2011 44¢ Mercury Project
Issue Date: May 4, 2011
City: Kennedy Space Center, FL
Printed By: Banknote Corporation of America
Printing Method: Offset, Microprint "USPS"
Project Mercury, begun in 1959, was America’s first manned spaceflight program. Its main goal was to put a human in orbit around the Earth. A major step toward this goal came in 1961 with the successful launch of the Freedom 7 spacecraft in the Mercury-Redstone 3 mission.
The Freedom 7 was selected for the first U.S. manned suborbital flight in October 1960, but additional preparation changed the launch date to May 1961. In January, three astronauts were announced as potential pilots for the mission – Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, and John Glenn. It was not until the May 2nd launch was canceled due to weather that America discovered it was Shepard who would pilot the spacecraft.
On the morning of May 5th, an estimated 45 million Americans eagerly waited in front of their television sets for the Freedom 7 liftoff, which occurred at 9:34 a.m. Within minutes, the craft left Earth’s atmosphere, making Alan Shepard the first American to reach space.
The Freedom 7 spent 15 minutes, 28 seconds in flight, reaching an altitude of 116.5 miles before beginning its return to earth. The success of this mission was an important milestone in American space exploration. It led to one of the world’s greatest space achievements – landing a man on the moon, which occurred just eight years later.