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Slideshow: 50th Anniversary of the First American in Space

By History.com Staff
Fifty years ago today, Alan Shepard became the first American and the second person to fly into space. A U.S. Marine Corps officer and former military test pilot, he underwent a rigorous recruitment process in 1959, becoming one of seven astronauts selected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to participate in Project Mercury, the United States’ first manned spaceflight program. In January 1961 Shepard was chosen to pilot the first expedition. The Freedom 7 mission, also known as Mercury-Redstone 3, launched on May 5, 1961, three weeks after the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to reach space and orbit the Earth. Later in his career, Shepard served in administrative roles at NASA before commanding Apollo 14 in January and February of 1971. The fifth person to walk on the moon, he created an indelible image of the mission by driving two golf balls off the lunar surface to demonstrate the effects of low gravity. Shepard died in 1998 at age 74.

Slideshow: Alan Shepard’s Historic Spaceflight

Categories: Space