Check out this excellent video of Alan Shepard’s sub-orbital hop aboard Freedom 7, as he became America’s first man in space on this date in 1961.
Many thanks to Matthew Travis for putting this together. As you can see, Travis took the on-board cameras, synced them to the mission audio, and added some animation to show the spacecraft’s attitude during the 12-minute flight.
The full audio loop is outstanding to listen to. You can hear Shepard’s back-and-forth with his CAPCOM (and good friend) Deke Slayton clearly throughout.
Also interesting is the view of Shepard’s console, where you can see the step-by-step tests he had to carry out in the minimal time he had in flight, including testing the manual controls for the Mercury capsule, observation experiments using the periscope (“What a beautiful view!”), and monitoring the spacecraft’s automatic controls.
Shepard’s flight was met with great fanfare, although in retrospect, it wasn’t much of a technical leap. His maximum altitude was 101.25 nautical miles, while Yuri Gagarin’s Vostok 1 flight just a few weeks earlier achieved a maximum height of 177 nautical miles.
After Freedom 7, Shepard would not fly again until Apollo 14 in 1971. He and Slayton ran the Astronaut Office throughout the Gemini and Apollo programs after both were grounded (Slayton with an irregular heartbeat, Shepard with Minear’s Disease).
Above all, Shepard was a pilot’s pilot. It’s worth spending the 90 minutes and listening to this interview with Shepard from C-SPAN about his career:
As the title implies, this was Shepard’s last interview. He died of Leukemia in 1998, not long after this video was shot.
Interestingly, Shepard does discuss how he nearly made one final orbital Mercury flight to close out the program (Freedom 7-II), but was vetoed by NASA head James Webb and President Kennedy.
It may be Cinco de Mayo, but around here, May 5th is Alan Shepard’s day.