May 3, 2011
Freedom 7’s 50th Anniversary
Thursday, May 5th will mark the 50th anniversary of Freedom 7 the first American manned sub-orbital space flight with Astronaut Alan Shepard aboard.
Coming only 23 days after Yuri Gagarin’s 88 minute 3 orbital flight, Shepard’s flight was, nevertheless, history making. Gagarin was merely a passenger in his capsule while Shepard had the ability to manuever his Freedom 7 capsule. The Russian mission was conducted in secrecy, Freedom 7’s flight was witnessed as it happened on radio and television. I vividly recall bringing a portable transistor radio to school in order that I would be able to follow the mission.
After the success of Freedom 7 Shepard became Chief of NASA’s Astronaut Office, was grounded for several years with an inner ear problem but he regained flight status in the spring of 1969 following surgery to repair the problem.
In 1970 Deke Slayton, Chief of Flight Crew Operations for NASA designated Shepard as Commander of the Apollo 14 mission to the Moon. Along with lunar module pilot Edgar Mitchell and command module pilot Stuart Roosa, Shepard made his second and final spaceflight in January, 1971. One of the last things Shepard did while on the lunar surface at Fra Mauro was to tee off two golf balls. The first was a chip shot which landed in a nearby crater. The second traveled “miles and miles” according to Shepard.