Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr.
November 18, 1923
Derry, New Hampshire, U.S.
|Died||July 21, 1998 (aged 74)|
Pebble Beach, California, U.S.
|Rank||Rear admiral, United States Navy|
Time in space
|9d 00h 57m|
|Selection||1959 NASA Group 1|
Total EVA time
|9 hours 23 minutes|
|Retirement||July 31, 1974|
Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr. (November 18, 1923 – July 21, 1998) was an American astronaut. In 1961, he became the second person and the first American to travel into space and, in 1971, he became the fifth and oldest person to walk on the Moon, at age 47.
A graduate of the
Shepard was designated as the commander of the first crewed
Shepard was Chief of the Astronaut Office from November 1963 to August 1969 (the approximate period of his grounding), and from June 1971 until April 30, 1974. On August 25, 1971, he was promoted to rear admiral, the first astronaut to reach that rank. He retired from the United States Navy and NASA on July 31, 1974.
Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr. was born on November 18, 1923, at 64 East Derry Road in
Shepard attended Adams School in Derry, where his academic performance impressed his teachers. He skipped the sixth grade and proceeded to middle school at Oak Street School in Derry, where he also skipped the eighth grade. He achieved the Boy Scouts of America rank of First Class Scout. In 1936, he went to the Pinkerton Academy, a private school in Derry that his father had attended and where his grandfather had been a trustee. He completed grades 9 to 12 there. Fascinated by flight, he created a model airplane club at the academy and his Christmas present in 1938 was a flight in a Douglas DC-3. The following year he began cycling to Manchester Airfield, where he would do odd jobs in exchange for the occasional ride in an airplane or informal flying lesson.
Shepard graduated from Pinkerton Academy in 1940. Because World War II was already raging in Europe, his father wanted him to join the Army. Shepard chose the Navy instead. He easily passed the entrance exam to the
At the Naval Academy, Shepard enjoyed
"You know, being a test pilot isn't always the healthiest business in the world."
—Shepard quoted at the New Mexico Museum of Space History
After a month of classroom instruction in aviation, Shepard was posted to a
Cogswell returned to the United States for an overhaul in February 1945. Shepard was given three weeks' leave, in which time he and Louise decided to marry. The ceremony took place on March 3, 1945, in St. Stephen's Lutheran Church in
On Shepard's second cruise with Cogswell, he was appointed a gunnery officer, responsible for the 20 mm and 40 mm antiaircraft guns on the ship's bow. They engaged kamikazes in the
In November 1945, Shepard arrived at
Shepard was assigned to
Normally sea duty alternated with periods of duty ashore. In 1950, Shepard was selected to attend the
Shepard's next assignment was to
Shepard was an
On October 4, 1957, the
NASA received permission from Eisenhower to recruit its first astronauts from the ranks of military test pilots. The service records of 508 graduates of test pilot schools were obtained from the United States Department of Defense. From these, 110 were found that matched the minimum standards: the candidates had to be younger than 40, possess a bachelor's degree or equivalent and to be 5 feet 11 inches (1.80 m) or less. While these were not all strictly enforced, the height requirement was firm, owing to the size of the Project Mercury spacecraft. The 110 were then split into three groups, with the most promising in the first group.
The first group of 35, which included Shepard, assembled at the Pentagon on February 2, 1959. The Navy and Marine Corps officers were welcomed by the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Arleigh Burke, while the United States Air Force officers were addressed by the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, General Thomas D. White. Both pledged their support to the Space Program, and promised that the careers of volunteers would not be adversely affected. NASA officials then briefed them on Project Mercury. They conceded that it would be a hazardous undertaking, but emphasized that it was of great national importance. That evening, Shepard discussed the day's events with fellow naval aviators Jim Lovell, Pete Conrad and Wally Schirra, all of whom would eventually become astronauts. They were concerned about their careers, but decided to volunteer.
The briefing process was repeated with a second group of 34 candidates a week later. Of the 69, six were found to be over the height limit, 15 were eliminated for other reasons, and 16 declined. This left NASA with 32 candidates. Since this was more than expected, NASA decided not to bother with the remaining 41 candidates, as 32 candidates seemed a more than adequate number from which to select 12 astronauts as planned. The degree of interest also indicated that far fewer would drop out during training than anticipated, which would result in training astronauts who would not be required to fly Project Mercury missions. It was therefore decided to cut the number of astronauts selected to just six. Then came a grueling series of physical and psychological tests at the Lovelace Clinic and the Wright Aerospace Medical Laboratory. Only one candidate, Lovell, was eliminated on medical grounds at this stage, and the diagnosis was later found to be in error; thirteen others were recommended with reservations. The director of the NASA Space Task Group, Robert R. Gilruth, found himself unable to select only six from the remaining eighteen, and ultimately seven were chosen.
Shepard was informed of his selection on April 1, 1959. Two days later he traveled to Boston with Louise for the wedding of his cousin Anne, and was able to break the news to his parents and sister.
Faced with intense competition from the other astronauts, particularly
On May 5, 1961, Shepard piloted the Mercury-Redstone 3 mission and became the second person, and the first American, to travel into space. He named his spacecraft, Mercury Spacecraft 7, Freedom 7. He awoke at 01:10, and had breakfast consisting of orange juice, a filet mignon wrapped in bacon, and scrambled eggs with his backup, John Glenn, and flight surgeon William K. Douglas. He was helped into his space suit by suit technician Joseph W. Schmitt, and boarded the transfer van at 03:55. He ascended the gantry at 05:15, and entered the spacecraft five minutes later. It was expected that liftoff would occur in another two hours and five minutes, so Shepard's suit did not have any provision for elimination of bodily wastes, but after being strapped into the capsule's seat, launch delays kept him in that suit for over four hours. Shepard's endurance gave out before launch, and he was forced to empty his bladder into the suit. Medical sensors attached to it to track the astronaut's condition in flight were turned off to avoid shorting them out. The urine pooled in the small of his back, where it was absorbed by his undergarment. After Shepard's flight, the space suit was modified, and by the time of Gus Grissom's Mercury-Redstone 4 suborbital flight in July, a liquid waste collection feature had been built into the suit.
Unlike Gagarin's 108-minute
After a dramatic Atlantic Ocean recovery, Shepard observed that he "didn't really feel the flight was a success until the recovery had been successfully completed. It's not the fall that hurts; it's the sudden stop." Splashdown occurred with an impact comparable to landing a jet aircraft on an aircraft carrier. A recovery helicopter arrived after a few minutes, and the capsule was lifted partly out of the water to allow Shepard to leave by the main hatch. He squeezed out of the door and into a sling hoist, and was pulled into the helicopter, which flew both the astronaut and spacecraft to the aircraft carrier USS Lake Champlain. The whole recovery process took just eleven minutes. Shepard was celebrated as a national hero, honored with ticker-tape parades in Washington, New York and Los Angeles, and received the NASA Distinguished Service Medal from President John F. Kennedy. He was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Shepard served as
Project Gemini; Chief Astronaut
Project Gemini, with a crew of two, followed on from Project Mercury. After the Mercury-Atlas 10 mission was canceled, Shepard was designated as the commander of the first crewed Gemini mission, with Thomas P. Stafford chosen as his pilot. In late 1963, Shepard began to experience episodes of extreme dizziness and nausea, accompanied by a loud, clanging noise in the left ear. He tried to keep it secret, fearing that he would lose his flight status, but was aware that if an episode occurred in the air or in space it could be fatal. Following an episode during a lecture in Houston, where he had recently moved from Virginia Beach, Virginia, Shepard was forced to confess his ailment to Slayton, who was now Director of Flight Operations, and seek help from NASA's doctors.
The doctors diagnosed
Shepard was designated
In 1968, Stafford went to Shepard's office and told him that an
Slayton put Shepard down to command the next available Moon mission, which was
When Slayton submitted the proposed crew assignments to NASA headquarters,
Neither Shepard nor Lovell expected there would be much difference between Apollo 13 and Apollo 14, but Apollo 13 went disastrously wrong. An oxygen tank explosion caused the Moon landing to be aborted and nearly resulted in the loss of the crew. It became a joke between Shepard and Lovell, who would offer to give Shepard back the mission each time they bumped into each other. The failure of Apollo 13 delayed Apollo 14 until 1971 so that modifications could be made to the spacecraft. The target of the Apollo 14 mission was switched to the Fra Mauro formation, the intended destination of Apollo 13.
Shepard made his second space flight as commander of Apollo 14 from January 31 to February 9, 1971. It was America's third successful
This was the first mission to broadcast extensive color television coverage from the lunar surface, using the Westinghouse Lunar Color Camera. (The same color camera model was used on Apollo 12 and provided about 30 minutes of color telecasting before it was inadvertently pointed at the Sun, ending its usefulness.) While on the Moon, Shepard used a Wilson six-iron head attached to a lunar sample scoop handle to drive golf balls. Despite thick gloves and a stiff space suit, which forced him to swing the club with one hand, Shepard struck two golf balls, driving the second, as he jokingly put it, "miles and miles and miles". Analysis of high-resolution film scans of the event determined the distance to be about 24 yards (22 m) for the first shot and 40 yards (37 m) for the second.
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Distinguished Service Medal to Captain Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr. (NSN: 0-389998), United States Navy, for exceptionally meritorious and distinguished service in a position of great responsibility to the Government of the United States, as Spacecraft Commander for the Apollo 14 flight to the Fra-Mauro area of the Moon during the period 31 January 1971 to 9 February 1971. Responsible for the on-board control of the spacecraft command module Kittyhawk and the lunar module Antares in the gathering of scientific data involving complex and difficult instrumentation positing and sample gathering, including a hazardous two-mile traverse of the lunar surface, Captain Shepard, by his brilliant performance, contributed essentially to the success of this vital scientific Moon mission. As a result of his skillful leadership, professional competence and dedication, the Apollo 14 mission, with its numerous tasks and vital scientific experiments, was accomplished in an outstanding manner, enabling scientists to determine more precisely the Moon's original formation and further forecast man's proper role in the exploration of his Universe. By his courageous and determined devotion to duty, Captain Shepard rendered valuable and distinguished service and contributed greatly to the success of the United States Space Program, thereby upholding the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
Following Apollo 14, Shepard returned to his position as Chief of the Astronaut Office in June 1971. In July 1971 President Richard Nixon appointed him as a delegate to the 26th United Nations General Assembly, a position in which he served from September to December 1971. He was promoted to rear admiral by Nixon on August 26, 1971, the first astronaut to reach this rank. He was succeeded as Chief of the Astronaut Office by John Young on April 30, 1974. Shepard retired from both NASA and the Navy on July 31, 1974.
Shepard was devoted to his children. Frequently, Julie, Laura and Alice were the only astronauts' children at NASA events. He taught them to ski and took them skiing in Colorado. He once rented a small plane to fly them and their friends from Texas to a summer camp in Maine. He doted on his six grandchildren as well. After Apollo 14, he began to spend more time with Louise and started taking her with him on trips to the Paris Air Show every other year and to Asia. Louise heard rumors of his affairs. The publication of Tom Wolfe's 1979 book The Right Stuff made them public knowledge but she never confronted him about it nor did she ever contemplate leaving him.
After Shepard left NASA, he served on the boards of many corporations. He also served as president of his
In 1994, he published a book with two journalists,
Shepard was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in 1996 and died from complications of the disease in Pebble Beach, California, on July 21, 1998. Shepard's widow Louise had planned to cremate his remains and scatter the ashes, but before she was able to do that, she died from a heart attack—on August 25, 1998, at 17:00, which, coincidentally, was the same time of day at which he had always phoned her when they were apart. They had been married for 53 years. Their family decided to cremate them both so their ashes were scattered, together, from a Navy helicopter over Stillwater Cove in front of their Pebble Beach home.
Awards and honors
Shepard was awarded the
The Navy named a supply ship,
Shepard's high school alma mater in Derry, Pinkerton Academy, has a building named after him, and the school team is called 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. The school newspaper is named Freedom 7 and the yearbook is entitled Odyssey. Blue Origin's suborbital space tourism rocket, the New Shepard, is named after Shepard.
In a 2010 Space Foundation survey, Shepard was ranked as the ninth most popular space hero (tied with astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Gus Grissom). In 2011, NASA honored Shepard with an Ambassador of Exploration Award, consisting of a Moon rock encased in Lucite, for his contributions to the U.S. space program. His family members accepted the award on his behalf during a ceremony on April 28 at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis, Maryland, where it is on permanent display. On May 4, 2011, the U.S. Postal Service issued a first-class stamp in Shepard's honor, the first U.S. stamp to depict a specific astronaut. The first day of issue ceremony was held at NASA's Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
Each year, the Space Foundation, in partnership with the Astronauts Memorial Foundation and NASA, present the Alan Shepard Technology in Education Award for outstanding contributions by K–12 educators or district-level administrators to educational technology. The award recognizes excellence in the development and application of technology in the classroom or to the professional development of teachers. The recipient demonstrates exemplary use of technology either to foster lifelong learners or to make the learning process easier.
In popular culture
As a key figure in the American space program, Shepard's life has been depicted in many biographical and historical works of fiction. In film, Shepard's selection for the Mercury program was covered in 1983's The Right Stuff (where he was played by Scott Glenn), while 2002's Race to Space and 2016's Hidden Figures feature him in a minor role, played by Mark Moses, and Dane Davenport, respectively. The HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon starred Ted Levine as Shepard and covered not only his Mercury training but also his involvement in the Apollo missions. Jake McDorman played Shepard in the 2020 TV adaptation of The Right Stuff, while Desmond Harrington played him in the 2015 period drama The Astronaut Wives Club.
Archive footage of Shepard is used in the opening credits montage of Star Trek: Enterprise,as part of a sequence displaying the history of human exploration, while other science fiction works have named characters in a tribute to Shepard – including both the character of Alan Tracy, in the 1960s British series Thunderbirds, and Commander Shepard, the main protagonist of the 2007–2012 BioWare video game series Mass Effect.
British singer-songwriter Darren Hayman's concept album 12 Astronauts includes a song for each man who has walked on the Moon. The lyrics of Don't Clip My Wings (Alan Shepard), sung in the first person, reflect on how Shepard "feared he would never fly again" after his Ménière's diagnosis.
"Shepard's Prayer" is attributed to Shepard, with the phrase supposed to have been uttered by him while he awaited liftoff aboard the Freedom 7. It is usually quoted as "Dear Lord, please don't let me fuck up", although Shepard claimed the words to be "Don't fuck up, Shepard".
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- Marriott, John (1992). Thunderbirds Are Go!. London: Macmillan Publishers. OCLC 27642248.
- Naval Test Pilot School (1984). United States Naval Test Pilot School: Historical Narrative and Class Information, 1945 to 1983 (2nd ed.). Annapolis, Maryland: Fishergate. OCLC 11680836.
- Shayler, David (2001). Gemini: Steps to the Moon. Springer-Praxis books in astronomy and space sciences. London: Springer. OCLC 248213555.
- Shepard, Alan B.; OCLC 29846731.
- OCLC 29845663.
- Swenson, Loyd S. Jr.; Grimwood, James M.; Alexander, Charles C. (1966). This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury. The NASA History Series. Washington, DC: National Aeronautics and Space Administration. . Retrieved June 28, 2007.
- OCLC 52631310.
- OCLC 849889526.
- "Alan Shepard: 1st American in Space". Archived from the original on May 27, 2010. Retrieved May 6, 2010. – slideshow by Life magazine
- Alan Shepard at IMDb
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- "Presentation by Neal Thompson on Light This Candle: The Life and Times of Alan Shepard". C-SPAN. May 26, 2004. Retrieved August 21, 2017.
- Oral history interview with Shepard for the Johnson Space Center's History Office, February 20, 1998.
- Remarks by Sen. John Glenn on the death of Alan Shepard, July 22, 1998. C-SPAN.
- Alan Shepard Memorial Service, August 1, 1998. C-SPAN.
- "Admiral Alan B. Shepard, Jr., USN, Biography and Interview". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.