Alan Shepard becomes the first American in space inside the capsule Freedom 7.
On the morning of the mission, Shepard had a breakfast of steak and eggs, setting precedent for the now-famous steak and egg astronaut pre-flight breakfasts. He sat in the capsule for over three hours before launch, resulting in the need for a bathroom break. Because Freedom 7's flight was only designed to last 20 minutes or so, no bathroom facilities were built into the capsule. Shepard ended up urinating himself before launch to no ill effect.
Like Yuri Gagarin's earlier April launch for the U.S.S.R. (becoming the first man in space), Shepard's flight was sub-orbital, meaning Freedom 7 did reach space, but its trajectory intersected Earth's atmosphere at some points, never making one full and complete orbit outside the atmosphere.
The flight of Freedom 7 was nationally televised in the United States, watched intently by President John F. Kennedy, who would later proclaim that "...this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind..."