Published: May 5, 2020

Photo of Shepard and his wife Louise meet First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson at the White House59 years ago NASA astronaut Al Shepard became the 1st American (and 2nd person) to travel to space — after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin a month earlier. Launched on the Freedom 7 spacecraft as a part of project Mercury, Shepard’s flight lasted just 15 minutes, but changed the course of future U.S. space exploration. During the space race, the U.S.S.R. had beat the U.S. in almost every way. Earlier that year, Shepard told his wife that she had her arms around the first man who would go into space. She reportedly exclaimed, “Who let a Russian in here?”