The United States called their space travelers astronauts (from the Greek words meaning “star sailors”). On 5 May 1961, three weeks after Cosmonaut Gagarin flew into space, Alan Shepard became the first American in space. He was launched on a suborbital mission Mercury-Redstone 3, in the Freedom 7. Though he did not achieve orbit, unlike Gagarin he was the first person to exercise manual control over his spacecraft.
Shepard was born in New Hampshire in 1923. He was a graduate of Annapolis and Word War II veteran who earned his wings in 1947. He became a Navy Test Pilot and in 1959 was assigned to the Mercury astronaut program. In 1961 he became the first American in space with the launch of the Freedom 7 spacecraft. He eventually assumed command of the NASA astronaut training program. In 1971 he served as commander of the Apollo 14 spacecraft and walked on the moon. He retired in 1974 into private business. Shepard died in 1998 at the age of 74.
Almost a year after the Soviets put a human into orbit, astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth, on 20 February 1962. His Mercury-Atlas 6 mission completed three orbits in the Friendship 7 spacecraft, and splashed-down safely in the Atlantic Ocean.
John Glenn—Marine Corps pilot and United States Senator—was born in 1921. In 1998 after a distinguished career as a senator from Ohio, Shepard managed a final trip into space at the age of 77. At 90 years of age, he remains the oldest surviving astronaut.
Tomorrow, Rita Bay