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
moment of liftoff capsule communicator
Deke Slayton called to Shepard, "You're
on your way,
Shepard responded, "Roger; liftoff, and the clock has
’José’ was a reference to comic astronaut character José
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
what a beautiful view. Cloud cover over Florida. 3 to 4
tenths near the Eastern coast. Obscured up to Hatteras."
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
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
minutes and 4 seconds into the flight the g forces due to
deceleration from reentering the Earth's atmosphere started to build
- 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.
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.
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
The primary recovery ship for Alan Shepard and Freedom 7 was the USS
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.