Monday, April 23, 2007

Alan Shepard - First US Astronaut

Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr. (November 18, 1923 – July 21, 1998) (Rear Admiral, USN, Ret.) was the second person and the first American astronaut in space.

Born in East Derry, New Hampshire, Shepard graduated from Admiral Farragut Academy in 1941, received a Bachelor of Science degree from the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1944, an Honorary Master of Arts degree from Dartmouth College in 1962, an Honorary Doctorate of Science from Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) in 1971, and an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities from Franklin Pierce College in 1972. He graduated from the United States Naval Test Pilot School in 1951 and the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island in 1957.

Naval career
Shepard began his naval career after graduation from Annapolis, on the destroyer USS Cogswell deployed in the Pacific Ocean during World War II. He subsequently entered flight training at Corpus Christi, Texas and Pensacola, Florida, and received his wings in 1947. His next assignment was with Fighter Squadron 42 at Norfolk, Virginia and Jacksonville, Florida. He served several tours aboard aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean while with this squadron.
In 1950, he attended the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Maryland. After graduation, he participated in flight test work which included high-altitude tests to obtain data on light at different altitudes and on a variety of air masses over the American continent; test and development experiments of the Navy's in-flight refueling system; carrier suitability trials of the F2H-3 Banshee; and Navy trials of the first angled carrier deck. He was subsequently assigned to Fighter Squadron 193 at Moffett Field, California, a night fighter unit flying Banshee jets. As operations officer of this squadron, he made two tours to the western Pacific on board the carrier USS Oriskany.

He returned to Patuxent for a second tour of duty and engaged in flight testing the F3H Demon, F8U Crusader, F4D Skyray, and F11F Tiger. He was also project test pilot on the F5D Skylancer, and his last five months at Patuxent were spent as an instructor in the Test Pilot School. He later attended the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island, and upon graduating in 1957 was subsequently assigned to the staff of the Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet, as aircraft readiness officer.

He logged more than 8,000 hours flying time—3,700 hours in jet aircraft.

Shepard aboard Freedom 7

Astronaut career
Shepard was one of the Mercury astronauts named by NASA in April 1959 to Project Mercury, and he holds the distinction of being the first American to journey into space, as well as the only Mercury astronaut to walk on the Moon. On May 5, 1961, in the Freedom 7 spacecraft, he was launched by a Redstone rocket on a ballistic trajectory suborbital flight—a flight which carried him to an altitude of 116 statute miles and to a landing point 302 statute miles down the Atlantic Missile Range. Shortly before the launch, Shepard stated "Please, dear God, don't let me fuck up." This has since become known among aviators as "Shepard's Prayer."

Shepard did not fuck up - God did indeed keep him safe. On May 5, 1961, US Marine pilots retrieved astronaut US Navy Cdr. Alan Shepard from the water landing zone.

According to Gene Kranz in his book Failure Is Not an Option: "When reporters asked Shepard what he thought about as he sat atop the Redstone rocket, waiting for liftoff, he had replied, 'The fact that every part of this ship was built by the low bidder.'"

Later, he was scheduled to pilot the Mercury-Atlas 10 Freedom 7-II, three day extended duration mission in October 1963. The MA-10 mission was cancelled on June 13, 1963. He was the back-up pilot for Gordon "Gordo" Cooper for the MA-9 mission.

After the Mercury-Atlas 10 mission was cancelled in June 1963, Shepard was designated as the command pilot of the first manned Gemini mission. Thomas Stafford was picked as his co-pilot. But in early 1964, Shepard was diagnosed with Ménière's disease, a condition in which fluid pressure builds up in the inner ear. This syndrome causes the semicircular canals and motion detectors to become extremely sensitive, resulting in disorientation, dizziness, and nausea. This condition caused him to be removed from flight status for most of the 1960s (Gus Grissom and John Young were assigned to Gemini 3 instead).

Also in 1963, he was designated Chief of the Astronaut Office with responsibility for monitoring the coordination, scheduling, and control of all activities involving NASA astronauts. This included monitoring the development and implementation of effective training programs to assure the flight readiness of available pilot/non-pilot personnel for assignment to crew positions on manned space flights; furnishing pilot evaluations applicable to the design, construction, and operations of spacecraft systems and related equipment; and providing qualitative scientific and engineering observations to facilitate overall mission planning, formulation of feasible operational procedures, and selection and conduct of specific experiments for each flight.

He was restored to full flight status in May 1969, following corrective surgery (using a newly developed method) for Ménière's disease. He was originally assigned to command Apollo 13, but as it was felt he needed more time to train, he and his crewmates (lunar module pilot Edgar Mitchell and command module pilot Stuart Roosa) swapped missions with the then crew of Apollo 14 (James Lovell, Ken Mattingly - who was himself replaced by Jack Swigert shortly before the mission - and Fred Haise).

At age 47, and the oldest astronaut in the program, Shepard made his second space flight as commander of Apollo 14, January 31–February 9, 1971, man's third successful lunar landing mission. Shepard was a Rear Admiral when he retired from the Navy and the Astronaut Corps on August 1, 1974.

Awards and honors
During his life he was awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor; two NASA Distinguished Service Medals, the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal, Naval Astronaut Wings, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, and the Distinguished Flying Cross; recipient of the Langley Award (highest award of the Smithsonian Institution) on May 5, 1964, the Lambert Trophy, the Iven C. Kincheloe Award, the Cabot Award, the Collier Trophy, the City of New York Gold Medal (1971), Achievement Award for 1971.

Shepard was appointed by the President in July 1971 as a delegate to the 26th United Nations General Assembly and served through the entire assembly which lasted from September to December 1971.

Shepard is also remembered for being the only person to play golf on the Moon with a Wilson six-iron head attached to a lunar sample scoop handle. His first shot, which he duffed, only went a hundred feet, but his second shot, which he hit squarely (with only one arm, as the bulkiness of his 21-layer spacesuit prevented him from using both arms), sent the ball as he said "miles and miles."

The Navy named a supply ship, Alan Shepard (T-AKE-2), for him in 2006. A geodesic dome was built in his honor in Virginia Beach, Virginia but demolished in 1994. Interstate 93 in New Hampshire, from the Massachusetts border to its intersection with Route 101 in Manchester, is named in his honor. It passes through his native Derry.

Derry almost changed its name to "Spacetown", considering it in honor of his career as an astronaut.

His high school alma mater in Derry, Pinkerton Academy, has a building named after him, and the school team name is the Astros after his career as an astronaut.

Alan B. Shepard High School, in Palos Heights, Illinois, which opened in 1976, was named in his honor. Framed newspapers throughout the school depict various accomplishments and milestones in Shepard's life. Additionally, an autographed plaque commemorates the dedication of the building.

Later years
Always a shrewd businessman, Shepard was the only astronaut to become a millionaire while still in the program. After he left the program, he served on the boards of many corporations under the auspices of his Seven-Fourteen Enterprises (named for his two flights, Freedom 7 and Apollo 14).

In 1988, he teamed up with fellow Mercury Seven astronaut Deke Slayton to write Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon It was turned into a TV miniseries in 1994.

Shepard died of leukemia near his home in Pebble Beach, California on July 21, 1998, at age 74, two years after being diagnosed with that disease. His wife of 53 years, the former Louise Brewer, died five weeks afterward. They had two daughters, Laura (born in 1947) and Juliana (born in 1951), and had also raised a niece, Alice (born in 1951). He also had six grandchildren. Laura had a daughter, Lark and son, Bart. Juliana had a daughter, Ethney and son, Shepard. Alice had a son, Reid, and a daughter, Heather.

Like other astronauts, Shepard has many schools and other institutions named in his honor, including the Alan B. Shepard Post Office in his birthplace of Derry, New Hampshire.