Astronaut Alan Shepard — who, in May 1961, became the first American in space — checks the fit of his individually molded capsule "couch" during Project Mercury training, 1959.

Astronaut Alan Shepard — who, in May 1961, became the first American in space — checks the fit of his individually molded capsule "couch" during Project Mercury training, 1959.

Mercury "Freedom 7" capsule in which Alan Shepard became the first American in space on May 5, 1961.

Mercury "Freedom 7" capsule in which Alan Shepard became the first American in space on May 5, 1961.

Project Mercury astronaut John Glenn trains in a mock-up of the planned NASA space capsule, 1959.

Project Mercury astronaut John Glenn trains in a mock-up of the planned NASA space capsule, 1959.

Astronaut Alan Shepard, Jr., poses in the Mercury space craft at Cape Canaveral in 1961. Shepard, the first American to fly in space and one of only 12 Americans to walk on the moon.

Astronaut Alan Shepard, Jr., poses in the Mercury space craft at Cape Canaveral in 1961. Shepard, the first American to fly in space and one of only 12 Americans to walk on the moon.

NASA astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space on May 5, 1961 aboard his Mercury spacecraft Freedom 7.

NASA astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space on May 5, 1961 aboard his Mercury spacecraft Freedom 7.

Launch of Mecury-Redstone 3 in which astronaut Alan B. Shepard became the first American in space on May 5, 1961. He named his Mercury capsule "Freedom 7."

Launch of Mecury-Redstone 3 in which astronaut Alan B. Shepard became the first American in space on May 5, 1961. He named his Mercury capsule "Freedom 7."

Here Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard pulled up by helicopter from capsule after landing in Atlantic, May 1961:

Here Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard pulled up by helicopter from capsule after landing in Atlantic, May 1961:

U.S. Marine helicopter recovery team hoists astronaut Alan Shepard from his Mercury spacecraft after a successful flight and splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean. On May 5th 1961, Alan B. Shepard Jr. became the first American to fly into space. His Freedom 7 Mercury capsule flew a suborbital trajectory lasting 15 minutes 22 seconds.

U.S. Marine helicopter recovery team hoists astronaut Alan Shepard from his Mercury spacecraft after a successful flight and splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean. On May 5th 1961, Alan B. Shepard Jr. became the first American to fly into space. His Freedom 7 Mercury capsule flew a suborbital trajectory lasting 15 minutes 22 seconds.

Alan Shepard waits to become the first American in space, Cape Canaveral, 1961. Photograph by NASA

Alan Shepard waits to become the first American in space, Cape Canaveral, 1961. Photograph by NASA

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