve to be "3rd" or worse now. We should be ashamed of ourselves for allowing this to happen. we are so much a nanny state now. Now that we have withdrawn from the space program, we will be PAYING other nations to hitch a ride there... SHAME ON US, WAKE UP! LETS TAKE OUR COUNTRY BACK FROM THESE DIRTY CORRUPT SOCIALIST POLITICIANS. We need to get our pride and leadership back out of the pawn shop!!!

rfolden
rfolden

... it's already been sold to China. In addition, (which is what you were/are trying to say, I think...) we have gone from a nation of "doers" to a nation of "managers." We couldn't manufacture a widget now unlesss we out-sourced the labor to Haiti.

skepticat
skepticat

I know plenty of Americans that would love to do this kind of work, but they're stuck in low wage service jobs because manufacturing jobs are not available. The problem is our grossly overpaid executives and the two corrupt political parties they own. The only thing they're competent at is channeling as much money out of our paychecks and into their offshore bank accounts as possible. If you don't like what we've become, then stop voting for the people the brought us here: Republicans and Democrats. Find a party that represents you, and get involved.

bbbaldie_z
bbbaldie_z

What a badass! I'm going to have to dig out my copy of The Right Stuff and read it again.

ajeskin
ajeskin

You're so right! Those guys were real role models -- real pilots, adventurers & explorers of one of the last frontiers. I remember watching a clip from the press conference introducing the "Mercury Astronauts," and later, Shepard's suspenseful 15-minute joyride into space. I don't think many people today appreciate the true "awesomeness" of what they did -- especially Shepard, who was first to go. It was a HUGE risk -- but we didn't rest on our laurels after that. America was energized, and continued to explore, create, and invent. I think we've become too comfortable now & have lost our sense of wanting to know more about "what's out there."

cfc1900
cfc1900

Despite all the bs we heard at the time about the Russians using primitive technology, they were, and arguably still are, ahead of the US.