Mercury-Redstone 3
Overview
Mercury-Redstone 3 was the first manned space mission of the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. Astronaut Alan Shepard
Alan Shepard
Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr. was an American naval aviator, test pilot, flag officer, and NASA astronaut who in 1961 became the second person, and the first American, in space. This Mercury flight was designed to enter space, but not to achieve orbit...

 piloted a 15-minute Project Mercury
Project Mercury
In January 1960 NASA awarded Western Electric Company a contract for the Mercury tracking network. The value of the contract was over $33 million. Also in January, McDonnell delivered the first production-type Mercury spacecraft, less than a year after award of the formal contract. On February 12,...

 suborbital
Sub-orbital spaceflight
A sub-orbital space flight is a spaceflight in which the spacecraft reaches space, but its trajectory intersects the atmosphere or surface of the gravitating body from which it was launched, so that it does not complete one orbital revolution....

 flight in the Freedom 7 spacecraft on May 5, 1961 to become the first American in space, three weeks after the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin
Yuri Gagarin
Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin was a Soviet pilot and cosmonaut. He was the first human to journey into outer space, when his Vostok spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth on April 12, 1961....

 had carried out the first orbital spaceflight
Vostok 1
Vostok 1 was the first spaceflight in the Vostok program and the first human spaceflight in history. The Vostok 3KA spacecraft was launched on April 12, 1961. The flight took Yuri Gagarin, a cosmonaut from the Soviet Union, into space. The flight marked the first time that a human entered outer...

.

The capsule, launched on a Redstone rocket
Mercury-Redstone Launch Vehicle
The Mercury-Redstone Launch Vehicle, designed for NASA's Project Mercury, was the first American manned space booster. It was used for six sub-orbital Mercury flights from 1960–61; culminating with the launch of the first, and 11 weeks later, the second American in space.A member of the...

 from Launch Complex 5
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 5
Launch Complex 5 was a launch site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida used for various Redstone and Jupiter launches.It is most well known as the launch site for NASA's 1961 suborbital Mercury-Redstone 3 flight, which made Alan Shepard the first American in space. It was also the launch...

 (LC-5) at Cape Canaveral
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is an installation of the United States Air Force Space Command's 45th Space Wing, headquartered at nearby Patrick Air Force Base. Located on Cape Canaveral in the state of Florida, CCAFS is the primary launch head of America's Eastern Range with four launch pads...

, Florida
Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

, reached an altitude of 116.5 miles (187.5 km) before falling back on a ballistic trajectory and splashing down 303 miles (487.6 km) away from the launch pad, off the Bahamas.
Encyclopedia
Mercury-Redstone 3 was the first manned space mission of the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. Astronaut Alan Shepard
Alan Shepard
Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr. was an American naval aviator, test pilot, flag officer, and NASA astronaut who in 1961 became the second person, and the first American, in space. This Mercury flight was designed to enter space, but not to achieve orbit...

 piloted a 15-minute Project Mercury
Project Mercury
In January 1960 NASA awarded Western Electric Company a contract for the Mercury tracking network. The value of the contract was over $33 million. Also in January, McDonnell delivered the first production-type Mercury spacecraft, less than a year after award of the formal contract. On February 12,...

 suborbital
Sub-orbital spaceflight
A sub-orbital space flight is a spaceflight in which the spacecraft reaches space, but its trajectory intersects the atmosphere or surface of the gravitating body from which it was launched, so that it does not complete one orbital revolution....

 flight in the Freedom 7 spacecraft on May 5, 1961 to become the first American in space, three weeks after the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin
Yuri Gagarin
Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin was a Soviet pilot and cosmonaut. He was the first human to journey into outer space, when his Vostok spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth on April 12, 1961....

 had carried out the first orbital spaceflight
Vostok 1
Vostok 1 was the first spaceflight in the Vostok program and the first human spaceflight in history. The Vostok 3KA spacecraft was launched on April 12, 1961. The flight took Yuri Gagarin, a cosmonaut from the Soviet Union, into space. The flight marked the first time that a human entered outer...

.

The capsule, launched on a Redstone rocket
Mercury-Redstone Launch Vehicle
The Mercury-Redstone Launch Vehicle, designed for NASA's Project Mercury, was the first American manned space booster. It was used for six sub-orbital Mercury flights from 1960–61; culminating with the launch of the first, and 11 weeks later, the second American in space.A member of the...

 from Launch Complex 5
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 5
Launch Complex 5 was a launch site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida used for various Redstone and Jupiter launches.It is most well known as the launch site for NASA's 1961 suborbital Mercury-Redstone 3 flight, which made Alan Shepard the first American in space. It was also the launch...

 (LC-5) at Cape Canaveral
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is an installation of the United States Air Force Space Command's 45th Space Wing, headquartered at nearby Patrick Air Force Base. Located on Cape Canaveral in the state of Florida, CCAFS is the primary launch head of America's Eastern Range with four launch pads...

, Florida
Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

, reached an altitude of 116.5 miles (187.5 km) before falling back on a ballistic trajectory and splashing down 303 miles (487.6 km) away from the launch pad, off the Bahamas. During the flight, Shepard observed the Earth and tested the reaction control system
Reaction control system
A reaction control system is a subsystem of a spacecraft whose purpose is attitude control and steering by the use of thrusters. An RCS system is capable of providing small amounts of thrust in any desired direction or combination of directions. An RCS is also capable of providing torque to allow...

 of the spacecraft. Earth photos were taken by an automatic camera mounted in the spacecraft's window.

Preparation

The Freedom 7 spacecraft, Mercury capsule #7, was delivered to Cape Canaveral
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is an installation of the United States Air Force Space Command's 45th Space Wing, headquartered at nearby Patrick Air Force Base. Located on Cape Canaveral in the state of Florida, CCAFS is the primary launch head of America's Eastern Range with four launch pads...

 on December 9, 1960. It had originally been expected that a mission could be launched soon after the spacecraft was available, but Capsule #7 turned out to require extensive development and testing work before it was deemed safe for flight. However, as it had been earmarked since the summer as the first manned spacecraft, the decision was taken to delay the mission until this particular capsule was ready, with a tentative launch date of 6 March, rather than use an alternative capsule. The booster originally intended for the flight, Redstone #3, had been delivered to the Cape in early December; however, it was then used on the MR-1A
Mercury-Redstone 1A
Mercury-Redstone 1A was launched on December 19, 1960 from LC-5 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The mission objectives of this unmanned suborbital flight were to qualify the spacecraft for space flight and qualify the system for an upcoming primate suborbital flight. The spacecraft tested its...

 test flight on 19 December. The replacement, Redstone #7, did not arrive at the Cape until late March; by this time, however, the mission had already been postponed to await the results of another test flight.

In late 1960, there had been a growing number of concerns about the standards of the Redstone launch vehicle; the MR-2
Mercury-Redstone 2
Mercury-Redstone 2 was an American space mission, launched at 16:55 UTC on January 31, 1961 from LC-5 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Mercury spacecraft No...

 test flight, "manned" by a chimpanzee, had had technical problems during the launch leading to the spacecraft flying too high, too far and too fast. As a result, the mission was two minutes longer than planned, and the re-entry subjected the passenger to 14.7g rather than the planned figure of approximately 12g. The splashdown point was sixty miles from the nearest recovery ship, and it was over two and a half hours before a helicopter could recover the capsule and its passenger - by which time it had almost sunk. As a result, NASA was unwilling to launch the MR-3 mission without further development work; by late February, there were still seven major alterations they had made to the booster which required testing. An additional testing flight was accordingly added to the schedule, MR-BD
Mercury-Redstone BD
Mercury-Redstone BD was an unmanned booster development flight in the U.S. Mercury program. It was launched on March 24, 1961 from Launch Complex 5 at Cape Canaveral, Florida...

 (for "Booster Development"; it was originally known as MR-2A). This would launch on March 28, pushing the MR-3 flight back a month to April 25. The MR-BD flight was almost completely successful, ensuring that the manned MR-3 flight could proceed without further significant delay.

The pilot for MR-3 had been chosen several months in advance, in early January, by the head of the program, Robert R. Gilruth. He had selected Alan Shepard
Alan Shepard
Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr. was an American naval aviator, test pilot, flag officer, and NASA astronaut who in 1961 became the second person, and the first American, in space. This Mercury flight was designed to enter space, but not to achieve orbit...

 as the primary pilot, with John Glenn
John Glenn
John Herschel Glenn, Jr. is a former United States Marine Corps pilot, astronaut, and United States senator who was the first American to orbit the Earth and the third American in space. Glenn was a Marine Corps fighter pilot before joining NASA's Mercury program as a member of NASA's original...

 and Gus Grissom
Gus Grissom
Virgil Ivan Grissom , , better known as Gus Grissom, was one of the original NASA Project Mercury astronauts and a United States Air Force pilot...

 as his backups; the other members of the Mercury Seven
Mercury Seven
Mercury Seven was the group of seven Mercury astronauts selected by NASA on April 9, 1959. They are also referred to as the Original Seven and Astronaut Group 1...

 continued to train for later missions. The three names were announced to the press on 22 February without any indication as to which of the three was expected to fly the mission. Shepard's name was only announced publicly after the initial launch attempt had been canceled, as Gilruth wished to keep his options open in the event that last-minute personnel changes were required. Glenn served as Shepard's backup on launch day, with Grissom focusing on training for MR-4
Mercury-Redstone 4
Mercury-Redstone 4 was the second United States manned space mission, launched on July 21, 1961. The Mercury program suborbital flight used a Redstone rocket. The spacecraft was named Liberty Bell 7 piloted by astronaut Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom. It reached an altitude of more than 118.26 mi ...

, the next suborbital mission.

The initial launch attempt, on May 2, was canceled due to weather problems two hours and 20 minutes before the launch time, with Shepard waiting in a hangar already suited and prepared. The flight was rescheduled for two days later, when it was delayed one more day due to inclement weather conditions, until 5 May, with an expected launch time of 7:20 a.m. EST.

Flight

The countdown began at 8:30 p.m. the previous night, with Shepard entering the spacecraft at 5:15 a.m. ET, just over two hours before the planned launch time. At 7:05 a.m., the launch was held for an hour to let cloud cover clear - good visibility would be essential for photographs of the Earth - and fix a power supply unit; shortly after the count restarted, another hold was called in order to reboot a computer at Goddard Space Flight Center
Goddard Space Flight Center
The Goddard Space Flight Center is a major NASA space research laboratory established on May 1, 1959 as NASA's first space flight center. GSFC employs approximately 10,000 civil servants and contractors, and is located approximately northeast of Washington, D.C. in Greenbelt, Maryland, USA. GSFC,...

. The count was eventually resumed, after slightly over two and a half hours of unplanned holds, and continued with no further faults.

Mercury-Redstone 3 finally lifted off at 9:34 a.m. ET, watched by an estimated 45 million television viewers in the United States. Shepard was subjected to a maximum acceleration of 6.3g just before the Redstone engine shut down, two minutes and 22 seconds after launch. Freedom 7's space-fixed velocity was 5134 miles per hour (8,262.4 km/h), close to the planned value. Ten seconds later, the escape tower
Escape tower
An Escape Tower, the original version officially known as the Aerial Capsule Emergency Separation Device, is the visible part of the Launch Escape System. It consists of a rocket and a frame attaching it to the top of the crew capsule...

 was jettisoned. At the three-minute mark, the automated attitude control system
Attitude control system
In spaceflight, the attitude control system or attitude determination and control system of a spacecraft consists of equipment to measure, report and change the orientation of the vehicle.- Components :...

 rotated Freedom 7, turning it so the heatshield faced forward ready for re-entry.

Shepard was now able to take manual control of the spacecraft, and began testing whether he was able to adjust its orientation. The first thing he did was position the spacecraft to its retrofire attitude of 34 degrees pitch (nose of spacecraft pitched down 34 degrees.) He then tested manual control of yaw, motion from left to right, and roll. When he took control of all three axes, he found that the spacecraft response was about the same as that of the Mercury simulator; however, he could not hear the jets firing, as he could on the ground, due to the levels of background noise.

The secondary objective was to make observations of the ground from the spacecraft; returning the spacecraft to automatic control, Shepard found that he was able to distinguish major land masses from clouds easily, and could make out coastlines, islands and major lakes, but had difficulty identifying cities. He had problems working with the spacecraft periscope - early Mercury capsules had a small periscope rather than a viewing window - and had to abandon an attempt to change optical filters on it.

Under automatic control, the spacecraft had developed a slight movement as it passed through peak altitude; Shepard now switched into the "fly-by-wire" mode, where the pilot used a controller to order the automatic system to fire the rockets for the desired positioning, rather than manually controlling the individual jets. Adjusting roll and yaw, he found the pitch position was around ten degrees too shallow - 25 degrees rather than the desired 35 for reentry - and as he began to correct it, the timed retrorockets fired to send him into reentry. The retrorocket pack - strapped atop the heatshield and so requiring release before reentry - was successfully jettisoned, but the confirmation light failed, requiring Shepard to activate the manual override for the jettison system before it confirmed that the rockets were fully released.

Shepard resumed fly-by-wire control after retrofire, reporting that it felt smooth and gave the sensation of being fully in command of the craft, before letting the automatic systems briefly take over to reorient the capsule for reentry. He then kept control until the g-forces peaked at 11.6g during re-entry; he held the capsule until it had stabilized and then relinquished control to the automated system. The descent was faster than anticipated, but the parachutes deployed as planned, a drogue
Drogue parachute
A drogue parachute is a parachute designed to be deployed from a rapidly moving object in order to slow the object, or to provide control and stability, or as a pilot parachute to deploy a larger parachute...

 at 21000 ft (6.4 km) and a main parachute at 10000 ft (3 km).

Splashdown
Splashdown (spacecraft landing)
Splashdown is the method of landing a spacecraft by parachute in a body of water. It was used by American manned spacecraft prior to the Space Shuttle program. It is also possible for the Russian Soyuz spacecraft and Chinese Shenzhou spacecraft to land in water, though this is only a contingency...

 occurred with an impact comparable to landing a jet aircraft
Jet aircraft
A jet aircraft is an aircraft propelled by jet engines. Jet aircraft generally fly much faster than propeller-powered aircraft and at higher altitudes – as high as . At these altitudes, jet engines achieve maximum efficiency over long distances. The engines in propeller-powered aircraft...

 on an aircraft carrier
Aircraft carrier
An aircraft carrier is a warship designed with a primary mission of deploying and recovering aircraft, acting as a seagoing airbase. Aircraft carriers thus allow a naval force to project air power worldwide without having to depend on local bases for staging aircraft operations...

. Freedom 7 tilted over on its right side about 60 degrees from an upright position, but did not show any signs of leaking; it gently righted itself after a minute, and Shepard was able to report to the circling aircraft that he had landed safely and was ready to be recovered. A recovery helicopter arrived after a few minutes, and after a brief problem with the spacecraft antenna, the capsule was lifted partly out of the water in order to allow Shepard to leave by the main hatch. He squeezed out of the door and into a sling hoist, and was pulled into the helicopter, which flew both the astronaut and his spacecraft to a waiting aircraft carrier, the USS Lake Champlain
USS Lake Champlain (CV-39)
USS Lake Champlain was one of 24 s completed during or shortly after World War II for the United States Navy. She was the second US Navy ship to bear the name, and was named for the Battle of Lake Champlain in the War of 1812....

. The whole recovery process had taken only eleven minutes, from splashdown to arriving aboard.

The flight lasted 15 minutes, 28 seconds and the spacecraft traveled 302 miles (486 km) from its launch point, ascending to 116.5 miles (187.5 km). Freedom 7 landed at these coordinates: 27.23°N 75.88°W. It reached a speed of 5180 mph (8,336.4 km/h).

Following the flight the spacecraft was examined by engineers and found to be in excellent shape, so much so that they decided it could have been safely used again in another launch. The Freedom 7 is now on display in the lobby of the Armel-Leftwich Visitor Center at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD. It was placed there after Shepard's death in 1998.

Depiction in popular culture

In June 1961, Laurie Records issued a 45 rpm single featuring William Allen and Orchestra entitled "Space Flight Freedom 7." It consisted of recreations of the tower to astronaut communications spoken over an instrumental backing.
The Mercury-Redstone 3 mission was dramatized in the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon episode "Can We Do This?" (starring Ted Levine
Ted Levine
Frank Theodore "Ted" Levine is an American actor. He is known for his roles as Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs and Captain Leland Stottlemeyer in the television series Monk.-Early life and career:...

 as Alan Shepard), as well as in Tom Wolfe
Tom Wolfe
Thomas Kennerly "Tom" Wolfe, Jr. is a best-selling American author and journalist. He is one of the founders of the New Journalism movement of the 1960s and 1970s.-Early life and education:...

's book The Right Stuff
The Right Stuff (book)
The Right Stuff is a 1979 book by Tom Wolfe about the pilots engaged in U.S. postwar experiments with experimental rocket-powered, high-speed aircraft as well as documenting the stories of the first Project Mercury astronauts selected for the NASA space program...

, and Philip Kaufman
Philip Kaufman
Philip Kaufman is an American film director and screenwriter. His movies have adapted novels of widely different types – from Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being to Michael Crichton’s Rising Sun; from Tom Wolfe’s heroic epic The Right Stuff to the erotic writings of Anaïs Nin’s...

's movie The Right Stuff based on the book. (In Kaufman's film, Scott Glenn
Scott Glenn
Theodore Scott Glenn is an American actor. His roles have included Wes Hightower in Urban Cowboy , astronaut Alan Shepard in The Right Stuff ,Emmett in Silverado , Commander Bart Mancuso in The Hunt for Red October , Jack Crawford in The Silence of the Lambs and The Wise Man in Sucker Punch -Early...

 plays Shepard.)

Flight events

T+ Time Event Description
T+00:00:00 Liftoff Mercury-Redstone lifts off, onboard clock starts.
T+00:00:16 Pitch Program Redstone pitches over 2 deg/s from 90 deg to 45 deg.
T+00:00:40 End Pitch Program Redstone reaches 45 deg pitch.
T+00:01:24 Max Q Maximum dynamic pressure ~575 lbf/ft² (28 kPa).
T+00:02:20 BECO Redstone engine shutdown - Booster Engine Cutoff. Velocity 5,200 mph (2.3 km/s)
T+00:02:22 Tower Jettison Escape Tower Jettison, no longer needed.
T+00:02:24 Spacecraft Separation Posigrade rockets fire for 1 s giving 15 ft/s (4.6 m/s) separation.
T+00:02:35 Turnaround Maneuver Spacecraft (ASCS) system rotates spacecraft 180 degrees, to heat shield forward attitude. Nose is pitched down 34 degrees to retro fire position.
T+00:05:00 Apogee Apogee of about 115 miles (185.1 km) reached at 150 miles (241.4 km) downrange from launch site.
T+00:05:15 Retrofire Three retro rockets fire for 10 seconds each. They are started at 5 second intervals, firing overlaps. Delta v of 550 ft/s (167.6 m/s) is taken off forward velocity.
T+00:05:45 Retract Periscope Periscope is automatically retracted in preparation for reentry.
T+00:06:15 Retro Pack Jettison One minute after retrofire retro pack is jettisoned, leaving heat shield clear.
T+00:06:20 Retro Attitude Maneuver (ASCS) orients spacecraft in 34 degrees nose down pitch, 0 degrees roll, 0 degrees yaw.
T+00:07:15 0.05 g (0.5 m/s²) Maneuver (ASCS) detects beginning of reentry and rolls spacecraft at 10 deg/s to stabilize spacecraft during reentry.
T+00:09:38 Drogue Parachute Deploy Drogue parachute deployed at 22000 ft (6.7 km) slowing descent to 365 ft/s (111.3 m/s) and stabilizing spacecraft.
T+00:09:45 Snorkel Deploy Fresh air snorkel deploys at 20000 ft (6.1 km). (ECS) switches to emergency oxygen rate to cool cabin.
T+00:10:15 Main Parachute Deploy Main parachute deploys at 10000 ft (3 km). Descent rate slows to 30 ft/s (9.1 m/s)
T+00:10:20 Landing Bag Deploy Landing bag deploys, dropping heat shield down 4 ft (1.2 m).
T+00:10:20 Fuel Dump Remaining hydrogen peroxide fuel automatically dumped.
T+00:15:30 Splashdown Spacecraft lands in water about 300 mi (482.8 km) downrange from launch site.
T+00:15:30 Rescue Aids Deploy Rescue aid package deployed. The package includes green dye marker, recovery radio beacon and whip antenna
Whip antenna
A whip antenna is an antenna consisting of a single straight flexible wire or rod, often mounted above some type of conducting surface called a ground plane. The bottom end of the whip is connected to the radio receiver or transmitter. They are designed to be flexible so that they won't break...

.

External links

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