NASA / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY NASA / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
The first American in space. Astronaut Alan Shepard sits in the capsule of his Mercury spacecraft, just before launch. Shepard was the first American in space, making a sub-orbital flight of 15 minutes 22 seconds on 5 May 1961. This flight was launched 23 days after Gagarin's historical orbital flight, much to the chagrin of America. Shepard's craft, named Freedom 7, reached an altitude of 187.5km, a speed of 8336 km/h and landed in the Atlantic Ocean 486km from launch. He was weightless for about 5 minutes of the flight, experiencing forces of 6g on take-off and 11g on re-entry. Shepard later flew to the Moon on Apollo 14 in 1971.
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