On the morning of May 5th a special van transported Shepard from his isolated living quarters on Cape Canaveral to Launch Complex 5 where the Mercury Redstone 3 awaited in a glow of floodlights and clouds of vapor as liquid oxygen was being pumped into the rocket. Leaving the van parked only 10 feet from the missile gantry, Shepard entered the gantry elevator to the third level to board Freedom 7, the first manned spacecraft of the US space program.
Though he was the first astronaut to go into space, Shepard was aided at every step by many knowing men, including his six colleagues. Astronaut John Glenn made sure the capsule was ready for him; Gordon Cooper briefed him on weather and the missile; Gus Grissom rode with him in the van and stayed with him until the hatch was closed; Scott Carpenter and Walter Schirra chased after the Redstone in F-106 jets to study its flight; and Donald Slayton sat in the Mercury Control Center to communicate with Shepard over the radio so he would get instructions from a familiar voice. (LIFE magazine, 12 May 1961, pg. 20)
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© All texts by Victor Martin-Malburet