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Alan Shepard Jr.

On May 5, 1961, Alan B. Shepard, Jr. became America's first man in space. In the Mercury spacecraft he named Freedom 7, Shepard was launched by a Redstone rocket on a ballistic trajectory suborbital flight.

Shepard was born on November 18, 1923, in East Derry, New Hampshire. Inspired by Charles Lindbergh's solo flight across the Atlantic, Shepard decided as a boy that he wanted to fly airplanes.

Shepard attended the Naval Academy, graduating in 1944, then served aboard a destroyer in the Pacific during World War II before beginning flight training at Corpus Christi, Texas, and Pensacola, Florida. He received his wings in 1947.

Shepard served several tours aboard aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean before becoming a Navy test pilot at the Patuxent River, Maryland,Naval Air Station.

In April of 1959, the newly formed NASA announced the names of the first seven US astronauts:

The seven Mercury astronauts underwent several years of training before Shepard became the first of them to rocket into space.

After his flight, Shepard was diagnosed with an inner ear problem (Meniere's Disease) which grounded him. He became the Chief of the Astronaut Office at NASA and oversaw the coordination, scheduling, and control of all activities involving NASA's astronauts during the Gemini and Apollo programs.

In 1968, Shepard learned of a still-experimental operation which offered the hope of curing his inner ear problem. Dr. William House performed the surgery - inserting a small tube into Shepard's ear to relieve the pressure and ease Shepard's symptoms. The surgery worked and Shepard's dizzy spells ended.

In May of 1969 Shepard was restored to full flight status and began training for a mission to the moon.

Shepard commanded Apollo 14 which was launched on January 31, 1971. Stuart A. Roosa was his command module pilot and Edgar D. Mitchell was the lunar module pilot.

The lunar module, named "Antares," landed in the Fra Mauro region of the moon. Shepard and Mitchell deployed and activated various scientific equipment and experiments and collected almost 100 pounds of lunar samples for return to earth, but the mission is most remembered for a bit of theatrics. Before entering the lunar module for the trip back to the command module, Shepard faced the TV camera and pulled a six-iron club head from his pocket. He attached the club head to the end of a rock-collecting tool. From another pocket, he pulled out a golf ball. He dropped the ball to the dusty moon's surface a took a swing. He missed. On his second swing he hit the ball, but it just rolled a few feet. Shepard pulled a second ball from his spacesuit's pocket and dropped it. This time, his stroke sent the ball sailing towards the horizon.

References:

  • The U.S. launched the first American astronaut, Alan Shepard Jr., into space on May 5, 1961.

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