Category Freedom 7


A modified and enhanced descendant of Nazi Germany’s deadly A-4/V-2 rocket, the Army’s Redstone missile was developed through the efforts of around 120 captured ex-Peenemunde rocket engineers who, along with their families, had been transferred to the Huntsville facility after undertaking related ordnance work at White Sands, New Mexico in 1950. The move to Huntsville was met with much enthusiasm, as the isola­tion and desert sparseness of White Sands was in stark contrast to the greenery they had known in Germany. Once settled at the recently formed Ordnance Guided Missile Center (OGMC), they would continue their design and development research under the erudite leadership of recently appointed technical director, Dr. Wernher von Braun. They would also be joined in their work by hundreds of other research personnel from White Sands, including contract employees with the General Electric Company and a number of Army draftees possessing degrees in math, science, and engineering.

The Redstone (tracing its name, like the Huntsville arsenal, to the red rocks and clay soil abundant in that region) had begun life as one of three tactical missiles of differing size and capabilities that were undergoing rapid development by the Army in

C. Burgess, Freedom 7: The Historic Flight of Alan B. Shepard, Jr., Springer Praxis Books, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-01156-1_1, © Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014


U. S. Army personnel hoist a Redstone missile upright prior to a test firing exercise. (Photo: U. S. Army)


order to deliver nuclear warheads. These missiles were designated the Corporal, Hermes A3, and Hermes C1.

In October 1950, Kaufman T. Keller, then president of the Detroit-based Chrysler Corporation, had been appointed by Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall to the part-time post of Director of Guided Missiles, with a full-time officer of the armed forces as his deputy. It was a new post within Marshall’s office, and he said at the time that Keller’s task was to provide him with “competent advice in order to permit me to direct and co-ordinate activities connected with research, development and production of guided missiles.” The creation of this office had been recommended to Marshall by the Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The Department of Defense said this step also had the approval of both the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Research and Development Board [1]. In this capacity, Keller agreed to a request from the Office of the Chief of Ordnance to accelerate the Hermes C1 program, handing primary respon­sibility for the tactical nuclear guided missile program to the OGMC of the Redstone Arsenal on 10 July 1951. The following year, on 8 April 1952, the Chief of Ordnance renamed it the Redstone missile.


On 24 March 1961 the weather conditions at Cape Canaveral were favorable for a liftoff that day from Launch Complex 5. The launch procedures had been arranged in a four-hour countdown that began at around 8:30 a. m. (EST). Liftoff had originally


Rhesus monkey Miss Sam flew on the LJ-1B abort test flight from Wallops Island. (Photo: NASA)

been scheduled for 1:00 p. m., but this was advanced by half an hour at the request of the Atlantic Missile Range. The countdown would only involve procedures relative to the MR-5 Redstone booster, as the research and development capsule mounted on top was inert. Everything went smoothly, and the loading of the liquid oxygen began two hours prior to the scheduled launch time.

Including the spacecraft and its escape tower, the MR-BD vehicle stood 83.1 feet tall, and would have a total weight of 66,156 pounds at liftoff. Given the elongated fuel tank and enhanced performance of this Redstone variant, the more powerful but toxic Hydyne fuel was replaced by a mix of 75 percent ethyl alcohol and 25 percent water that would be combined, as previously, with liquid oxygen.

At 12:29:58 p. m. the MR-BD rocket lifted off the launch pad and booster cutoff occurred 141.7 seconds later. No thrust difficulties were encountered as the Redstone climbed to an altitude of 115 miles, attaining a maximum velocity of 5,123 miles an hour. After a flight lasting 8 minutes 23 seconds the entire assembly plunged into the Atlantic 311 miles downrange – almost exactly as planned. The area of impact was only 1.7 miles longer than planned, and less than 3 miles to the right of the envisaged


The Mercury-Redstone Booster Development (MR-BD) test that was launched on 24 March 1961. (Photo: NASA)


site. As the structure sank swiftly to the floor of the ocean, a SOFAR (sound fixing and ranging) bomb attached to the interior of the capsule automatically detonated at 3,500 feet. This device had been inserted at the request of the Navy for a checkout of its Broad Ocean Area (BOA) Missile Impact System.

All of the test objectives of the MR-BD mission were achieved, and a preliminary analysis of the flight data showed only slight deviations from the ideal performance. All systems functioned as planned and no problem areas were revealed.

“The engine performed perfectly,” Dr. Kurt Debus, NASA’s director of launch operations later explained. “It burned its prescribed time and did not cut off too soon, as on the previous launching.” Debus announced that if a careful analysis of all the post-flight data demonstrated that the Redstone had functioned smoothly, no further tests would be required and that an astronaut would be able to be launched within six weeks to fly approximately the same 15-minute course as had been traveled that day. “However,” he cautioned, “a close look at the tapes might reveal a slight flaw which could necessitate another test Redstone launching.” [15]

Other NASA officials warned against an over-optimistic timetable, emphasizing that a manned flight depended on several other factors. Mercury Operations Director Walter Williams, pointed out that, in particular, the capsule had to undergo further helicopter drop and flotation tests before an astronaut could ride it.

Fifteen minutes that stopped a nation

During the MR-3 countdown a number of planned communications checks had been conducted with Shepard on both UHF and HF radio. Then, two minutes prior to the planned liftoff time, the UHF radio was switched on and continuous communications were maintained between Shepard and Deke Slayton, serving as the CapCom in the Mercury Control Center. This ensured that the communications systems were fully operational at the time of launch. Shepard also received voice checks from astronauts Wally Schirra and Scott Carpenter, callsigns Chase One and Chase Two because they were circling the Cape at high level in their F-106 jets in order to follow the rapid progress of the Redstone as it ascended and headed downrange.


Within an hour of arriving on board the carrier, Shepard received a radiotelephone call from President Kennedy in the White House, who wanted to extend his personal congratulations:

Подпись: Kennedy: Shepard: Kennedy: Shepard: Kennedy: Shepard:


Hello, Commander.

Yes, sir.

I want to congratulate you very much.

Thank you very much, Mr. President.

We watched you on TV of course [at launch] and we are awfully pleased and proud of what you did.

Well, thank-you, sir. As you know by now, everything worked just about perfectly and it was a very rewarding experience for me and the people who made it possible.

We are looking forward to seeing you up here, Commander.

Подпись:Thank-you very much. I am looking forward to it, I assure you.

The members of the National Security Council are meeting on another mat­ter this morning and they all want me to give you their congratulations. Thank-you very much, sir, and I’m looking forward to meeting you in the near future.

Подпись: Alan Shepard talking to President Kennedy. (Photo courtesy of Dean Conger/NASA)

Thank-you, Commander, and good luck.

At a press conference earlier that day, about 20 minutes after the safe recovery of Alan Shepard, the president issued a statement:

“All America rejoices in this successful flight of astronaut Shepard. This is an historic milestone in our own exploration into space. But America still needs to work with the utmost speed and vigor in the further development of our space program. Today’s flight should provide incentive to everyone in our nation con­cerned with this program to redouble their efforts in this vital field. Important scientific material has been obtained during this flight and this will be made available to the world’s scientific community.

“We extend special congratulations to astronaut Shepard and best wishes to his family who lived through this most difficult time with him. Our thanks also go to the other astronauts who worked so hard as a team in this project.” [46]

The president said at his press conference that a substantially larger effort would be made in the space program, and that Congress would be asked for an additional appro­priation. The request at that time was for 1.23 billion dollars, but he had earlier been advised that it would cost between 20 and 40 billion dollars to put a man on the Moon.

Whilst it should have been a joyous day for the president, with the first American astronaut safely back from space, he seemed to be anything but joyous at his press conference. He assured his audience that clearly he was happy about what had taken place, but he cited the tremendous courage and the accomplishment of Yuri Gagarin, and said that the United States was still a long way behind. Nevertheless, Shepard’s flight was just the tonic that America – and its leader – needed in order to overcome earlier disappointments and the frustrations that had been mounting since the Soviet orbiting of Gagarin and the Cuban Bay of Pigs fiasco the previous month, which was still causing immense grief and humiliation for the young, newly installed president.

Alexander Wiley of the Senate Aeronautical and Space Science Committee, was openly ecstatic, declaring, “I’m on a sort of emotional drunk.” Senator Karl Mundt, added that Alan Shepard ought to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, say­ing that there were not enough words of praise for the bravery of the astronaut [47]. This, however, would have required a special act of Congress, so it was later decided to award him instead with NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal.[3]


I include as part of the flight period the time from insertion into the spacecraft on the launching pad until the time of recovery by the helicopter, The voice and operational procedures developed during the weeks preceding the launch were essentially sound.

The countdown went smoothly, and no major difficulties were encountered with the ground crews, the control-central crew, and the pilot. There has been some comment in the press about the length of time spent in the spacecraft prior to launch, some 4 hours 15 minutes to be exact. This period was about two hours longer than had been planned. A fact that is most encouraging is that during this time there was no significant change in pilot alertness and ability. The reassurance gained from this experience applies directly to our upcoming orbital flights, and we now approach them with greater confidence in the ability of the pilots, as well as in the environmental control systems.

Our plan was for the pilot to report to the blockhouse crew primarily prior to the T-2 minutes on hard wire circuits, and to shift control to the Center by use of radio frequencies at T-2 minutes. This shift worked smoothly and continuity of information to the pilot was good. At lift-off I started a clock timer in the spacecraft and prepared for noise and vibra­tion. I felt none of any serious consequence. The cockpit section experienced no vibration and I did not even have to turn up my radio receiver to full volume to hear the radio trans­missions. Radio communication was verified after lift-off, and then periodic transmissions were made at 30-second intervals for the purpose of maintaining voice contact and of reporting vital information to the ground.

Some roughness was expected during the period of transonic flight and of maximum dynamic pressure. These events occurred very close together on the flight, and there was general vibration associated with them. At one point some head vibration was observed. The degradation of vision associated with this vibration was not serious. There was a slight fuzzy appearance of the instrument needles. At T+1 minute 21 seconds I was able to observe and report the cabin pressure without difficulty. I accurately described the cabin pressure as “holding at 5.5 p. s.i. a.” The indications of the various needles on their respec­tive meters could be determined accurately at all times. We intend to alleviate the head vibration by providing more foam rubber for the head support and a more streamlined fairing for the spacecraft adapter ring. These modifications should take care of this prob­lem for future flights.

I had no other difficulty during powered flight. The training in acceleration on the cen­trifuge was valid, and I encountered no problem in respiration, observation, and reporting to the ground.

Rocket cutoff occurred at T+2 minutes 22 seconds at an acceleration of about 6 g. It was not abrupt enough to give me any problem and I was not aware of any uncomfortable sensation. I had one switch movement at this point which I made on schedule. Ten sec­onds later, the spacecraft separated from the launch vehicle, and I was aware of the noise of the separation rockets firing. In another 5 seconds the periscope had extended and the autopilot was controlling the turnaround to orbit attitude. Even though this test was only a ballistic flight, most of the spacecraft action and piloting techniques were executed with orbital flight in mind. I would like to make the point again that attitude control in space differs from that in conventional aircraft. There is a penalty for excessive use of the per­oxide fuel and we do not attempt to control continually all small rate motions. There is no aerodynamic damping in space to prevent attitude deviation, but neither is there any flight-path excursion or acceleration purely as a function of variation in spacecraft angles.

At this point in the flight I was scheduled to take control of the attitude (angular posi­tion) by use of the manual system. I made this manipulation one axis at a time, switching to pitch, yaw and roll in that order until I had full control of the craft. I used the instru­ments first and then the periscope as reference controls. The reaction of the spacecraft was very much like that obtained in the air-bearing trainer (ALFA trainer) described previously in the paper by Astronaut Slayton. The spacecraft movement was smooth and could be controlled precisely. Just prior to retrofiring, I used the periscope for general observation.

The particular camera orientation during my flight happened to include many clouds and is not as clear for land viewing. This photograph shows the contrast between land and water masses, the cloud cover and its effect, and a good view of the horizon. There appears to be a haze layer at the horizon. This haze is a function not only of particles of dust, moisture, and so forth, but also of light refraction through atmospheric layers. The sky itself is a very deep blue, almost black, because of the absolute lack of light-reflecting particles. We are encouraged that the periscope provides a good viewing device as well as a backup attitude-control indicator and navigation aid.

At about this point, as I have indicated publicly before, I realized that somebody would ask me about weightlessness. I use this example again because it is typical of the lack of anything upsetting during a weightless or zero-g environment. Movements, speech, and breathing are unimpaired and the entire sensation is most analogous to floating. The NASA intends, of course, to investigate this phenomenon during longer periods of time, but the astronauts approach these periods with no trepidation.

Control of attitude during retrofiring was maintained on the manual system and was within the limits expected. There was smooth transition from zero gravity to the thrust of the retrorocket and back to weightless flying again. After the retrorockets had been fired, the automatic sequence acted to jettison them. I could hear the noise and could see one of the straps falling away in view of the periscope. My signal light inside did not show proper indication so I used the manual backup control and the function indicated proper operation.

After retrorockets were jettisoned, I used a combination of manual and electric control to put the spacecraft in the reentry attitude. I then went back to autopilot control to allow myself freedom for some other actions. The autopilot control functioned properly so I made checks on the high frequency voice link for propagation characteristics and then returned to the primary UHF voice link. I also looked out both portholes to get a general look at the stars or planets as well to get oblique horizon views. Because of the sun angle and light levels I was unable to see any celestial bodies. The Mercury Project plans are to investigate these phenomena further on later flights.

At an altitude of about 200,000 feet, or at the edge of the sensible atmosphere, a relay was actuated at 0.05 g. I had intended to be on manual control for this portion of the flight but found myself a few seconds behind. I was able to switch to the manual system and make some controlling motions during this time. We feel that programming for this maneuver is not a serious problem and can be corrected by allowing a little more time prior to the maneuver to get ready. We were anxious to get our money’s worth out of the flight and consequently we had a full flight plan. However, it paid off in most cases as evidenced by the volume of data collected on pilot actions.

The reentry and its attendant acceleration pulse of 11 g was not unduly difficult. The functions of observation, motion, and reporting were maintained, and no respira­tion difficulties were encountered. Here again, the centrifuge training had provided good reference. I noticed no loss of peripheral vision, which is the first indication of “gray out.”

After the acceleration pulse I switched back to the autopilot. I got ready to observe parachute opening. At 21,000 feet the drogue parachute came out on schedule as did the periscope. I could see the drogue and its action through the periscope. There was no abrupt motion at drogue deployment. At 10,000 feet the main parachute came out and I was able to observe the entire operation through the periscope. I could see the streaming action as well as the unreefing action and could immediately assess the condition of the canopy. It looked good and the opening shock was smooth and welcome. I reported all of these events to the control center and then proceeded to get ready for landing.

I opened the faceplate of the helmet and disconnected the hose which supplies oxygen to its seal. I removed the chest strap and the knee restraint straps. I had the lap belt and shoulder harness still fastened. The landing did not seem any more severe than a catapult shot from an aircraft carrier. The spacecraft hit and then flopped on its side so that I was on my right side. I felt that I could immediately execute an underwater escape should it become necessary. Here again, our training period was giving us dividends. I could see the water covering one porthole. I could see the yellow dye marker out the other porthole and, later on, I could see one of the helicopters through the periscope.

The spacecraft righted itself slowly and I began to read the cockpit instruments for data purposes after impact. I found very little time for that since the helicopter was already call­ing me. I made an egress as shown in the training movie; that is, I sat on the edge of the door sill until the helicopter sling came my way…. The hoist itself was uneventful. At this point, I would like to mention a device that we use on our pressure suits that gives water­tight integrity. There is a soft rubber cone attached to the neck ring seal of the suit. When the suit helmet is on, this rubber is rolled and stowed below the lip of the neck ring seal bearing. With the helmet off, this collar or neck cone is rolled up over the bearing and against the neck of the pilot where it forms a watertight seal. The inlet valve fitting has a locking flapper valve. Thus the suit is waterproof and provides its own buoyancy.


Using their V-2 experience, and under orders from the Pentagon to develop a large tactical rocket capable of delivering a nuclear warhead a distance in excess of 200 miles, von Braun and his team manufactured and tested in-house a number of 69-foot prototype rockets before the task was handed over to a production contractor. These missiles were powered by a liquid-propellant engine developed by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation that delivered a thrust of some 78,000 pounds.

Not surprisingly, given the involvement of so many German rocket engineers and technicians, the missile evolved with a number of similarities to the V-2 rocket, but with major improvements. “When completed, the Redstone represented an important advance over the V-2,” wrote Von Hardesty and Gene Eisman in Epic Rivalry: The Inside Story of the Soviet and American Space Race. “The Redstone’s warhead and guidance system, for example, was contained in a reentry vehicle that separated from the main body of the rocket (unlike the V-2, where the entire rocket body returned to Earth in one piece). The guidance system used a computer and an inertial navigation system contained in the warhead and relied totally upon onboard instruments. To reduce the missile’s weight, the fuel tanks were formed by the outer surface of the rocket rather than being housed separately inside it.” [2]

Following static and ground testing at Huntsville, the launch-ready missiles were to be transported to Cape Canaveral for firing from the test range. Retired engineer Allen Williams worked on the Redstone missile project. In 1952, while employed as a professor in mechanical engineering at Louisiana Polytechnic Institute in Ruston, Louisiana, he was approached by the Thiokol Chemical Corporation with an offer to take over the Redstone project, which was then experiencing some difficulties with the rocket engine. He decided to take up the challenge and relocated to the Redstone Arsenal to work with the German rocket scientists.

“When I took the job over, it was in serious trouble; everyone told me it would not be successful,” Williams said. “But we managed to overcome the problems and scheduled flight tests at Cape Canaveral with four test shots of non-guided rockets. Things [in those days] were so unsophisticated. Cape Canaveral was a town of just about 500 people. We drove our test rockets through the town hidden under covers. The project was supposed to be secret, but we had to remove the stop lights in the town to let the rockets pass through. We did this with just about everyone in town standing around watching!”

As Williams recalled, facilities at the Cape in 1952 included only four concrete pads about 20 yards square and a blockhouse for observers, while launch warnings and tracking were fairly rudimentary affairs, as he cited in one example. “We sent planes out over the ocean to warn people to get away from the area. We didn’t know where the rocket would go, but we thought it might have a range of 75 nautical miles [about 83 statute miles]. We sent out trace planes to follow the first shot. The rocket had dye-markers on it to indicate its impact area in the ocean. The plane couldn’t find it at first, but 50 miles out in the ocean [the pilot] picked up the dye-markers.

“Three weeks later we held another launch, but the wind was much stronger than usual. We held the launch for the wind to die down. When we did launch the rocket, it took off and was carried like an arrow by the wind, parallel to the south coast of Florida; we tried to blow it up, but the destruct mechanism failed.” Williams went on to become Thiokol’s director of engineering in Elkton, Maryland [3].


The Redstone production assembly line at the Chrysler Corporation. The rockets pictured are the Jupiter variant of the Redstone. (Photo: Chrysler Corporation)


The very next day, 25 March, the Soviet Union overshadowed the Redstone test by launching into orbit and recovering by parachute the Korabl-Sputnik 5 spacecraft, which not only carried a small dog named Zvezdochka (“Little Star”) but also a full­sized space-suited mannequin cosmonaut which had been gleefully nicknamed “Ivan Ivanovich.”

Now suitably armed with a launch date for the first American astronaut, whose name had not yet been publicly revealed, the Soviet Union pressed ahead in an effort to completely upstage and diminish America’s space plans.


1. Telephone interview conducted by Colin Burgess with Edward C. Dittmer, 21 June 2005

2. The Airman: The Official Magazine of the U. S. Air Force, published by Defense Media Activity, USAF Office of Public Affairs, Washington, DC, issue April 1962

3. Burgess, Colin and Chris Dubbs, Animals in Space: From Research Rockets to the Space Shuttle, Springer-Praxis Publishing Ltd., Chichester, UK, 2007

4. Telephone interview conducted by Colin Burgess with Edward C. Dittmer, 21 June 2005

5. White, Stanley C., M. D., Richard S. Johnston and Gerard J. Pesman, Review of Biomedical Systems for MR-3 Flight, extract from Proceedings of a Conference on Results of the First U. S. Manned Suborbital Space Flight, combined NASA/National

Institutes of Health/National Academy of Sciences report, Washington, D. C., 6 June 1961

6. Stingely, Norman E., John D. Mosely, DVM, and Charles D. Wheelwright, Part 3, MR-2 Operations from Results of the Project Mercury Ballistic and Orbital Chimpanzee Flights, NASA SP-39, Washington, DC, 1963

7. Lodi News-Sentinel (California) newspaper article, “Chimpanzee May Go Into Orbit,” Tuesday, 28 January 1961, pg. 9

8. Telephone interview conducted by Colin Burgess with Edward C. Dittmer, 21 June 2005

9. The Dispatch (Lexington, NC) newspaper article “Chimp Given Rocket Ride Over Atlantic,” issue Tuesday, 31 January 1961, pg. 1

10. The Norwalk Hour (Connecticut) newspaper, article “Famous Space Chimpanzee Plays Ham After Thrilling Rescue, issue Friday, 3 February 1961, pg. 4

11. Ibid

12. Burgess, Colin and Chris Dubbs, Animals in Space: From Research Rockets to the Space Shuttle, Springer-Praxis Publishing Ltd., Chichester, UK, 2007

13. Swenson, Loyd S., James M. Grimwood and Charles C. Alexander, This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury, NASA SP-4201, Washington, DC, 1989

14. Memorandum on Mercury-Redstone Booster Development Flight (MR-BD), Space Task Group, Patrick AFB, FL. 26 March 1961

15. The Schenectady Gazette (New York) newspaper article, “Space Man Eyed After Rocket Shot Succeeds,” issue Saturday, 25 March 1961, Pg. 1


NASA’s first space pilot “All of the first seven astronauts were real national heroes; not only to young people growing up in the late ’50s and early ’60s but to our folks as well.” Lifelong Derry, New Hampshire resident David Barka was circumspect in looking back over several decades and recalling those times. “I would be hard pressed to equate their special status to any national figure living today. Keep in mind that the enthusiasm over the first space flights was fueled by the Cold War with the Soviet Union that had school children hiding under their desks during periodic air raid drills. The Soviets had been first in space and the Space Race took on almost a life and death feel.”

David Barka grew up in the small farming and factory mill town which would one day gain an enviable reputation as America struggled to send a human into space for the first time. Named after Londonderry in Northern Ireland, Derry was first settled by Scottish-Irish immigrants in 1719. Some 50 miles from Boston, Massachusetts up Route 93 (now named the Alan B. Shepard Highway), the town has been home to several notable identities, including Matthew Thornton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. For a time, the acclaimed poet Robert Lee Frost farmed and taught there while he wrote some of his epic works. In 1961, however, the town of Derry became forever identified with the supremely confident naval aviation officer, test pilot and NASA astronaut, Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr., whose name is immortalized in our history books as America’s first man in space.

“At some point I learned that Alan Shepard, born and raised in Derry, had been chosen to be America’s first man in space,” Barka reflected. “His folks still lived in the same house about a mile from where I grew up. I was nine years old then, and I couldn’t have been more proud and excited. We were all aware of the great danger these men faced in going into space, especially Shepard, who would be first, and we were also aware that several rockets had blown up on the launch pads during test flights. On the day of the launch, Mrs. Blunt, who was the first-through-third-grade teacher at the Derry Village School, wheeled a television set into our classroom – something reserved only for special events – and we watched with great excitement the successful 15-minute flight of the first American in space.


The door knocker on the front of the house was part of the fittings when the house was first built, and is still in use today. (Photo: David & Debi Barka)

“Alan Shepard returned to his home town about a year later to a huge parade and celebration. The Derry News said 100,000 people watched the parade, an enormous event for a town of six to seven thousand people. I still have pictures. My family owned the Barka Oil Company and my father proudly had pennants made which had ‘Spacetown U. S.A.’ under the company name.” [1]


A recent Christmas photo of the snow-covered Shepard house in East Derry. (Photo: Upper Village Hall, Derry)


Inside Freedom 7, Shepard noticed when the umbilical tower connection which fed power and air into the spacecraft detached. This cut direct-line connections between the blockhouse and the booster and spacecraft, which were now operating on internal power. Instead, Freedom 7 began feeding radio telemetry information. The periscope was retracted electrically and a small door sealed the aperture. Shepard reported this, along with readings on the main bus voltage and current. “I had the feeling somehow that maybe I would’ve liked a little more over RF [radio frequency communications] with respect to the booster countdown steps,” he later pointed out [1].

Down along the causeways and beaches, and lining the roads and highways, half a million people were present to witness history, ready to watch and wonder and shout and scream encouragement, as perfectly described in the book Moon Shot. “In Cocoa Beach, people left their homes to stand outside and look toward the Cape. They went to balconies and front lawns and back lawns. They stood atop cars and trucks and rooftops. They left their morning coffee and bacon and eggs in restaurants to walk outside on the street or on the sands of the beach. They left beauty parlors and barber shops with sheets around their bodies. Policemen stopped their cars and got out, the

C. Burgess, Freedom 7: The Historic Flight of Alan B. Shepard, Jr., Springer Praxis Books, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-0П56-1_5, © Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014


As dawn gathered on 5 May, the media once again stood ready to record the launch of Freedom 7. (Photo: NASA)


In the Pad 5 blockhouse Wernher von Braun (center, wearing glasses) prepares to watch the launch. (Photo: NASA)

better to see and hear. Along the water, the surfers ceased their pursuit of the waves and stood, transfixed, swept up in the fleeting moments.” [2]

During the final minute, Shepard recited to himself, “Deke and the man upstairs will watch over me. So don’t screw up, Shepard. Don’t screw up. Your ass is hauling what’s left of your country’s man-in-space program!” He was reasonably calm as the count approached zero. His left hand automatically closed over the single-twist abort handle and he kept his right hand free, ready to start the clock on the control panel.

As the countdown passed into the final ten seconds, Slayton’s calm, professional count­down was accompanied by a little vibration as the Redstone’s internal pumps burst into life.

“T-minus seven,” Slayton intoned.

“Six, five…”

Shepard instinctively pushed his feet firmly against the capsule’s interior, bracing himself for the launch. He reached up and pressed a ‘ready’ button that illuminated a light on Flight Director Kraft’s console over in the Mercury Control Center.

“Four, three, two…”

He was conscious of his left hand gripping the abort handle. The escape tower’s pyrotechnics were armed and ready in case he had to suddenly and explosively tear Freedom 7 from the Redstone and a potential pad catastrophe.

Then, suddenly, it was T minus zero and time to go. This was the moment of truth for Alan Shepard. Two years of training had culminated in the naval aviator being strapped into a cramped capsule atop a modified missile and on the verge of making history.

At 9:34 a. m., he heard Slayton’s cry of “Ignition!”

Then he was absorbed by the stupendous task at hand. “I remember hearing [the] firing command, but it may very well be that Deke was giving me other sequences over RF prior to main stage and liftoff [so] I did not hear them. I may have been just a little too excited.” [3]

Within the thick walls of the Pad 5 blockhouse, former Peenemunde engineer Dr. Kurt Debus was directing the countdown along with Wernher von Braun, surrounded by members of the firing team. Although no one was directly responsible for pushing a button to launch the Redstone rocket, two members of the team had to commit to crucial roles. First was John (‘Jack’) Humphrey, who was responsible for pressing a launch sequencing button that issued the firing command. Then there was another of the Peenemunde engineers, Albert Zeiler. His critical, principal task was to watch the foot of the Redstone at the moment of ignition with his finger poised above an abort button. If he saw anything untoward in the color and shape of the exhaust issuing from the booster, and sensed the possibility of danger, he could press the button and instantly shut down the launch. With nothing amiss, Albert Zeiler gratefully moved his finger away from the dreaded abort button.

On board Freedom 7, Shepard’s heart rate had temporarily shot up to 120 beats a minute. “Rumbling far below,” he recalled later on. “Pumps spinning, fuel gushing through lines, joining in the combustion chamber. Before I could think about what came next, a dull roar boomed through the Redstone, rushed into the spacecraft and shook it with a surprisingly gentle touch. Thunder grew, louder and louder. ‘Liftoff!’ Deke called. I felt movement.


The moment of ignition, as mission MR-3 gets under way. (Photo: NASA)

“At liftoff I started a clock-timer and prepared for noise and vibration. The time – zero relays closed properly, the on board clock started properly, and I must say the liftoff was a whole lot smoother than I expected. Again I readied myself for vibration and shock. In anticipation, I’d already turned up the volume of the headphones. I didn’t want to miss a word from Deke because of the still-increasing noise.

“‘Freedom 7 swayed slightly. My heart pounded.

“‘You’re on your way, Jose!’ Deke shouted.” [4]


With the mobile launch gantry in the background, the Redstone rocket thunders into the sky. (Photo: NASA)


On the beaches and roadsides and every other possible vantage point, the throngs who were there that historic morning had moments earlier been shielding their eyes from the glare of the rising Sun. They now stood transfixed – almost stunned – as the Redstone slowly rose off the pad. There were loud cheers, shouts of encouragement and applause. When a loud crackling thunder swept across the Cape, the cheers grew ever louder as Alan Shepard was launched into the sky on board a spacecraft named Freedom 7.


Shepard, meanwhile, was preparing to depart the USS Lake Champlain for Grand Bahama Island, where he would undergo a far more intense medical examination and debriefing.

Most of the NASA personnel were escorted to the COD, a Grumman TF1 Trader, by a beaming R/Adm George Koch, with Capt. Weymouth in attendance. Then the astronaut made his appearance, climbing up the deck-edge ladder from the admiral’s cabin. The crew saw he had discarded his silver space suit, although he still wore his silver flight boots, and was now wearing a more comfortable orange flight suit with a leather patch on the left breast which said ALAN SHEPARD, ASTRONAUT, USA. The flight suit and the name tag had been somewhat hastily made aboard ship. Since Shepard had urinated in his space suit during the extended pre-launch delay, it was a welcome change of clothing for him.

Still curious about the condition of his spacecraft, Shepard made a diversion over to where Freedom 7 rested on its platform and shook hands with Charles Tynan, as Admiral Koch and Capt. Weymouth looked on. The astronaut and technician spoke briefly, then both men mounted the platform for a closer inspection of the spacecraft.

As Tynan informed the author, everything was not exactly as it may have seemed. “Since Shepard was the first U. S. astronaut we were told not to speak to him because they did not want anyone to ‘cloud his mind’ with thoughts other than the flight. I had finished getting in the capsule to record all switch positions and gauge readings, and I was standing near the capsule when Shepard appeared. He had finished with the doc­tors and wanted to examine the capsule before leaving the ship. He started a long conversation with me, telling me how wonderful the ‘too short’ flight was and that he was pleased that he came down within sight of the carrier. He said he rejoiced when the main parachute deployed.”


Capt. Weymouth shakes the hands of Richard Mittauer from NASA’s Public Affairs Office as Admiral Koch (rear, center) looks on. (Photo courtesy of Ed Killian)


Shepard talking to NASA Recovery Team Leader Charles Tynan. Capt. Weymouth stands at the rear. (Photo courtesy of Ed Killian)

Tynan said a later TV report on the flight mentioned that he and Shepard seemed to have been engaged in a very technical discussion. “Far from the truth: he wanted me to take the 8-day clock out of the capsule, bring it back to the Cape and give it to him. I was hesitant to start taking parts out of the first space flight capsule, resisting his request, and that is why our discussion lasted so long. Because the clock had no significant value to the flight, I removed a few screws and it was in my briefcase in no time. I gave it to Shepard a few days later in Hangar S. I understand that the seven astronauts had the clock mounted in a piece of walnut for their attorney’s desk, who wasn’t charging them for his work. I believe his name was something like [D’Orsay] who owned a small interest in the Washington Redskins football team.” [48]


Shepard and Tynan peer into the spacecraft’s interior. (Photo courtesy of Ed Killian)

Soon after, Ed Killian gained a prized memento of the day as Dean Conger took photographs from below of Shepard standing on the platform. “At the same time, those of us in Pri-Fly were snapping photos from above. Conger’s photo of Shepard leaning into the capsule shows Pri-Fly just above the capsule. We moved back along the 05 level catwalk on the island and snapped a couple of pictures of Shepard at the capsule. Conger snapped a picture as he turned away from the capsule; this picture captured the Assistant Air Boss Tom Cooper, Air Controlman Russ Duncan and Air Controlman Ed Killian taking pictures from the catwalk just outside Pri-Fly and above Shepard.”


Camera-bearing crew members can be seen on the catwalk taking their photographs. (Photo courtesy of Dean Conger/NASA)


This photograph, taken from the catwalk, shows a happy Alan Shepard after he had concluded his “business” with Charles Tynan. (Photo courtesy of Ed Killian)

Before leaving, Shepard found time to have a brief conversation with the ship’s commanding officer, Capt. Weymouth. “He told me that four or five years from now we may look back on this as a pretty crude thing,” Weymouth later revealed, “but at this moment it seemed a tremendous event.” [49]

The ship’s Executive Officer, Cdr. Landis E. Doner, R/Adm Koch, and his Chief of Staff then presented Shepard with records of his flight and its recovery.

Finally, having completed his inspection of Freedom 7, Shepard walked aft to the airplane that would take him to GBI for a battery of medical tests to be carried out in a special one-man “hospital”. Two of the three HMR(L)-262 Marine helicopters and one S2F Tracker from VS-32 were to accompany Shepard’s TF1 to Grand Bahama Auxiliary Air Force Base, about 75 miles southwest of the recovery site.

As Shepard’s aircraft made a rolling takeoff from the USS Lake Champlain to the cheers of her crew, he had spent a mere 2 hours 25 minutes aboard the carrier. About 40 minutes later, another S2F from VS-22 flew off to deliver photographic film to Patrick Air Force Base at Cape Canaveral.


The helicopter took me to the aircraft carrier Lake Champlain, where the preliminary medical and technical debriefing commenced. Since no serious physiological defects were noted, only an immediate cursory examination was necessary. The period I spent in talking into a tape recorder at this time with the events fresh in my mind was also a help. I had a chance to report before becoming confused with the “facts.”

I went from the carrier to the Grand Bahama Island where I spent the better part of two days in combined medical and technical debriefings. A great deal of data was gathered, and the experience was not unduly uncomfortable. It appears profitable to provide a loca­tion where a debriefing of this sort can be accomplished.

It is now our plan to show you a film of the flight taken from the onboard equipment. The film has been taken from the onboard camera and step-printed to real time, and the tape recorder conversations have been synchronized for the entire flight. (At this point onboard footage was shown)

In closing I would like to say that the participants in Project Mercury are indeed encour­aged by the pilot’s ability to function during the ballistic flight which has just been described. No inordinate physiological change has been observed, and the control exer­cised before and after the flight overwhelmingly support this conclusion. The Space Task Group is also encouraged by the operation of the spacecraft systems in the automatic mode, as well as in the manual mode. We are looking forward to more flights in the future, both of the ballistic as well as the orbital type.