Huntsville leaders remember first manned space flight


HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – We can thank the bright-minded individuals who built the Mercury Redstone Rocket, manned by the United States’ first man in space, Alan Shepard, for our nickname used today, “Rocket City.” Their rocket was built entirely in Huntsville and kicked off the city’s now claim to fame.

Huntsville leaders celebrated that at a conference held at the Space and Rocket Center exactly 60 years after Shepard’s launch into space.

Not just a rocket launch, but the next leap forward in the space race, just 23 days after the Soviet Union sent a man into space.

Shepard piloted America’s first manned space flight on May 5, 1961, and it lasted just 15 minutes.

“Think about what that 15 minutes did for the city of Huntsville, state of Alabama, did for the nation,” Mayor Tommy Battle said at the conference.

The Redstone Rocket launched Shepard’s Mercury Capsule, Freedom 7, on his monumental journey.

“This is where America’s space program was born,” Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President of Government and Public Affairs Mike Ward said. “President Kennedy announced 20 days after this mission announced we were going to the Moon in that!”

Now, 60 years later, the Rocket City is still a big part of the country’s space program. The Space and Rocket Center helps keep the program’s history alive for people all over the world.

“This is the largest paid tourist attraction in the state of Alabama,” Ward said.

“We’re so excited to still be here 60 years later, still doing amazing things in space,” Space and Rocket Center Executive Director and CEO Kimberly Robinson said.

She said it’s important to display the history that makes us the Rocket City, and look forward to the city’s future.

“I would say this makes Huntsville a wonderful hub for all space activity and Space Command I feel fits in so well with the work that we do here at the Center,” she said.

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