On this day in 1961 Astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American to travel in space. Shepard’s suborbital flight from Cape Canaveral, Florida lasted only 15 minutes. The United States was playing catch up at this point with the Soviet Union who sent Yuri Gagarin into space a few weeks earlier on April 12,1961.
Astronaut Alan Shepard would be grounded for ten years from flight because of an inner ear disease. He would return for Apollo 14 and would be the 5th person to walk on the moon. He was the oldest astronaut in the program at that time at 47 and was the only Mercury astronaut to go to the moon. Alan Shepard died in 1998 at the age of 74.