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If you like Admiral Alan Shepard's story, you might also like:
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Daniel Goldin,
Paul MacCready,
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Story Musgrave,
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Chuck Yeager

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Alan Shepard in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Earth Day
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Alan Shepard
Alan Shepard
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Alan Shepard Biography

First American in Space

Alan Shepard Date of birth: November 18, 1923
Date of death: July 21, 1998

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  Alan Shepard

Alan Shepard Biography Photo
Alan B. Shepard, Jr. was born and raised in East Derry, New Hampshire. His father was a retired Army officer. Alan grew up on the family farm and attended East Derry's one-room schoolhouse. As a boy he did odd jobs at the local airfield to learn about airplanes.

An excellent student, Shepard won an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. After graduation, Ensign Shepard served on the destroyer Cogswell during the closing months of World War II. At war's end, he married Louise Brewer, whom he had met while attending the Naval Academy.

Shepard was so eager to receive his wings and pilot's license that he studied at a civilian flying school in his spare time while attending naval flight training at Corpus Christi, Texas and Pensacola, Florida. After receiving his wings, he served with the 42nd Fighter Squadron for several tours of duty aboard aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean.

Alan Shepard Biography Photo
In 1950, Shepard entered the U.S. Navy Test Pilot School in Patuxent, Maryland. After qualifying as a test pilot, he tested high-altitude aircraft and in-flight fueling systems, and made some of the first landings on angled carrier decks. He served as operations officer of the 193rd Fighter Squadron on two tours of the Western Pacific, and as an instructor at the Navy Test Pilot School. After graduation from the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island in 1958, Alan Shepard became aircraft readiness officer on the staff of the Commander in Chief of the Atlantic fleet.

Alan Shepard Biography Photo
In 1959, the newly created National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) invited 110 top test pilots to volunteer for the manned space flight program. Of the original 110, Shepard was among the seven chosen for Project Mercury and presented to the public at a press conference on April 8, 1959. The other six were Malcolm (Scott) Carpenter, Leroy Cooper, John Glenn, Virgil (Gus) Grissom, Walter (Wally) Schirra and Donald (Deke) Slayton.

These seven were subjected to an unprecedented and grueling training in the sciences and in physical endurance. Every conceivable situation the men would encounter in space travel was studied and, when possible, simulated with training devices.

Of the seven Mercury astronauts, Shepard was chosen for the first American manned mission into space. On April 15, 1961, only a few weeks before Shepard's flight, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to reach outer space. Gagarin's flight took him into orbit around the earth.

Alan Shepard Biography Photo
Shepard's flight, on May 5, was still a history-making event. Whereas Gagarin had been only a passenger in his vehicle, Shepard was able to maneuver the Freedom 7 space capsule himself. While the Soviet mission was veiled in secrecy, Shepard's flight, return from space, splashdown at sea, and recovery by helicopter to a waiting aircraft carrier were seen on live television by millions around the world. On his return, Shepard was honored with parades in Washington, New York and Los Angeles.

In the subsequent Mercury missions of Virgil Grissom and John Glenn, the U.S. space program would quickly meet and then surpass the achievements of the Soviet one. Shepard himself moved on to the next stage of the space program: Project Gemini.

Alan Shepard Biography Photo
Shepard was scheduled to command the first Gemini mission when he was diagnosed with an inner ear disturbance affecting his equilibrium. This disturbance kept him out of space for the next six years. He remained with NASA as chief of the astronaut office, but could only sit and watch as younger astronauts of Project Apollo prepared for travel to the moon. Tragedy struck the space program when a launch pad fire destroyed Apollo I, taking the lives of three astronauts, including Shepard's Project Mercury comrade, Gus Grissom.

By 1968, an operation had restored Shepard's equilibrium and he volunteered for a lunar mission, but Shepard remained earthbound, while Apollo XI and XII successfully landed men on the moon. Apollo XIII, which Shepard had hoped to lead himself, was forced to turn back in mid-course. In 1971, 47 year-old Alan Shepard, the oldest astronaut in the program, was finally tapped to lead the Apollo XIV mission to the moon.

Alan Shepard Biography Photo
Millions watched the live color broadcast of the mission, and few who saw it will ever forget the sight of Shepard and Edgar Mitchell bouncing around in the low-gravity environment, or of Shepard batting golf balls into the lunar distance before boarding the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) to return to the craft orbiting above. Once again, Shepard returned from space to a hero's welcome. He was promoted to Admiral before finally retiring from the Navy and from NASA.

This page last revised on Feb 25, 2009 11:06 EDT
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