On May 5th, 1961 the United States lit the first candle of its human spaceflight programme with the launch of Mercury Redstone 3. Alan Shepard became the first American in space, experiencing five minutes of weightlessness during a fifteen-minute parabolic flight from Cape Canaveral. 

On the morning of launch, as technicians prepared to install the craft’s side hatch, Shepard had a long wait. Technical problems delayed the launch for four hours. Shepard’s patience eventually wore out and he famously snapped, “Why don’t you fix your little problem and light this candle?” The problems were resolved and the 500,000 people gathered near Cape Canaveral watched in awe the liftoff of the first manned US mission into space.