The space capsule that carried the first American into space went on display today at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the president’s address vowing that Americans would land on the moon.
The Freedom 7, which weighs about 2,422 pounds and is over 9 feet tall and 6 feet in diameter, carried US Navy Commander Alan B. Shepard into space on the morning of May 5, 1961. His sub-orbital flight lasted 15 minutes and 22 seconds before it splashed down safely in the Atlantic Ocean.
The Freedom 7 flight was the first to play on live television. Three weeks after the mission, Kennedy told the nation of his goal of landing a man on the moon before the end of the decade. Kennedy hoped to boost the United States in the “space race.” The country was lagging behind the Soviet Union in space exploration when Kennedy took office in 1961.
Kennedy, assassinated in 1963, did not live to see his dream come true. That happened in 1969.
Shepard later became the fifth person to walk on the moon during the Apollo 14 mission in 1971.
NASA gave the Freedom 7 to the Smithsonian Institute in October 1961, and it has been on display at the US Naval Academy in Maryland since 1998. The Freedom 7 will be on display at the JFK Museum until December 2015.
The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.