Monday, May 05, 2008

This Day In 1961

SouthieBoy and I played "Do you know what today is?" yesterday in my afternoon, his evening. He got mine - Battle of Coral Sea, but I missed his "Do you know what tomorrow is?".

In 1961, astronaut Alan Shepard became the United States' first man in space in a brief, sub-orbital flight from Cape Canaveral.

Rear Admiral Shepard, USN ret. was born in Derry, New Hampshire, so SB and I will lay claim to him and say one of our own made history on this day.

From the NYT on that day:
U.S. Hurls Man 115 Miles Into Space; Shepard Works Controls in Capsule, Reports by Radio in 15-Minute Flight
Cape Canaveral, Fla. -- A slim, cool Navy test pilot was rocketed 115 miles into space today.
Thirty-seven-year-old Comdr. Alan B. Shepard Jr. thus became the first American space explorer.
Commander Shepard landed safely 302 miles out at sea fifteen minutes after the launching. He was quickly lifted aboard a Marine Corps helicopter.
"Boy, what a ride!" he said, as he was flown to the aircraft carrier Lake Champlain four miles away.
Extensive physical examinations were begun immediately.
Tonight doctors reported Commander Shepard in "excellent" condition, suffering no ill effects.

Major U. S. Step
The near-perfect flight represented the United States' first major step in the race to explore space with manned space craft.
True, it was only a modest leap compared with the once-around-the-earth orbital flight of Maj. Yuri A. Gagarin of the Soviet Union.
The Russian's speed of more than 17,000 miles an hour was almost four times Commander Shepard's 4,500. The distance the Russian traveled was almost 100 times as great.
But Commander Shepard maneuvered his craft in space--something the Russians have not claimed for Major Gagarin.
All in all, the Shepard flight was welcomed almost rapturously here and in much of the non- Communist world as proof that the United States, though several years behind in the space race, had the potential to offer imposing competition.
Commander Shepard, a native of East Derry, N. H., was a long time starting his journey.
He lay on his contoured Fiberglas couch atop the Redstone missile--"the least nervous man of the bunch," the flight surgeon reported--for three and a half hours while the launching crew delayed the countdown because of weather and a few technical troubles.
Finally, at 10:34 A. M. Eastern daylight time, the count reached zero. A jet of yellow flame lifted the slender rocket off its pad as thousands watched anxiously from the Cape and along the public beaches south of here.
Hundreds of missiles had been launched here, but never before with a human being aboard. Only once before, so far as is known, had a human ridden a missile into space anywhere--and that was from the Soviet base at Tyura Tam, near the Aral Sea last month.
The rocket, and the pilot in the Project Mercury capsule on top, performed flawlessly.
Commander Shepard kept up a running commentary with the command center during the flight. He experienced six times the force of gravity during the rocket's climb, then there were five minutes during which gravity seemed to have vanished. The abrupt re-entry into the atmosphere pressed him into his couch with a force of more than ten times gravity.
At 7,000 feet, his capsule descending by a red and white parachute, Commander Shepard radioed, as if returning from a routine flight by plane:
"Coming in for a landing."
Drops Gently to Water
The capsule, dropping then at a fairly gentle thirty feet a second, hit the water at 10:49 A. M. The commander, apparently as sound and healthy as when he had entered the capsule at 6:20 A. M., radioed that he would climb out immediately rather than ride it to the carrier.
A horse-collar-like sling was lowered from Marine helicopter 44 and he was pulled aboard, less than five minutes after hitting the gently rolling waves. His first words were:
"Thank you very much. It's a beautiful day."
A minute later, the capsule was hooked and flown, dangling below the helicopter, to a mattress- covered platform on the carrier. Moments later, as hundreds of sailors cheered, the astronaut, his silver space suit gleaming, debarked from the helicopter.
Instead of going directly to the admiral's quarters below, where he was to receive a thorough physical examination and pour out his fresh impressions of his journey, he jogged to the capsule to retrieve his space helmet.
The formalities below were interrupted when a call came into the carrier bridge from the White House. It was President Kennedy.

'Very Thrilling Ride'
A naval officer who overheard the conversation quoted the astronaut as saying:
"Thank you very much, Mr. President. It was certainly a very thrilling ride. I'd like to thank everyone who made it possible."
While being checked by the doctors, Commander Shepard told one:
"I don't think there's much you'll have to do to me, doc."
In the twenty-four to forty-eight hours following the flight, Commander Shepard is to undergo the physical check-ups and interviews. He is resting tonight at Grand Bahamas Island.
All aboard the carrier, except for two physicians, were under strict orders not to speak to the astronaut unless he asked a question.
The precaution was taken so that the astronaut's reactions could be recorded with the meagerest possible distortion by intervening discussions.
The chief physician on the carrier, Comdr. Robert C. Laning, reported the astronaut in "excellent physical condition."
Commander Shepard's first refreshment was a glass of orange juice. He told the doctor that he was "thrilled and experienced a great sense of humility."

To Go to Washington
The astronaut spent two hours and twenty-five minutes on the carrier, then was flown to a special clinic on the Grand Bahama, where the examinations and questioning continued.
There, after an extensive examination, Col. William Douglas, personal physician for the seven astronauts, found Mr. Shepard in "excellent shape and health." He doubted that the further tests to be made would show any ill effects.
Plans are to fly Commander Shepard to Washington Monday for a hero's welcome and a meeting with President Kennedy.
What were the scientific contributions made by the fifteen-minute Mercury flight?
Chief among them, according to Dr. Hugh A. Dryden, Deputy Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, was information on the reactions of the astronaut under the stresses of space flight.
Commander Shepard was reported to have performed no differently during the actual rocket flight than he had in dozens of practice flights in ground simulators and whirling centrifuges.
He was able to click off moment-by-moment reports on the operations of the complex array of mechanisms, without missing a beat. His voice remained normal except during the exposure to the maximum gravity force. Then it became strained, as had the voices of all astronauts during training.
In addition, Shepard was able to control the attitude, or position, of the capsule in space by operation of a control stick that sent squirts of hydrogen peroxide rushing from sixteen strategically located jets.
In this way, Commander Shepard was able to change not the path of the capsule, which was determined by the ballistic trajectory established by the rocket, but the angle at which the capsule flew through space. Turning levers inside the capsule, he was able to control the pitch (nose up or down), yaw (right or left motion) and roll of the capsule.
The astronaut also regulated the attitude of the capsule for the firing of the retro or backward-firing rockets and fired the rockets as the capsule started descending toward earth. For the sub-orbital flight the firing of the three retro rockets on the blunt nose of the capsule was only practiced. But in orbital flight, the retro rockets are necessary to slow down the capsule and start it returning to earth.
Commander Shepard talked about his experiences "flying" the capsule to Capt. Ralph Weymouth, skipper of the Lake Champlain.
"He told me," the captain said, "that four or five years from now, we may look back at this as a pretty crude thing, but at this moment it seemed a tremendous event."
Dr. Stanley C. White of the Air Force said there had been very little change in the astronaut's pulse or respiration throughout the flight.
Temperatures both in the capsule and in the astronaut's air-tight air-conditioned double layer space suit rose only slightly during the friction-generating descent into the atmosphere.
According to Dr. White, the suit temperature rose of 75 to 78 Fahrenheit during re-entry and the cabin air temperature rose from 99 degrees to 102.
To indicate the decelerating impact of the atmosphere, it was calculated that the capsule, in one minute, slowed from a speed of 4,227 miles an hour at forty miles altitude to 341 miles an hour at twelve miles altitude.
The Mercury capsule was a compact, 2,300 pound steel and titanium craft shaped something like a television tube. The astronaut, lying on his couch against the blunt "picture" end of the tube, had about as much space as he would in the cockpit of a jet fighter plane.
Before him were panels containing more than 100 switches, buttons, and levers for performing such functions as firing retro rockets; switching radio channels; turning on and off the manual control jets; blowing out the escape hatch at the side; and extending or retracting a periscope with which he could monitor operations of devices not visible to the direct-view porthole down through his legs.
The barrel-shaped capsule bore the name of "Freedom 7" painted in white letters on the black side of the capsule. The name was thought up by the seven Mercury astronauts.
There were many emergency measures that the astronaut himself could initiate in case the automatic and ground-controlled systems both malfunctioned.
Perhaps most important was the triggering of the escape tower, a rocket powered pylon atop the capsule that would carry the capsule up and away from the Redstone booster if trouble developed anywhere from launch pad to burnout and separation of the booster.
Commander Shepard did report that he encountered several "unexpected sensations."
One was what he termed "a bit of roughness" during the early part of the flight, apparently when the Redstone nosed its way upward through the sonic barrier.
There also was a bit of wobbling when one of the retro-rockets was fired.
Otherwise, the commander said, "everything went like clock work."
Space agency officials were asked whether any special insurance policies had been taken out to cover the astronaut in case he had been killed or injured.
The officials did not know of any.

SJS has a totally cool pic in his sidebar today (this day in history) and if you click on it, it takes you here. You should really go check it out.

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