Thursday, May 5, 2011



"Ten Facts About The First Man In Space" was my post for Yuri Gagarin, so I guess my subtitle for and about Alan Shepard's 50th anniversary would be the "Ten Facts About The First Man to FLY THROUGH Space".

Why the distinction? Whereas Yuri's flight had been auto-controlled, and he was largely a passenger on orbit, Alan Shepard was the first person to control the angle and rotation of a space craft. He thus genuinely flew his capsule in space – a manual activity the American astronauts fought hard for.

His nicknames were Shep, Schimpf (a mis-pronunciation by a classmate's niece), The Snake, Roué, Liberty Hound, Icy Commander; and he often referred to himself in the third person as "the world's greatest test pilot".

Mercury Seven
Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr. 1923 - 1998

Throughout his life, Shep lived in New Hampshire, Maryland, California, Texas, Florida, Virginia, New Mexico, Japan, Korea, and aboard 6 different Navy ships.

He skipped 5th grade and 8th grade, but [after he discovered girls] was later almost expelled from the US Naval Military Academy for poor academic performance and sneaking off school grounds.

Later, he nearly washed out of Navy pilot school due to poor grades, and took private flying lessons in secret to gain more practice time in the air. When he got his pilot's license, the first person he took for a ride in his first plane was his wife Louise.

Mercury 7 Flight in 1961
Schimpf played the piano and the bongo drums.

His father Bart opposed his son's decision to join the Navy, since Shepard men had a history of being Army colonels. Bart also later also opposed his decision to become an astronaut, saying it would derail his military career. Alan didn't listen either time. He became the first American in space in 1961, walked on the moon in 1971, and was promoted to Rear Admiral of the Navy in 1974.

In the early 1950s, Shepard once deliberately disabled a jet in mid-air so he could attempt a non-powered descent, and was the among first to produce emergency procedures for "dead-stick landings" in the newly invented jets, in case one flamed out in-flight.

Alan Shepard with Wife and Children
Upon being chosen for the Freedom 7 sub-orbital flight, he hugged his wife and said, "You have your arms around the man who'll be first in space." Louise quipped back, "Who let a Russian in here?!"

President Kennedy broke up a National Security Meeting to go into his secretary's office and watch the (4-hour-late) launch of Shepard's capsule atop a Mercury-Redstone rocket, which the first US astronaut later described as "a subtle, gentle gradual rise off the ground".

The MR-3 flight cost American tax-payers $400 million. As there were about 180 million Americans in 1961, that came to roughly $2.25 apiece.

Alan Shepard Golfs on the moon
When asked by Sports Announcer Bob Murphy what he thought about when he looked up at the moon after walking on its surface, Shepard replied, "Well, you know Murph, I wonder where my golf ball is."