Category Freedom 7


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.


Redstone design work was completed in 1952. In October, after the first models had been manufactured at Huntsville, the Chrysler Corporation was hired to build them in Detroit, Michigan. The contract was sealed on 19 June 1953, just five weeks prior to the armistice of the Korean War. The production home of the Redstone was to be a vast government – owned plant located in what was better recognized back then as the world’s automo­tive center. In fact, the agreement called for the prime contractor to build the first 12 missiles at the Redstone Arsenal. The remainder were all built by Chrysler. While the total number of Redstone missiles built varies by source, there were at least 137 and perhaps as many as 146.

The first flight test of a Redstone was at Cape Canaveral on 20 August 1953, but a fault in the inertial guidance system caused it to go awry. After it had struggled to an altitude of 24,000 feet the range safety officer detonated a package of dynamite built into the wayward rocket, blowing it to pieces before it could fall back and cause any damage on the ground. With the problem identified through radio telemetry, the fault was fixed and the second flight was successfully completed.

Test flights continued over the next five years, and many refinements were made to enhance the rocket’s already enviable reliability. From 1953 through 1958, a total of 37 were fired to test structure, engine performance, guidance and control, tracking and telemetry.

In August of 1958, a Redstone became the first American missile to participate in a nuclear test, by detonating a 3.8 megaton warhead as part of Operation Hardtack. While the Redstone’s role as a weapon delivery system was brief, it nevertheless had a major impact on America’s early space program.


Due to Shepard’s ongoing post-flight training commitments with NASA, it wasn’t until 9 June 1962 that the people of the Granite State were finally able to openly express their admiration for the famed astronaut. Proclaimed “Alan Shepard Day” by Governor Wesley Powell, the occasion was marked by a well-planned parade that began at the Shepard family home in Derry and continued through the town streets. Accompanying the official cars in the preceding motorcade were some 2,000 people, 19 bands and 20 colorful floats. The bands played and the flags fluttered amidst a profusion of bunting and paper streamers, and crowds roared their welcome at each stop as Shepard and his family waved from their open convertible. Governor Powell made it to Derry for the special day, and was obviously swept up in the excitement when he somewhat grandly overstated, “This is the greatest day in the history of the state!” The motorcade termi­nated later that day at the steps of the state Capitol in Concord.

As the parade slowly progressed along the main street of Derry, some Navy patrol planes roared overhead, buzzing the town as part of the celebration, leading Shepard to comment with a wry smile, “I understand there’s a Navy flier here who tried that once years ago, and didn’t get away with it.” [2]

At one of the stops along the circuitous route to Concord, the Shepards witnessed the dedication of a flagpole erected in his honor at Grenier Field in Manchester. He recalled for the assembled gathering that in his youth he used to sweep out hangars at the field in return for flying lessons. “This,” he said proudly, “is where my original interest and devotion to aviation had its beginnings.”

The tumultuous occasion proved a great inspiration for young David Barka. “It was then that my father and I took on a project together to build a coaster. We lived on a hill and all the kids in the neighborhood built carts to coast down the hill. Mine was in the shape of a rocket that I named Freedom 7 in honor of Shepard’s flight. That coaster sat in my folks’ basement for close to 40 years, and when my Dad passed away in 1999 I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. I brought it to the house where I then lived with my wife and three children, not knowing that in 2002 we would purchase the Shepard home. The Freedom 7 coaster is still here.”

Today, David and Debi Barka reside in the large white colonial house, custom-built in 1921 on a 4.2-acre lot at 64 East Derry Road, the former home of America’s first astronaut. “We love this house both for its beautiful traditional architecture and for its special history,” he told the author. “We have modernized it where necessary, but preserved unique features such as the door casing that marked Alan and Polly’s height as they grew, and the amazing built-in organ that Alan’s father played; he was the organist at the First Parish Church down the road.

“My wife and I treasure the special meaning that this house has in the history of our country, and especially our town, and are happy to be a small part of it.” [3]


Some of the Barka family assembled in front of their historic home. From left: Joe and his wife Nicole Barka, David Barka, Nick Barka, Debi Barka, son-in-law Mike McGivern with his and wife Anissa’s son Finnegan. (Photo: David & Debi Barka)


“There was a lot less vibration and noise rumble than I had expected,” Shepard later explained. “It was extremely smooth – a subtle, gentle, gradual rise off the ground. There was nothing rough or abrupt about it. But there was no question that I was going, either. I could see it on the instruments, hear it on the headphones, feel it all around me.” [5]

Mildly surprised by the lack of vibration, Shepard was also pleased to find that he did not have to turn his radio receiver up to full volume in order to hear incoming transmis­sions. After communications were verified, he transmitted every 30 seconds in order to maintain voice contact and report the state of the spacecraft systems to the ground.

According to Flight Director Chris Kraft, “A communication procedure had been developed between the astronaut and the control center so that if the cabin and suit pressures were not maintained, an abort was to be initiated.” This would restrict the peak altitude to 70,000 feet. “By aborting at this time (i. e., between T+l min. 16 secs. and T+1 min. 29 secs.), the time above 50,000 feet could be limited to about 60 to 70 seconds.” [6] But things proceeded smoothly.

Shepard later told Life magazine, “For the first minute, the ride continued smooth and my main job was to keep the people on the ground as relaxed and informed as I could. I reported that everything was functioning perfectly, that all the systems were working, that the g’s were mounting slightly [just] as predicted. The long hours of rehearsal had helped. It was almost as if I had been there before. It was enormously strange and exciting, but my earlier practice gave the whole thing a comfortable air of familiarity. [And] Deke’s clear transmissions in my headphones reassured me still more.” [7]

The first critical moment was 1 minute 24 seconds after liftoff, when the vehicle passed through the point of maximum dynamic pressure, known in NASA parlance as Max Q, when the aerodynamic stress reached its peak. Shepard’s head began to shake in an involuntary reaction to the vibration and his vision blurred a little.

“I was at two and a half times my normal weight. So far the flight was a piece of cake,” Shepard later stated. “I was through the smoothest part of powered ascent, and now came the rutted road, the barrier I had to cross before leaving the atmosphere behind. [The] Redstone was hammering at shock waves gathering stubbornly before its passage, slicing from below the speed of sound through the barrier to supersonic [heading] straight up. Now I was in Max Q, the zone of maximum dynamic pressure where the forces of flight and ascent challenged the booster rocket. My helmet slammed against the contour couch. Eighteen inches before me the instrument panel


Climbing ever higher into the blue sky, Shepard prepares himself for the unsettling onset of maximum dynamic pressure, known as Max Q. (Photo: NASA)


became a blur, almost impossible to read. One thousand pounds of pressure for every square foot of Freedom 7 was trying to crack the capsule. I started to call Deke, but changed my mind. A garbled transmission at this point could send Mercury Control into a flap. It might even trigger an abort. And then the Redstone slipped through the hammering blows into smoothness. Out of Max Q, I keyed the mike.

“‘Okay, it’s a lot smoother now. A lot smoother.’

“‘Roger,’ said Deke.” [8]

The shutdown of the booster came at T+2 minutes 22 seconds at an acceleration of 6.2 g’s, which meant in effect that Shepard now weighed 1,000 pounds. He was find­ing it difficult to talk as the g-forces constricted his throat and vocal cords. At the same time, a signal was transmitted to the spacecraft for its escape tower to separate. Above Shepard, a large solid-fuel rocket roared into life and fierce flames erupted from its three canted nozzles, ripping the tower loose from the spacecraft and pulling it away at a safe angle. “Immediately I noticed the noise in tower jettisoning. I didn’t notice any smoke coming by the porthole as I’d expected I might in my peripheral vision. I think maybe I was riveted on the ‘tower jettison’ green light which looked so good in the capsule.” [9] He promptly threw the ‘retro-jettison’ switch to its ‘disarm’ setting.


Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson watches the progress of the flight, together with President John F. Kennedy and First Lady, Jackie Kennedy. (Photo: NASA)

Ten seconds after the tower departed, the spacecraft separated from the Redstone by severing the connecting Marman clamp and firing the three posigrade rockets on the retropack for a duration of one second.

After the flight, Shepard said he was aware of the noise of the separation rockets firing. “I don’t recall thinking anything in particular at separation, but there’s good medical evidence that I was concerned about it at the time. My pulse rate reached its peak here [at] 132, and started down afterward.” [10]

If the automatic systems had failed, the escape tower and spacecraft separation events could have been manually initiated.

“Cap sep is green,” Shepard reported, as he slipped into a weightless state. As he later observed, “Moments before, I had weighed 1,000 pounds. Now a feather on the surface of the Earth weighed more than I did. Being weightless was… wonderful, marvelous, incredible. [It was a] miracle in comfort. The tiny capsule seemed to expand magically as pressure points vanished. No up, no down, no lying or sitting or standing. A missing washer and bits of dust drifted before my eyes. I laughed out loud. I’d expected silence at this point, with the atmosphere something far below me and no rush of wind despite so many thousands of miles an hour. No friction. No turbulence. But instead there was the murmur of Freedom 7, as though a brook were running mechanically through its structure. Inverters moaned, gyroscopes whirred, cooling fans had their own sound, cameras hummed, the radios crackled and emitted their tones before and after conversational exchanges. The sounds flowed together, some dull, others sharper. [It was a] miniature mechanical orchestra. I found those unex­pected sounds most welcome; they meant things were working, doing, pushing, and repeating. They were the sounds of life.” [11]

Five seconds after Freedom 7 separated from the booster the periscope extended, and the autopilot initiated a turnaround maneuver in which the spacecraft was yawed through 180 degrees to position the heat shield forward, in the direction of reentry. In effect, Shepard was flying backwards.

One major objective of the mission – which would greatly distinguish it from the automated flight of Yuri Gagarin – was timed to start at T+3 minutes 10 seconds, when Shepard switched off the automatic control systems and took manual control of the spacecraft’s attitude or angular position.

“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 [ALFA] trainer…. The spacecraft movement was smooth and could be controlled precisely.” [12]

He was to maintain manual control of the spacecraft throughout the remainder of the flight by using various combinations of the attitude and rate-control systems, also known as the fly-by-wire mode.

At T+3 minutes 50 seconds, he made a number of visual observations using the periscope. These included such things as weather fronts, cloud coverage, and certain preselected reference points on the ground. As he said later, “I was zinging along high above the planet’s atmosphere at better than five thousand miles per hour, but there was nothing by which to judge speed. You need relative comparison for that: a tree, a building, a passing spacecraft. My view of the outside universe was restricted to the


Shepard’s helmeted face was filmed during the flight to record his eyes roving over the instru­ment panel in order to assess whether better placement of some instruments might be benefi­cial for future astronauts. (Photo: NASA)

capsule’s two small portholes, and through those I saw that very deep blue, almost jet black, sky. There was only one available reference to tell me I was actually moving: the Earth below.” [13]

He quickly realized there was a problem with the periscope. While sitting on the launch pad enduring the numerous delays he had tried to look downward through the periscope and found that he was almost blinded by sunshine filling the cabin. He had immediately inserted filters to cut down the glare, but had forgotten to remove the filters prior to launch. Now, peering through the scope, he could only see the view below in shades of gray. As he reached for the filter knob the pressure gauge on his left wrist accidentally bumped against the abort handle.

“I stopped that movement real quick,” he explained later. “Sure, the escape tower was gone, and hitting the abort handle might not have caused any great bother, but this was still a test flight, and I wasn’t about to play guessing games.”

Gray or not, he found the view quite enthralling.

“On the periscope,” he informed Mission Control. “What a beautiful view!” [14]


In 1970 Cdr. Ted Wilbur reflected on transporting Alan Shepard on his aircraft from the USS Lake Champlain to Grand Bahama Island, “No sooner had I cleared the bow than he was out of his seat in the cabin and up to the cockpit, with that big wide grin spread


The TF1 Trader COD carrying Shepard is in the lead, preparing for a rolling takeoff. (Photo courtesy of Ed Killian)

across his face. Shouting above the noise of the COD’s engines, he described his morn­ing’s monumental adventure, and it was easy to see he had been on top of the world, literally.

“National Geographic photographer Dean Conger was on board too, and after a series of pictures were taken, I pointed up ahead to where the Bahamas were coming into view. By then it was mid-afternoon and, as usual, tall [cloud] build-ups were forming over each island. I commented to Shepard that it would be a shame to spoil his day by running into a batch of bad weather. (The strip at Grand Bahama has no instrument facility.) He looked the situation over thoughtfully, then laughed: ‘Swell! Let’s divert to Nassau and pitch a liberty!’ Unfortunately, we made it into GBI in good shape.” [50]

Dean Conger was pictured shaking Shepard’s hand on the aircraft. “Alan and I chatted away,” he recalled. “But I don’t remember any of what we said.” [51]

NASA-released transcript of voice communications during MR-3 flight between spacecraft Freedom 7 (Alan Shepard) and CapCom (Deke Slayton) in the Mercury Control Center

Launch communication beginning at

minus 60 seconds:

– 00.01.00 (CapCom):

One minute and counting. Mark.

-00.00.50 (Shepard):


-00.00.45 (CapCom):

Forty-five and counting. Mark.

– 00.00.40 (Shepard):


– 00.00.30 (CapCom):

Firing command, 30. Mark.

– 00.00.25 (Shepard):

Roger… Periscope has retracted.

– 00.00.28 (CapCom):

That is the best periscope we’ve got.

– 00.00.20 (Shepard):

Main bus 24 volts, 26 amps.

– 00.00.15 (CapCom):

15 … 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, zero. Liftoff.

After liftoff:

Подпись: Ah, Roger. Liftoff, and the clock has started. Okay, Jose, you’re on your way. Roger. Reading you loud and clear. So can I you. This is Freedom Seven. The fuel is go, 1.2 g, cabin at 14 psi, oxygen is go. Understand. Freedom Seven is still go. This is Seven. Fuel is go, 1.8 psi cabin, and the oxygen is go. Cabin Pressure is holding at 5.5. Cabin holding at 5.5. I can understand. Cabin holding at 5.5. Fuel is go, 2.5 g, cabin 5.5, oxygen is go, the main bus is 24, and the isolated battery is 29. Rog. Reading 5.5. Trajectory looks good. Okay, it’s a lot smoother now. A lot smoother. Very good. + 00.00.02 (Shepard):

+ 00.00.05 (CapCom):

+ 00.00.08 (Shepard):

+ 00.00.13 (CapCom):

+ 00.00.25 (Shepard):

+ 00.00.32 (CapCom):

+ 00.00.48 (Shepard):

+ 00.00.58 (Shepard):

+ 00.01.21 (Shepard):

+ 00.01.27 (CapCom):

+ 00.01.33 (Shepard):

+ 00.01.42 (CapCom):

+ 00.01.50 (Shepard):

+ 00.01.56 (CapCom):



After liftoff:

+ 00.02.01 (Shepard):

Seven here. Fuel is go, 4 g, 5.5 cabin, oxygen go. All systems are go.

+ 00.02.09 (CapCom):

All systems go. Trajectory okay.

+ 00.02.15 (Shepard):

5 g.

+ 00.02.22 (Shepard):

Cutoff. Tower jettison green.

+ 00.02.05 (CapCom):


+ 00.02.27 (Shepard):


+ 00.02.32 (Shepard):

Cap sep is green.

+ 00.02.34 (CapCom):

Cap sep comes up.

+ 00.02.35 (Shepard):

Periscope is coming out and the turnaround has started.

+ 00.02.41 (CapCom):


+ 00.02.50 (Shepard):

ASCS is okay.

+ 00.02.53 (Shepard):

Control movements.

+ 00.02.54 (CapCom):


+ 00.03.04 (Shepard):

Okay, switching to manual pitch.

+ 00.03.08 (CapCom):

Manual pitch.

+ 00.03.21 (Shepard):

Pitch is okay.

+ 00.03.24 (Shepard):

Switching to manual yaw.

+ 00.03.29 (CapCom):

I can understand. Manual yaw.

+ 00.03.35 (CapCom):


+ 00.03.42 (Shepard):

Yaw is okay. Switching to manual roll.

+ 00.03.48 (CapCom):

Manual roll.

+ 00.03.55 (Shepard):

Roll is okay.

+ 00.03.57 (CapCom):

Roll okay. Looks good here.

+ 00.03.59 (Shepard):

On the periscope. What a beautiful view.

+ 00.04.03 (CapCom):

I’ll bet it is.

+ 00.04.05 (Shepard):

Cloud cover over Florida. Three-to-four-tenths near the Eastern coast. Obscured up to Hatteras.

+ 00.04.20 (Shepard):

I can see Okeechobee. Identify Andros Island. Identify the reefs.

+ 00.04.28 (CapCom):

Roger. Down to retro: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, retro-angle.

+ 00.04.44 (Shepard):

Start retro sequence. Retro attitude on green.

+ 00.04.49 (CapCom):


+ 00.04.56 (Shepard):

Control is smooth.

+ 00.05.02 (CapCom):

Roger. Understand all going smooth.

+ 00.05.13 (Shepard):

There’s… Retro one. Very smooth.

+ 00.05.15 (CapCom):

Roger. Roger.

+ 00.05.16 (Shepard):

Retro Two.

+ 00.05.23 (Shepard):

Retro three.

+ 00.05.31 (Shepard):

All three retros are fired.

+ 00.05.33 (CapCom):

All right on the button.

+ 00.05.35 (Shepard):

Okay. Three retros have fired. Retro-jettison is back to armed.

+ 00.05.40 (CapCom):

Roger. Do you see the booster?

+ 00.05.45 (Shepard):

No. Negative.

+ 00.05.55 (Shepard):

Switching to fly-by-wire.

+ 00.06.01 (CapCom):

Fly-by-wire. Understand.

+ 00.06.11 (Shepard):

Roll is okay.

+ 00.06.14 (CapCom):


+ 00.06.16 (Shepard):

Roger. Do not have a light.

Understand you do not have a light.

Подпись: (continued) After liftoff: + 00.06.21 (CapCom): + 00.06.25 (Shepard): + 00.06.29 (CapCom): + 00.06.30 (Shepard): + 00.06.34 (CapCom): + 00.06.36 (Shepard): + 00.06.41 (CapCom): + 00.06.49 (Shepard): + 00.06.56 (CapCom): + 00.07.04 (Shepard): + 00.07.09 (CapCom): + 00.07.14 (Shepard): + 00.07.18 (CapCom): + 00.07.25 (Shepard): + 00.07.32 (CapCom): + 00.07.39 (Shepard): + 00.07.44 (CapCom): + 00.08.04 (Shepard): + 00.08.10 (Shepard): + 00.08.21 (Shepard): + 00.08.23 (CapCom): + 00.08.27 (Shepard): + 00.08.36 (Shepard): + 00.08.40 (CapCom): + 00.08.47 (Shepard): + 00.08.51 (Shepard): + 00.08.56 (Shepard): + 00.08.58 (Shepard): + 00.09.05 (Shepard): + 00.09.14 (Shepard): + 00.09.15 (CapCom): + 00.09.18 (Shepard): + 00.09.20 (Shepard): + 00.09.25 (CapCom): + 00.09.35 (Shepard): I do not have a light. I see the straps falling away. I heard a noise. I will use override.


Override used. The light is green.

… retroject.

Ahhh, Roger. Periscope is retracting.

Periscope retracting.

I’m on fly-by-wire. Going to reentry attitude.

Reentry attitude, Roger. Trajectory is right on the button. Okay, Buster. Reentry attitude. Switching to ASCS normal. Roger.

ASCS is okay.


Switching HF for radio check.

Freedom Seven, CapCom. How do you read HF?

Ahhh, Roger. Reading you loud and clear HF, Deke. How me?

Back to UHF

This is Freedom Seven.

G buildup, 3, 6, 9.

Okay, okay.

Coming through loud and clear.



CapCom; your impact will be right on the button.

This is Seven. Okay.

45,000feet now.

Aah, 40,000feet.

I’m back on ASCS.



CapCom; how do you read now?

Loud and clear. 25,000.

Aah, Roger, Deke, read you loud and clear. How me? Switching over to GBI.

Aah, Roger.

CapCom at GBI (Grand Bahama Island) takes over communications:

+ 00.09.39 (Shepard):

The drogue is green at 21[,000]. The periscope is out. The drogue is out.

+ 00.09.48 (Shepard):

Okay at drogue deploy. I’ve got seven zero percent auto – nine zero percent manual. Oxygen is still okay.

+ 00.09.55 (GBI):

Can you read?

+ 00.09.57 (Shepard):

Thirty five. Sixty seconds.

+ 00.10.00 (GBI):

Can you read?

+ 00.10.02 (Shepard):

I read. And the snorkel’s [out] at about 15,000feet.


CapCom at GBI (Grand Bahama Island) takes over communications:

+ 00.10.06 (Shepard)

Emergency flow rate is on.

+ 00.10.08 (Shepard)

Standing by for main.

+ 00.10.15 (Shepard)

Main on green.

+ 00.10.18 (Shepard)

Main chute is reefed.

+ 00.10.22 (Shepard)

Main chute is green. Main chute is coming unreefed and it looks good.

+ 00.10.28 (Shepard):

Main chute is good. Rate of descent is reading about 35 feet per second.

+ 00.10.40 (Shepard):

Hello CapCom. Freedom Seven. How do you read?

+ 00.10.55 (Shepard):

Hello Cardfile 23 [recovery aircraft], this is Freedom Seven. How do you read?

+ 00.11.00 (GBI):

Freedom Seven, this is Indian CapCom. Do you read me?

+ 00.11.03 (Shepard):

Affirmative, Indian CapCom, let me give you a report. I’m at 7,000feet, the main chute is good, the landing bag is on green, my peroxide has dumped, my condition is good.

+ 00.11.22 (GBI):

Roger, Freedom Seven. I understand you’re at 7,000 feet. Your main chute is open. Your… is okay.

+ 00.11.29 (Shepard):

That is affirmative. Please relay.

+ 00.12.36 (Shepard):

Hello Cardfile 23, Cardfile 23, Freedom Seven. Over.

+ 00.12.42 (Cardfile 23):

Aah, Freedom Seven, Freedom Seven. This is Cardfile 23. Over.

+ 00.12.49 (Shepard):

Aah, this is Seven. Relay back to CapCom please. My altitude now 4,000feet, condition as before. The main chute is good, the landing bag has deployed, the periscope has dumped.

+ 00.13.14 (Cardfile 23):

Aah, Rog. Understand… relay.

+ 00.13.50 (Cardfile 23):

CapCom, this Cardfile 23.

+ 00.14.03 (Shepard):

Aah, Cardfile 23. Freedom Seven.

+ 00.14.06 (Cardfile 23):

Cardfile, this is 23.

+ 00.14.09 (Shepard):

I’m about 1,000feet now. The main chute still looks good. The rate of descent is indicating 30 feet per second.

+ 00.14.15 (Slayton):

Ahh, rog.

+ 00.14.43 (Slayton):

Freedom Seven, this is. transmission from. ah. Cape CapCom.

+ 00.14.59 (Shepard):

This is Seven. Go ahead.

+ 00.15.02 (Slayton):

… transmitted this time.

+ 00.15.05 (Shepard):

Negative. Just relaying my condition is still good. I’m getting ready for impact.

+ 00.15.22 [Splashdown]: