Sunday, May 5, 2013

Today in History: The first American in space

Space Shuttle Challenger on Mission STS-8
On May 5, 1961, Navy Commander Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr. became the first American to travel into space on the Freedom 7 space capsule.

On this 52nd anniversary, I found a NASA postcard among my early postcard collections, sent from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, on December, 19, 1999. We sent the card to ourselves when we went to see the Space Shuttle Discovery launch for the 3rd Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Mission STS-103. It was launched from Pad: 39B on December 19, 1999, 7:50 p.m. EST. It was a night time launch since the sunset that day was 5:32 PM. It was our second attempt to drive 300 miles round trip from West Palm Beach to see the Discovery launch in two days. The previous day launch attempt on December 18 was scrubbed due to the weather. There were two more canceled launch attemps on December 6 and December 16, 1999 for technical reasons. We were debating whether to go again on December 19 as the forecast had 40% chance for bad weather. However, our determination paid off for an once-in-a-life-time experience.

Interestingly, the Challenger mission, STS-8 shown on the card, was the first night launch of the space shuttle. The nose of the shuttle was positioned away from the sun in order to test the flight deck's performance in extreme cold temperature. Night time launches were banned after the Shuttle Columbia accident in order to better monitor the foam falling off.

Pictorial Postmark at the Kennedy Space Center

The pictorial postmark had a space shuttle image with the text "Benefits on Earth". The stamp was a non-denominated 'H' stamps issued at the 'birthplace' of Uncle Sam in Troy, New York on November 9, 1988. The "H-series" stamp features Uncle Sam's Top Hat with stars and stripes on a white background. The stamp was valued at 33 cents for the First-Class, 1 ounce, letter rate effective January 10, 1999. 

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