60 years since 1st American in space: Tourists lining up
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Sixty years after Alan Shepard became the first American in space, everyday people are on the verge of following in his cosmic footsteps.
Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin company is finally opening ticket sales for short hops from Texas launched by a rocket named New Shepard. Details are coming Wednesday, the 60th anniversary of Shepard’s Mercury flight.
Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic aims to kick off tourist flights next year, just as soon as he straps into his space-skimming, plane-launched rocketship for a test run from the New Mexico base.
And Elon Musk’s SpaceX will launch a billionaire and his sweepstakes winners in September. That will be followed by a flight by three businessmen to the International Space Station in January.
“It’s a huge leap, right?" said NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough, commander of SpaceX's most recent flight to the space station. "But it's pretty cool ... citizens will be able to have the chance to go to space and experience what we get to.”
It's all rooted in Shepard’s 15-minute flight on May 5, 1961.
Shepard was actually the second person in space — the Soviet Union launched cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin three weeks earlier, to Shepard’s everlasting dismay.
The 37-year-old Mercury astronaut and Navy test pilot cut a slick sci-fi figure in his silver spacesuit as he stood in the predawn darkness at Cape Canaveral, looking up at his Redstone rocket. Impatient with all the delays, including another hold in the countdown just minutes before launch, he famously growled into his mic: “Why don't you fix your little problem and light this candle?"
His capsule, Freedom 7, soared to an altitude of 116 miles (186 kilometers) before parachuting into the Atlantic.
Twenty days later, President John F. Kennedy committed to landing a man...