• Slideshow Photos

    Ralph Morse. / Time & Life Pictures

    Time Magazine Cover 3-3-1961

    Remembering America's first astronaut

    Retrace astronaut Alan Shepard's history-making flight into space, made on May 5, 1961.

  • Time Magazine Cover 3-3-1961

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    Cover boys

    Fifty years ago, America's astronauts were celebrities. The cover of Life magazine's issue for March 3, 1961, featured Mercury astronauts John Glenn, Gus Grissom and Alan Shepard.

    Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image / Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image
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    Dining before flying

    Astronauts Alan Shepard and John Glenn share breakfast in their robes just before Shepard's Freedom 7 spaceflight on May 5, 1961. Glenn, the prime backup pilot for Shepard's suborbital flight, would later become the first American to go into orbit.

    NASA / NASA
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    All bodily systems go

    Alan Shepard has his blood pressure and temperature checked prior to his Freedom 7 flight. The attending physician is Dr. William K. Douglas.

    NASA / NASA
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    Suiting up

    Inside the suiting trailer, astronaut Alan Shepard is dressed in his pressure suit and seated in a reclining chair while a technician checks communications equipment in his helmet.

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    Looking in

    Alan Shepard looks into the Freedom 7 capsule just before he climbs in for launch on May 5, 1961. Shepard was sealed inside the capsule for four hours while Mission Control dealt with technical glitches and weather-related delays. During one of the holds, Shepard urged ground controllers to "fix your little problem and light this candle."

    NASA / NASA
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    Silver spaceman

    Alan Shepard's spacesuit was a full-body pressure suit originally developed by the B.F. Goodrich Co. and the U.S. Navy for wear by high-altitude fighter pilots. The suit's aluminized nylon exterior provides the classic silver look.

    NASA / NASA
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    'You're on your way!'

    The Redstone rocket rises from its Florida launch pad on May 5, 1961, with America's first astronaut, Alan Shepard, inside the Mercury capsule on top. "You're on your way, Jose," fellow astronaut Deke Slayton called out from Mission Control. The nickname was a reference to comedian Bill Dana's fictitious astronaut character, Jose Jimenez.

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    'The clock has started'

    Moments after the Freedom 7 launch, astronaut Alan Shepard called back, "Roger, liftoff, and the clock has started." During the ascent, Shepard experienced an acceleration of 6.3 g's. In comparison, shuttle astronauts typically experience a peak of 3 g's during launch and re-entry.

    NASA / NASA
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    Beautiful view

    Astronaut Alan Shepard was the first American to see Earth from an altitude ranging as high as 116 miles. "On the periscope, what a beautiful view," he radioed. "Cloud cover over Florida. Three to four tenths near the eastern coast. Obscured up to Hatteras."

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    Splashdown

    After a little more than 15 minutes of flight, Alan Shepard's Freedom 7 capsule splashed down in the Atlantic, about 300 miles east of the Cape Canaveral launch pad. A Marine helicopter came to Shepard's rescue.

    NASA / NASA
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    Hoisted up

    Astronaut Alan Shepard is pulled up to his rescue helicopter after America's first manned spaceflight on May 5, 1961.

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    Astronaut on deck

    Alan Shepard walks away from the Freedom 7 capsule after making a postflight inspection aboard the USS Lake Champlain.

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    All smiles

    Alan Shepard arrives at Grand Bahamas Island and is greeted by fellow Mercury astronauts Deke Slayton (left) and Gus Grissom (far right). Air Force Col. Keith Lindell walks between Shepard and Grissom.

    NASA / NASA
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    Visiting the White House

    President John F. Kennedy congratulates Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard during a Rose Garden ceremony on May 8, 1961, at the White House. Vice President Lyndon Johnson, NASA Administrator James Webb and several NASA astronauts are in the background. Less than a month later, Kennedy addressed Congress on his plan to put an American on the moon by the end of the decade.

    NASA / NASA
  • Lyndon B. Johnson;Alan B. Shepard [& Wife]

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    Enjoying the parade

    After the spaceflight, astronaut Alan Shepard and his wife Louise ride in celebratory motorcade with Vice President Lyndon Johnson seated between them in the back seat.

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    The centerpiece of the Graduates in Space exhibit at the U.S. Naval Academy Visitors Center in Annapolis, Md. is the Freedom 7 space capsule, flown into space in 1961 by Naval Academy graduate Alan B. Shepard, Jr.(Class of 1945).

    U.S. Naval Academy / U.S. Naval Academy
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    50 years later

    Alan Shepard went on to walk on the moon as commander of the Apollo 14 mission in 1971, and passed away in 1998 at the age of 74. On May 4, 2011, a stamp set commemorating the 50th anniversary of Shepard's Mercury flight as well as the Messenger mission to Mercury was unveiled at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Among the special guests at the ceremony was Alan Shepard's daughter, Julie Shepard Jenkins.

    AP / AP