After Hours

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.