Mercury program made history this month in 1961

Alan Shepard Jr. became the first American in space when his Mercury capsule, the Freedom 7, made a 15-minute suborbital flight at 9:34 a.m. May 5, 1961.

We remember all of the Mercury 7 astronauts this month. From Shepard to Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Walter Schirra and Donald “Deke” Slayton, these men formed a new fraternity of pioneers. They helped usher in an age that broke the bonds of gravity and soared into the cosmos.

Their bravery when strapping themselves into a very tight space on top of an 82-foot-tall Mercury-Redstone rocket paved the way for all the brave women and men who followed them into the heavens.

The bond of these first seven astronauts was strong enough to designate each Mercury mission with a “7” to signify their unity. It wasn’t just Shepard going into space 55 years ago. His six fellow explorers flew with Shepard in spirit.

That’s why all the Mercury missions ended with the number “7,” including MA-9, the final Mercury mission dubbed “Faith 7.” Space Center Houston is proud to display the Faith 7 capsule in our Starship Gallery, where you can see first-hand the compact capsule representing the program from which so much innovation and exploration grew over the last half-century.