MERCURY SPACECRAFT FREEDOM 7
Astronaut Alan B. Shepard made the first U.S. piloted spaceflight in this spacecraft on May 5, 1961. During this suborbital mission, lasting 15 minutes, 22 seconds, Shepard reached an altitude of 186 kilometers (116 miles). The astronaut and his Mercury spacecraft were recovered 483 kilometers (302 miles) downrange from Cape Canaveral in the Atlantic Ocean by the USS Champlain.
Shepard was not the first human in space. Soviet cosmonaut Yuri A. Gagarin had orbited the Earth on April 12, 1961, 23 days before Shepard's flight.
The Mercury spacecraft consists of a conical pressure section topped by a cylindrical recovery system section.
The capsule's frame is made of titanium, covered with steel and beryllium shingles. The base of the spacecraft is a beryllium heat sink, a technique for preventing the heat generated during reentry from harming an astronaut. Later flights used ablative heat shields, which protected the spacecraft by vaporizing and burning away during re-entry.
The Mercury spacecraft was equipped with three 454 kilogram (1000 pound) thrust solid-propellant retro-rockets mounted in a package on the heat shield. After the three rockets were fired to slow the spacecraft and allow it to drop to the Earth, the retro-rocket package was jettisoned.
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