"Today We Celebrate A First -- And We Celebrate The
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (pictured) issued a
statement Thursday about the 50th anniversary of United States
human spaceflight. On that date in 1961, Alan Shepard became the
first American to fly in space, which Bolden says set our nation on
a path of exploration and discovery that continues to this day.
"May 5, 1961, was a good day," Bolden said in the statement.
"When Alan Shepard launched toward the stars that day, no American
had ever done so, and the world waited on pins and needles praying
for a good outcome. The flight was a great success, and on the
strength of Shepard's accomplishment, NASA built the leadership
role in human spaceflight that we have held ever since.
"I was a teenager at the time and just sorting out the field of
study I wanted to pursue. Though I never dared dream it growing up
in segregated South Carolina, I was proud to follow in Alan's
footsteps several years later and become a test pilot myself. The
experiences I've had would not have been possible without Alan's
pioneering efforts. The inspiration that has created generations of
leaders to enlarge our understanding of our universe and to strive
toward the highest in human potential was sparked by those early
achievements of our space program. They began with Freedom 7 and a
daring test pilot who flew the ultimate experimental vehicle that
May day 50 years ago.
"Today we celebrate a first -- and we celebrate the future.
Project Mercury gave our country something new, including an
astronaut corps and the space vehicles that began our human
"I encourage everyone to not only remember that remarkable
achievement, but to be reminded that we are still driven to reach
for new heights in human exploration.
Shepard Aboard Freedom 7
"At NASA, each first is grown and expanded until we make the
next breakthrough. 50 years ago, we sent the first American into
space. Today we have a space station flying 250 miles overhead
right now on which men and women have lived continuously for more
than 10 years.
"With the same spirit of innovation and grit of those early days
of space flight, we now move out on an exciting path forward where
we will develop the capabilities to take humans to even more
destinations in the solar system. With our support and assistance,
commercial companies will expand access to that rarefied area Alan
Shepard first trod for America, allowing NASA to focus on those
bigger, more challenging destinations and to enable our science
missions to peer farther and farther beyond our solar system.
"We are just getting started. Our future, as an agency and as a
country, holds many more firsts. We know the next 50 years will be
just as exciting as the last – filled with discovery,
innovation and inspiration."