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.