Shepard, Alan

Alan Shepard was a naval aviator and NASA astronaut. He was the second person, and the first American, in space. He was also the fifth person to walk on the moon. He was born Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr. on November 18, 1923 in Derry, New Hampshire. Upon his completion of high school, Shepard’s continuing education would last several more years. He started at the United States Naval Academy, where he received his Bachelor degree in 1944. In 1945, Shepard married his sweetheart, Louise Brewer. After starting their life together, he served in World War II on the USS Cogswell while it was deployed in the Pacific Ocean. In 1947, his first daughter, Laura, was born. Also in 1947, he earned his naval aviator wings after flight training in Corpus Christi, Texas and Pensacola, Florida. He was assigned to Fighter Squadron 42 and served several tours aboard aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean with the squadron. In 1950, Shepard attended the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in Patuxent River, Maryland. Upon his graduation, he spent more time with his family, and their second child, Juliana, was born. His niece, Alice, was born the same year, and was raised by the Shepards. Although Shepard was said to have some down time, he participated in flight test work, such as high-altitude tests, 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 then assigned to Fighter Squadron 193 and made two tours to the western Pacific on board the USS Oriskany. After a second tour of duty in Patuxent, he attended the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island, where he received a Master of Arts in military science. In total, Shepard logged more than 8,000 hours flying time.

In 1959, Shepard was one invited by NASA to volunteer for the first manned space flight program. He went through a series of physical and psychological tests when NASA selected him as a part of the original group of seven Mercury astronauts. In January of the following year, Shepard was selected for the first American manned mission into space, which would launch by a Redstone rocket on May 5, 1961. He piloted the Freedom 7 mission and became the second person, and the first American, to travel into space. He stayed on a ballistic trajectory suborbital flight, which took him to an altitude of 116 statute miles and to a landing point 302 statute miles down the Atlantic Missile Range. He returned successfully to Earth fifteen minutes later, and was celebrated as a national hero. Two years later, he was designated Chief of the Astronaut Office and had responsibility for monitoring the coordination, scheduling, and control of all activities involving NASA astronauts.

After his successful space flight on Freedom 7, Shepard was chosen to pilot the first Gemini mission. However, in 1964 while preparing for the flight, he was diagnosed with Ménière’s disease. His condition caused excessive fluid pressure to his inner ear, which subsequently caused the motion detectors to become extremely sensitive, resulting in disorientation, dizziness, and nausea. Therefore, Shepard was removed from flight status.

In May 1969, Shepard was restored to full flight status after he had corrective surgery. He was then chosen to be commander of Apollo 14. On January 31, 1971, Shepard made his second flight to space and led America’s third successful lunar landing mission. During his flight, he broadcast color television back to Earth, and ironically, he played golf. Apollo 14 landed on February 9, 1971, and Shepard was awarded the City of New York Gold Medal for 1971. After his return, Shepard resumed his position as Chief of the Astronaut Office. He was then promoted to Rear Admiral. Three years later, Shepard retired from the Navy and NASA. During his life, Shepard received numerous awards and distinctions, including the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, two NASA Distinguished Service Medals, the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal, and the Navy Distinguished Service Medal. He also earned the Langley Award, the Lambert trophy, the Iven C. Kincheloe Award, the Cabot Award, and the Collier Trophy.

In 1994, Shepard published a book called Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America’s Race to the Moon. Four years later, on July 21, 1998, Shepard died of leukemia near his home in Pebble Beach, California. He was survived by his wife Louise, their three children, and six grandchildren.