America in Space 50 Years: The Confidence to Explore
May 6, 2011 • 7:24PM

The first American manned space flight took place 50 years ago yesterday, when Alan Shepard successfully carried out a suborbital space mission. Shepard sat atop a modified war-time V-2 rocket, which had only been used as a weapon, with the confidence that the care taken by the German rocket team that had designed, developed, and built it gave him a good chance to survive the flight. Less than three weeks later, on the basis of Shepard's 15-minute(!) Mercury mission, which paled in comparison to Yuri Gagarin' earlier 89-minute full orbit of the Earth, President Kennedy challenged NASA to land a man on the Moon and bring him back safely to the Earth before the end of the decade. The President had the confidence that this nation could mobilize the creativity and resources needed to meet that challenge. Which it did.

Today, that there is no vision or confidence in the future is evidenced by the vapid remarks made by NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden on Shepard's anniversary. However, the U.S. Postal Service has released a "Forever" stamp in the astronaut's honor. ("Forever" stamps don't have a specific value on them, and can be used for first-class postage, regardless of future rate increases). Fellow Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter, commented at the unveiling of the Forever stamp, that this was "appropriate to the time that we should honor and remember Alan B. Shepard and Freedom 7."