For Immediate Release: September 10, 2012
Further information: Megan Piccirillo (617) 514-1665,

Boston, MA – On September 12, 2012, the Museum at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library will unveil a special new installation featuring Freedom 7, the iconic space capsule that U.S. Navy Commander Alan B. Shepard, Jr. piloted on the first American manned flight into space. Celebrating American ingenuity and determination, the installation opens on the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s speech at Rice University where he so eloquently championed America’s manned space efforts:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American in space in the Mercury capsule. NASA called the mission Mercury-Redstone 3 (MR-3), and Shepard named the capsule "Freedom 7," the number signifying the seven Mercury astronauts. Lofted by a Redstone rocket, Shepard and his capsule attained a maximum speed of 5180 mph and rose to an altitude of 116.5 miles. The sub-orbital flight lasted 15 minutes and 22 seconds before 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. On loan from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum through December 2015, the installation of Freedom 7 was made possible through the generous sponsorship of Kennedy Library Foundation Board member Fereydoun Firouz.

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 rocket for Shepard’s suborbital flight and an Atlas rocket 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.

When John F. Kennedy took office in January 1961, the United States was lagging behind the Soviets in the “space race,” and the newly elected president recognized that space exploration had implications for world leadership. In a memorandum to Vice President Lyndon Johnson dated April 20, 1961, President Kennedy asked, “Are we working 24 hours a day on existing programs? If not, why not?”

Less than a month later, on May 5, 1961, at 9:34am EST, astronaut Alan Shepard, a native of Derry New Hampshire, piloted Freedom 7 to become the first American in space. Clamped atop a Redstone rocket nearly seven stories high, the capsule was blasted into a sub-orbital flight that laid to rest any doubts that man could function in space—at least for a short period. Shepard managed and monitored 27 major events and communicated with Mercury Control 78 times before splashing down safely in the Atlantic Ocean.

The flight was the first to play out live on television, with millions of people sharing in the tension and excitement as the historic event unfolded before their eyes. On his return to Earth, Shepard was given a hero’s welcome for his service to the country. He was honored with parades in Washington DC, New York, and Los Angeles, and President Kennedy presented him with the NASA Distinguished Service Medal in a ceremony at the White House.

Three weeks after Freedom 7’s successful mission, on May 25, 1961, President Kennedy announced to the nation the goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth before the end of the decade, saying:

“I believe this nation should commit itself, to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”

Ten years later, the oldest astronaut in the program at age 47, Shepard commanded the Apollo 14 mission, piloting the lander to the most accurate landing of the Apollo missions. He became the fifth person to walk on the Moon, and the only astronaut of the Mercury Seven to walk on the Moon. During the mission he hit two golf balls on the lunar surface.

Freedom 7 has been on display at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD since 1998. At the request of Caroline Kennedy, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and the US Naval Academy welcomed the idea of celebrating the role of US Navy veteran John F. Kennedy in America’s space effort.

The Freedom 7 Mercury Space Capsule is the centerpiece of the Kennedy Presidential Library’s Space Exhibit. Additional artifacts on display include:

• Photographs of the “Mercury Seven” astronauts, the launch and recovery of Freedom 7, and President Kennedy watching the historic flight;

• Original memos between President Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson on the state of the nation’s space program; and

• President Kennedy’s reading copy and video clip of his address at Rice University where he restated the nation's resolve of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth before the decade was over.

Alan B. Shepard, Jr. was born on November 18, 1923, in East Derry, New Hampshire, to parents Lt. Col. Alan B. Shepard (USA, Ret.) and Renza (Emerson) Shepard. He attended primary school in East Derry and graduated from the Pinkerton Academy in Derry, New Hampshire, in 1940. In 1959, Shepard was one of 11 military test pilots invited by the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to volunteer for the first US manned space flight program. Following a grueling series of physical and psychological tests, NASA selected Shepard to be one of the original group of seven Mercury astronauts.

The installation of Freedom 7 is part of the Kennedy Presidential Library’s ongoing celebration of President Kennedy’s role in championing America’s exploration of space.

On Monday, August 27, the Kennedy Library hosted a live interview via satellite with two American astronauts – Needham native Suni Williams and Joe Acaba, the first astronaut of Puerto Rican heritage -- living and working on the International Space Station (ISS). Satellite hookup allowed the audience to both see and hear the two astronauts. Co-sponsored by NASA, this event invited children ages eight and older, students, and adults to submit questions to the astronauts. Williams, who graduated from Needham High School in 1983, completed her fifth walk in space on August 30, when she replaced one of the main electrical units on the International Space Station. She is slated to live on the Space Station until January 2013. Acaba is a veteran crew member of the retired Space Shuttle Discovery and the first Peace Corps volunteer to become an astronaut. He arrived on the ISS on May 15, and he is scheduled to return to earth on September17.

And on August 13, the Library welcomed NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, who, in July 2009, completed his first space flight and logged more than 376 hours in space, including 18 hours and 5 minutes in three spacewalks. Cassidy, who has been assigned to the Expedition 35 crew as a flight engineer and is scheduled to fly to the ISS aboard Soyuz 34 in April 2013, met with an audience of children and their parents with whom he shared his firsthand accounts of what it's like in space. A native of York, Maine, Cassidy attended the Naval Academy Prep School, the US Naval Academy, MIT, and spent ten years as a Navy SEAL where he completed four six-month deployments (two in Afghanistan and two in the Mediterranean) before being selected by NASA in May of 2004 for Astronaut Candidate training.

Freedom 7 is just one of the many exciting and inspiring exhibits visitors will find in the Museum at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. The Museum’s 25 multimedia exhibits and period settings from the White House offer an exciting “you are there” experience, and create a stirring account of President Kennedy’s thousand days in office. Beginning with a 17-minute film narrated by President Kennedy, visitors step back into the recreated world of the early 1960s and witness the first televised presidential debate; accompany first lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy on her televised tour of the White House; sit in on press conferences with the President; stroll through White House corridors; witness Cabinet meetings during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and observe the president’s televised address from the Oval Office on the Civil Rights crisis.

One of Boston’s most popular destinations for visitors from all nations, the architectural masterpiece designed by I.M. Pei sits on a 10-acre waterfront site on Columbia Point offering panoramic views of Boston’s skyline and Harbor Islands.

General admission to the Museum at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library is $12.00. Admission for seniors over the age of 62 and college students with appropriate identification is $10.00, and for children ages 13-17, $9.00. Children ages 12 and under are admitted for free.

The Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with the exceptions of Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. The Library is located in the Dorchester section of Boston, off Morrissey Boulevard, next to the campus of the University of Massachusetts/Boston. Parking is free. There is free shuttle-service from the JFK/UMass T Stop on the Red Line. The Museum is fully handicapped accessible. Media sponsors for the museum are WCVB-TV 5 and the The Phoenix. For more information, call (866) JFK-1960 or access on the Internet.

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is a presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration and supported, in part, by the Kennedy Library Foundation, a non-profit organization.

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1962-09-12 Rice University

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Space Gallery

Entering Capsule

View photographs featuring JFK's space program in this media gallery.