On 5 May 1961 Alan Shepard became the first American in space.
He was launched in his Freedom 7 capsule aboard a Redstone rocket in a sub-orbital flight that lasted less than 20 minutes.
Shepard's flight came just 23 days after Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet cosmonaut, had become the first human to fly in space when he completed an orbit of the Earth on 12 April 1961. Shepard's flight made him the second human in space.
Shepard was one of seven (7) Mercury Astronauts selected by NASA in April 1959 for the Mercury program.
Preparation for the first space flight included a test flight with a chimpanze named Han. NASA wanted to understand more about the biology of space travel.
The first space flight was about the unknown, particularly what effect space might have on the human body.
The Freedom 7 flight lasted 15 minutes and 28 seconds and reached an altitude of 116.5 miles.
Shepard's second spaceflight was as the commander of Apollo 14 which went to the Moon. Stuart Roosa and Edgar Mitchell were also on Apollo 14 and on February 15, 1971, Shepard and Mitchell landed on the moon.
Shepard was the fifth man to walk on the Moon, and one of only 12 astronauts in history to have stepped on the lunar surface.
Shepard died in 1998.
Alan Shepard, 1971, the fifth person to walk on the moon during Apollo 14. Image Credit: NASA