60 Years Ago: Alan Shepard Becomes the First American in Space

HOSUTON (NASA PR) — In 1961, the United States and the Soviet Union found themselves in a race to put the first human being into space. The United States initiated Project Mercury in 1958 to put the first American into space and selected its first group of astronauts in 1959 to begin training for that mission. The Soviets kept their plans secret but began their own human spaceflight program and selected their own team of 20 cosmonauts in 1960.

The Soviets won the race in April 1961 when cosmonaut Yuri A. Gagarin completed a single orbit around the Earth aboard his Vostok capsule. On May 5, 1961, Alan B. Shepard became the first American in space during a suborbital flight aboard his Mercury capsule named Freedom 7. Three weeks later, based on the success of Shepard’s brief flight, President John F. Kennedy committed the United States to achieving a lunar landing before the end of the decade.

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Good Riddance: Disney+ Cancels The Right Stuff

Television’s Mercury Seven weigh in on whether their series is headed for the dust bin of history. (Credit: National Geographic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Deadline reports Disney+ has canceled The Right Stuff, the poorly received television adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s classic book of the same name. Unless Warner Bros. Television, which produced the series, can convince another network to fund a second season, the woebegone show will become a historical footnote about a real historical era.

I managed to catch several episodes recently, and I was profoundly unimpressed. It made going to space a rather dull affair. What were the problems? Let me count the ways.

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Virgin Galactic Pilots Join 80.46-Kilometer (50-Mile) Club

Richard Branson with the pilots of SpaceShipTwo. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Virgin Galactic pilots Mark “Forger” Stucky and Frederick “C.J.” Sturckow, who were awarded civilian astronaut wings last week, are among 18 pilots who have flown suborbital flights.

The two pilots flew SpaceShipTwo Unity to an altitude of 51.4 miles (82.72 km) on Dec. 13, 2018. That accomplishment qualified them for civilian astronaut wings using an American definition that places the boundary of space at 50 miles (80.46 km).

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