Freedom 7
Liftoff of Freedom 7 Zoom

"Liftoff! You're on your way, Jose!" With those words, CapCom Deke Slayton gives the Project Mercury MR-3 mission an official sendoff. It is May 5, 1961, shortly after 9:34 A.M. Launch vehicle MR-7, a Mercury Redstone rocket, lifts off carrying Spacecraft No. 7.

Where previous Project Mercury flights carried robots or monkeys, this one is different: it has an astronaut onboard. This is the Mercury Redstone-3 mission, more commonly called "Freedom 7." Its pilot, Commander Alan B. Shepard, will be the first American in space.

The flight will splash down in the Atlantic Ocean 15 minutes later and 303 miles away from its starting point, with the mission judged a success. This first manned Mercury flight will validate the performance of the launch vehicle and the spacecraft, but more importantly prove that man can function in space.

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Photo courtesy of NASA (Photo ID: KSC-61C-0883).
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