1st American in space honored on 50th anniversary

May 5th, 2011 By MARCIA DUNN , AP Aerospace Writer in Astronomy & Space / Space Exploration
In this May 5, 1961 image released by NASA, U.S. astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr., is seen in his space suit prior to launch on the spacecraft Freedom 7 at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla. Shepard became the first astronaut to man a spacecraft in orbit . NASA is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the U.S. human flight with several ceremonies and a parade. The U.S. Postal service will unveil two new stamps, one commemorates NASA's Project Mercury and Shepard's history launch and the other honor's NASA's Messenger, which became the first spacecraft to orbit the planet Mercury. (AP Photo/NASA, HO)


In this May 5, 1961 image released by NASA, U.S. astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr., is seen in his space suit prior to launch on the spacecraft Freedom 7 at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla. Shepard became the first astronaut to man a spacecraft in orbit . NASA is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the U.S. human flight with several ceremonies and a parade. The U.S. Postal service will unveil two new stamps, one commemorates NASA's Project Mercury and Shepard's history launch and the other honor's NASA's Messenger, which became the first spacecraft to orbit the planet Mercury. (AP Photo/NASA, HO)

(AP) -- More than 600 people marked the exact moment when the first American rocketed into space 50 years ago.

Thursday's ceremony took place at the spot where Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard blasted off on a 15-minute suborbital flight on May 5, 1961.

The crowd at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station included Shepard's three daughters, about 100 Project Mercury workers and one of the two surviving Mercury seven astronauts, Scott Carpenter. They listened to a recording of Shepard's journey, timed to the second of his launch at 9:34 a.m.

Shepard was the second man in . Soviet Yuri Gagarin beat him into space by less than a month.

Shepard later became the fifth man to walk on the . He died in 1998 at age 74.

More information: NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/50th

©2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

"1st American in space honored on 50th anniversary." May 5th, 2011. http://phys.org/news/2011-05-1st-american-space-honored-50th.html