One of the signs in the gallery. It reads:
* FREEDOM 7 *
On May 5, 1961, Naval Academy graduate Alan Shepard (Class of 1945) became the
first American in space. Enclosed in this Mercury spacecraft, Freedom
7, Shepard rode atop a Redstone Rocket to an altitutde of 116 miles.
The flight of Freedom 7 lasted 15 minutes, 22 seconds, and
ended in the Atlantic Ocean just over 30 miles from the launch pad at Cape
Canaveral, Florida. This was a defining moment in the American space program,
and the first step toward a successful lunar landing.
The Mercury spacecraft is approximately 9 feet high and 6 feet in diameter at
its base. The bell-shaped spacecraft consists of two sections. The conical
lower section housed Shepard and his equipment. A heat shield attached to the
base of the lower section enabled the spacecraft to survive the searing heat of
the atmospheric entry. Two parachutes were located in the cylindrical upper
The cylindrical upper section did house two parachutes, although they were a
main and a reserve chute; only one was ever actually used.