Today in History: May 5, Alan Shepard becomes first American in space


In 1494, during his second voyage to the Western Hemisphere, Christopher Columbus landed in Jamaica.

In 1821, Napoleon Bonaparte, 51, died in exile on the island of St. Helena.

In 1925, schoolteacher John T. Scopes was charged in Tennessee with violating a state law that prohibited teaching the theory of evolution. (Scopes was found guilty, but his conviction was later set aside.)

In 1942, wartime sugar rationing began in the United States.

In 1945, in the only fatal attack of its kind during World War II, a Japanese balloon bomb exploded on Gearhart Mountain in Oregon, killing the pregnant wife of a minister and five children. Denmark and the Netherlands were liberated as a German surrender went into effect.

In 1961, astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr. became America’s first space traveler as he made a 15-minute suborbital flight aboard Mercury capsule Freedom 7.

In 1973, Secretariat won the Kentucky Derby, the first of his Triple Crown victories, in a time of 1:59.4, a record that still stands.

In 1981, Irish Republican Army hunger-striker Bobby Sands died at the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland on his 66th day without food.

In 1994, Singapore caned American teenager Michael Fay for vandalism, a day after the sentence was reduced from six lashes to four in response to an appeal by President Bill Clinton.

In 2009, Texas health officials confirmed the first death of a U.S. resident with swine flu.

In 2014, a narrowly divided Supreme Court upheld Christian prayers at the start of local council meetings.

In 2016, former Los Angeles trash collector Lonnie Franklin Jr. was convicted of 10 counts of murder in the “Grim Sleeper” serial killings that targeted poor, young Black women over two decades.

In 2017, President Donald Trump signed his first piece of major legislation, a $1 trillion spending bill to keep the government operating through September.

In 2018, Justify, on his way to a Triple Crown sweep, splashed through the slop at Churchill Downs to win the Kentucky Derby by 2½ lengths, becoming the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Derby without having raced as a 2-year-old.

In 2020, Tyson Foods said it would resume limited operation of its huge pork processing plant in Waterloo, Iowa, with enhanced safety measures, more than two weeks after closing the facility because of a coronavirus outbreak among workers.


Actor Michael Murphy is 86.

Actor Lance Henriksen is 84.

Comedian-actor Michael Palin is 81.

Actor John Rhys-Davies is 80.

Rock correspondent Kurt Loder is 79.

Rock musician Bill Ward (Black Sabbath) is 76.

Actor Melinda Culea is 69.

Actor Lisa Eilbacher is 67.

Actor Richard E. Grant is 67.

Former broadcast journalist John Miller is 66.

Rock singer Ian McCulloch (Echo and the Bunnymen) is 65.

Broadcast journalist Brian Williams is 65.

Rock musician Shawn Drover (Megadeth) is 58.

TV personality Kyan Douglas is 54.

Actor Tina Yothers is 51.

R&B singer Raheem DeVaughn is 49.

Actor Santiago Cabrera is 46.

Actor Vincent Kartheiser is 45.

Singer Craig David is 43.

Actor Danielle Fishel is 43.

Actor Henry Cavill is 41.

Actor Clark Duke is 39.

Soul singer Adele is 36.

Rock singer Skye Sweetnam is 36.

R&B singer Chris Brown is 35.

Figure skater Nathan Chen is 25.