Alan Barlett Shepard Jr

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Alan Barlett Shepard Jr.


American Astronaut

Adistinguished career as a U.S. Navy pilot and officer resulted in Alan Shepard's selection for NASA's first class of astronaut candidates. When he was blasted into space in Mercury 3's Freedom 7 capsule on May 5, 1961, he became the first American in space, launching several decades of intensive NASA space exploration. In 1971, Shepard became the fifth (and oldest, at 47) man to walk on the moon. Before his death from cancer in 1998, his accomplishments as an astronaut were equaled by his success in business.

Born in East Derry, New Hampshire, on November 18, 1923, the son of a retired U.S. Army colonel and businessman, Alan Shepard grew up on a farm and went to school in a one-room schoolhouse. His boyhood hero was pioneering aviator Charles Lindbergh (1902 - 1974), the first to fly solo across the Atlantic, who inspired him to become a pilot. He attended high school in Derry at the Pinkerton Academy and completed a post-graduate year at Admiral Farragut Academy in anticipation of an education at the U.S. Naval Academy and an eventual career as a naval pilot.

In 1944, Shepard earned his B.S. from the U.S. Naval Academy. Upon graduation, he married Louise Brewer whom he met while at Annapolis. He began his distinguished naval career as an ensign on the destroyer Cogswell in the Pacific during the last year of World War II. Eager to become a pilot, he completed flight training and earned his wings in 1947 before serving several tours with the 42nd Fighter Squadron on aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean. In 1950, Shepard was admitted to the Navy Test Pilot School. He went on to become one of the Navy's top test pilots, completing two tours testing experimental fighters, conducting high-altitude tests, and perfecting landing techniques for the Navy's new angled-deck aircraft carriers. In 1958, Shepard graduated from additional studies at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

The pivotal year in Shepard's career was 1959 when he was selected as one of the United States's original seven Mercury astronauts. On May 5, 1961, less than a month after the Russians launched the first human, Yuri Gagarin (1934-1968), into space, Shepard made his historic space flight aboard Freedom 7, the Mercury 3 capsule. His short yet pioneering space flight, seen on live television by millions around the world, succeeded in laying the foundation for the United States to become a great innovator in space exploration and spurred President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) to declare the United States's intention to land a man on the moon before the decade was over.

Ironically, it would be nearly a decade before Shepard would return to space, as he was grounded from 1963 to 1969 by an inner ear problem called Meuniere's Syndrome. Before surgery corrected the problem and he was once again cleared for space flight, he was made Chief of the Astronaut Office at NASA. Successful surgery put Shepard back on the active astronaut roster and on January 31, 1971, he was launched into space in command of the Apollo 14 lunar mission. Shepard and fellow astronaut Edgar Mitchell (1930- ) landed their lunar module Antares from which they explored the lunar surface, gathering soil and rock samples and deploying scientific equipment. Before departing the Moon's surface, Shepard also conducted a memorable, non-scientific test of hitting two golf balls—one chipped into a crater and the other a long drive. (It was said that as many people remembered Shepard's golfing on the moon as those who recalled Neil Armstrong's [1930- ] first steps on its surface.)

In 1974, Shepard retired from both NASA and the U.S. Navy, where he had risen to the rank of Rear Admiral (and logged over 8,000 hours of flight time, including 4,000 hours in jet aircraft). A millionaire before his retirement, Shepard chose to devote more time to his business activities, including his Seven Fourteen Enterprises, named for his Freedom 7 and Apollo 14 missions. In 1984, he and other surviving Mercury astronauts, along with the widow of astronaut Virgil (Gus) Grissom (1926-1967), founded the Mercury Seven Foundation to raise money for college science and engineering scholarships (the organization was renamed the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation in 1995). Shepard remained active in his business and philanthropic activities until his death from leukemia (diagnosed in 1996) on July 22, 1998.