On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American in space in this Mercury capsule. He named it "Freedom 7," the number signifying the seven Mercury astronauts; NASA called the mission Mercury-Redstone 3 (MR-3). Lofted by a Redstone rocket, Shepard and his capsule attained a maximum speed of 5180 mph and rose to an altitude of 116 miles. The sub-orbital flight lasted 15 minutes and 28 seconds. Freedom 7 parachuted into the sea 302 miles from the launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida, and was retrieved by helicopter, along with Shepard.
NASA gave "Freedom 7" to the Smithsonian in October 1961, the first manned spacecraft accessioned into the National Collection. It is also the only Mercury capsule of the original type flown by an astronaut. It has small portholes instead of a window over the head of the astronaut, and the main hatch lacks explosive bolts for emergency escape.
Transferred from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
The first U.S. spaceship was a cone-shaped one-man capsule with a cylinder mounted on top. Two meters (6 ft, 10 in) long, 1.9 meters (6 ft, 2 1/2 in) in diameter, a 5.8 meter (19 ft, 2 in) escape tower was fastened to the cylinder of the capsule. The blunt end was covered with an ablative heat shield to protect it against the 3000 degree heat of entry into the atmosphere.
The Mercury program used two launch vehicles: A Redstone for the suborbital and an Atlas for the four orbital flights. Prior to the manned flights, unmanned tests of the booster and the capsule, carrying a chimpanzee, were made. Each astronaut named his capsule and added the numeral 7 to denote the teamwork of the original astronauts.