Thursday, May 5, 2011


On a warm, spring day in 1961 , the whole planet was focused on a sandy patch of Florida scrub land that juts into the Atlantic Ocean, called Cape Canaveral. It would,on that day, become America's gateway to the stars for three generations of space travelers,yet to come.

It had been only a few weeks since the Soviet Union launched Yuri Gagarin into orbit, and into history, as the first man in space on April 12, 1961.

The USA lost the first lap of the RACE FOR SPACE between Russia and America,the two global superpowers of the cold war era.

But now, as the countdown clock in mission control ticked toward lift-off, the hopes and prayers of this nation were focused on the intense, intelligent, mischievous, naval officer who was strapped into the claustrophobic confines of the tiny capsule that sat atop the quietly vibrating rocket.

The spacecraft was named FREEDOM 7. The vehicle on the launch pad was one of the first and most striking images of America's most challenging initiative, to date: the plan to put humans in space.

It was designated PROJECT MERCURY.

Even in the Florida heat , a veil of white ice formed along the sides of the Redstone missile, as liquid oxygen fuel vented

When the countdown reached "zero," the stubby craft carrying Alan B. Shepard Jr. streaked skyward, and he made America's first, sub-orbital space flight.

Shepard was one of the original Mercury Seven astronauts, all of whom were military test pilots selected for their agility, flight experience , mature demeanor and raw courage. As a group , they were also world class pranksters.

They became heroes and role models. They brought fruition to the age old dream of exploring the heavens.

Shepard,went on to become head of NASA's astronaut office ,and later walked on the moon as a part of Project Apollo. One other unique event took place on May 5th of 1961.On that day,network television also made history.

For the first time, television was there to cover one of the most daring and dangerous chapters in the American adventure. NBC, ABC & CBS allowed viewers to witness the electrifying birth of the manned spaceflight program on LIVE television.

Millions of people , here, and around the globe , were transfixed in front of their TVs as the silvery, monochrome images of the pencil-shaped, Redstone rocket roared aloft.

Cameras were in mission control to show the launch team and the technology that powered the launch.

Viewers were,later, taken "down range," as the celebrated space traveler and his scorched craft were pulled from the Atlantic and returned for a heroes welcome, after a journeying to an altitude of 116 miles and splashing down 302 miles south of Cape Canaveral.

It appeared that this nation could do anything to which it committed. It was an intoxicating time in a nation that was still innocent in attitudes and in actions.

Here from the MSNBC website is a glimpse back to that day of victory aloft and inspiration on earth. Enjoy!!!!

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