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Mercury Redstone 3

"You're on your way, José!" This is a photo of the launch of Mercury Redstone 3.  It was autographed for me in person by Alan Shepard on the 30th anniversary of his flight In Washington, DC.  Photo Credit: NASA
Launch Of Mercury Redstone 3The prestige of the United States was on the line. The Soviet Union had launched the first man into space with Vostok 1 on April 11, 1961. His flight lasted for one orbit of the Earth.  The cosmonaut's name was Yuri Gagarin. Gagarin became an instant hero of the Soviet Union.

A few weeks later on May 5, 1961, the United States responded. Alan B. Shepard, Jr. became the first American in space.  Mercury Redstone 3 was launched on a suborbital flight at 9:34 AM Eastern Standard Time.

At the moment of liftoff capsule communicator Deke Slayton called to Shepard, "You're on your way, José!" Shepard responded, "Roger; liftoff, and the clock has started".

’José’ was a reference to comic astronaut character José Jimenez.  Jimenez was a fictitious character performed by popular comedian Bill Dana.

At 4 minutes and 5 seconds into the flight Shepard commented about his view of the Earth,
"On the periscope, what a beautiful view.  Cloud cover over Florida.  3 to 4 tenths near the Eastern coast.  Obscured up to Hatteras."

During the launch phase of the flight, the acceleration subjected Astronaut Shepard to a force of 6.3 g's.  One g is the normal force of gravity at the surface of the Earth.

At 4 minutes and 44 seconds into the flight it was time to test the retro rockets.  Shepard reported, "Start retro sequence.  Retro attitude on green.  Control is smooth. Retro one very smooth. Retro two. Retro three.  All three retros are fired."

At 8 minutes and 4 seconds into the flight the g forces due to deceleration from reentering the Earth's atmosphere started to build up. 
Shepard radioed, "Okay - This is Freedom Seven.  G build-up 3, 6, 9.  Okay - Okay.  Okay. Okay.  This is Seven - Okay."  As the g forces were building, the strain in Shepard's voice and the discomfort he was feeling were obvious.  The g forces peaked and then tapered off.

At 8 minutes and 51 seconds, Shepard reported his altitude as the capsule descended, "45,000 feet now.  40,000 feet.  I'm back on ASCS. 35,000 feet.  30,000 feet."

At 9 minutes and 39 seconds into the flight, Shepard reported the deployment of his drogue parachute and status of consumables, "The drogue is green at 21,000.  I've got 70 percent auto - 90 percent manual.  Oxygen is still Okay."

It was time for the main parachute to come out and at 10 minutes and 8 seconds into the flight Shepard radioed, "Standing by for main.  Main on green. Main is reefed.  Main chute is green.  Main chute is coming unreefed and it looks good.  Main chute is good.  Rate of descent is about 35 feet per second."

At 12 minutes and 45 seconds, Shepard reported his status once again, "Ahh, this is Seven.  Relay back to CapCom please.  My altitude now is 4,000 feet, condition as before, the main chute is good, the landing bag is deployed, the peroxide has dumped."

At 15 minutes and 5 seconds, Shepard called, "Just relaying my condition is still good.  I'm getting ready for impact."  At 15 minutes and 22 seconds, Freedom Seven contacted the surface of the ocean - splashdown.

Compared with Gagarin's flight, Shepard's flight had a meager duration of mere minutes.. 
Freedom 7 splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean.  Astronaut Shepard and his spacecraft had traveled approximately 303 miles from their launch pad.

The primary recovery ship for Alan Shepard and Freedom 7 was the USS Lake Champlain.

Even though MR-3 did not orbit the Earth, it proved to the world that the United States would not concede this new frontier to the Soviets. Symbolic of the struggle between communism and the free world, Shepard named his Mercury spacecraft Freedom 7.

On May 25, 1961 when President Kennedy challenged America to go to the Moon, the total sum of American manned spaceflight experience was 15 minutes and 22 seconds.  Kennedy's challenge of landing on the Moon within a decade was bold indeed.

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UPDATED : September 20, 2008
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