After the Soviet Union launched "Sputnik," the first artificial satellite, the United States decided to start a space program because they didn't want to be beaten by the communists.
The first U.S. spaceship was a cone-shaped one-man capsule with a cylinder mounted on top. It was 6 ft., 10 in. long, and 6 ft., 2 1/2 in. in diameter. A 19 ft., 2 in. escape tower was fastened to the cylinder of the capsule. The rounded, bottom end was covered with a heat shield to protect it against the 3,000 degree heat from atmospheric entry.
Before the United States launched any humans into space, they launched an unmanned test flight of the booster and capsule, which carried a chimpanzee.
Each astronaut in Project Mercury got to name his space capsule and added the number 7 to represent the original seven astronauts of Project Mercury.
The first man sent into space by the United States was Alan B. Shepard, Jr. He named his space capsule "Freedom 7." He was launched into space on May 5, 1961. He was in suborbital flight for 15 minutes and 28 seconds. Both Alan Shepard and the "Freedom 7" were recovered safely. Now, America was finally catching up to the Soviet Union's space technology.
President Kennedy awarded Alan Shepard, Jr. the Distinguished Service Medal on May 8, 1961. On May 25, President Kennedy committed the United States to a multi-billion dollar space program for at least the next nine years. President Kennedy has this goal for America, "before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth."
The United States' second man in space was Virgil I. Grissom. He was a 35 year-old test pilot for the Air Force who had flown 100 combat missions in the Korean War. His capsule was the "Liberty Bell 7." His suborbital flight on July 21, 1961, lasted for 15 minutes and 37 seconds. This flight was successful, except that the spacecraft sank into the ocean shortly after splashdown.
The next American launched into space was John H. Glenn, Jr. He manned the "...
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... One was a near-fatal lunar swingby (Apollo 13). There were also six Moon landing missions (Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17). Two astronauts from each of these six moon landing missions walked on the moon. These astronauts were Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin, Charles Conrad, Alan Bean, Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell, David Scott, James Irwin, John Young, Charles Duke, Gene Cernan, and Harrison Schmitt. They are the only humans to have set foot on another solar system body. The total cost for the Apollo Program was approximately $20,443,600,000.
We have learned much from exploring space and in the process begun to find that humans can do anything, even go to the moon.
Mitton, Jacqueline and Simon; Scholastic Encyclopedia of Space; Scholastic Reference; New York, NY; August 1999.
Jastrow, Robert; Journey to the Stars; Bantam Books; September 1989
Bond, Peter; Heroes in Space; Basil Blackwell; New York, NY; 1987
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