May 5, 1961: Alan Shepard Jr. becomes first American in space
The front-page news on this day was the United States’ first successful manned flight into space. Photos show astronaut Alan Shepard in the Mercury capsule preparing for launch (prep took over 4 hours), and a wide shot of the rocket blasting off from Cape Canaveral.
The story relates Shepard’s first remark, “What a beautiful view,” as he caught a glimpse of the entire east coast of the U.S. from space.
Shepard piloted the rocket just across the threshold into space and then returned safely to a water landing; the trip that took about 19 minutes in all. Five of those minutes were spent performing tasks to test whether useful work could be performed in a weightless state—the purpose behind the mission.
The article also acknowledges that the Russian space program had sent the world’s first astronaut Yuri Gagarin into orbit 23 days earlier (a trip which took significantly longer, at 106 minutes), an achievement that NASA planned to match by the end of the year. Astronaut John Glenn took that honor on February 20, 1962, with a triple orbit around the earth.
Local stories of the day included information on special programming the local TV stations had planned that evening covering the space flight, and brief piece on an Elkhart family whose television caught on fire while they were watching the launch unfold.