This article is brought to you by audible on October, 5th 1957 word got around that the Soviet Union had put the first artificial satellite up into space, a big beeping ball with four antennas that they called Sputnik, which translates to fellow-traveller.
Despite the innocuous name. This news sent shockwaves all around the world and sparked what later would be called the Sputnik panic, because, of course, you know at the time we were in a cold war with the Soviet Union, and this both made.
It look like they were technologically superior to us, but also for the first time ever, a rival nation had something over our heads. Now the US had always had an advantage in global conflicts, because we’re kind of geographically isolated.
We had oceans on both sides of us, so even though we were engaged in world wars, our homeland itself was usually pretty protected. Nobody was actually flying over us all that ended as soon as Sputnik was launched and Americans were just appalled.
Should I even mention that we were flying you to spy planes over them for a couple of years before that I just leave that out yeah I’ll. Just leave that out the point is they had the ultimate high ground and people around the world, stared up at the sky, with trepidation and fear struggling to find that chrome, basketball of doom? One of those people was a 33 year old Navy test pilot in Norfolk.
Virginia his name was Alan Shepard and little did he know that this launch would set into motion events that would put his name in history books. Alan B Shepard jr. was born in Derry, New Hampshire in 1923 and his father Alan B Shepard senior served in both World War 1 and World War 2.
So he kind of grew up around the military. He was obsessed with airplanes as a kid, so much so that he actually started a model airplane Club in a school which is pretty much the nerdiest thing i’ve ever heard of and as a teenager, he would actually ride out to Manchester airfield And just do odd jobs for pilots in exchange for rides in their airplanes.
He excelled in school skipping, both the 6th grade and the eighth grade, so that by the time he graduated, he was only 16 years old and he wanted to join the forces and train to be a fighter pilot, but he was too young.
So, at the time he had to go into a prep school for the Naval Academy at this prep school, they tested his IQ and he reportedly tested at a genius-level 145. When he did later enter the Naval Academy.
He immediately wanted to train to be a fighter pilot, but in something that would become a recurring theme throughout Alan Shepards life. He had to wait because the Navy had a policy that all their fighter, pilots had to first serve at sea and they kind of needed men at sea due to a minor case of you know, World War, so in 1944 Ellen was posted to the destroyer, USS Cogswell, where, over the next year, he served in rescue operations and fight off kamikazes in the Battle of Okinawa and was even president Tokyo Bay for the surrender of Japan in September of 1945.
In literally two months after the war ended, he was at the Corpus, Christi Naval Air Station training to be a pilot. He struggled at first, but he actually did a little bit of extra training outside of the Navy to make up for it.
The Navy actually kind of frowns on that, but the extra work did pay off by the time he finished. He was considered one of the top pilots in his class and he was sent to Pensacola for advanced training.
Here he learned how to land on aircraft carriers, which was an insanely difficult thing to do, especially back in those days and then serve for the next ten years in the USS franklin roosevelt, where eventually, he was actually training other pilots, his piloting skills were so well Respected that he was selected to go the United States naval test flying school in Maryland.
Here he was put to work, testing, new plane, designs and procedures and along the way developed a bit of a reputation as a bad boy. Didn’t, really listen to Authority, a constant prankster and womanizer it didn’t really project that squeaky-clean image that the military wanted to put out to the world, but he was just so damn talented.
By 1957, he had risen to the rank of aircraft readiness officer for the commander-in-chief of the Atlantic Fleet out of Norfolk, with over 3600 hours of flight time, more than half of that in jets, which was still new technology.
At the time, Alan Shepards naval career was going great and then Sputnik happened. But Nick was a major embarrassment to the United States, who had just been failing over and over and over again with the Vanguard program, mostly because it was being split out between different military agencies.
But this guy President Eisenhower to put everything under one roof in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, also known as NASA and in late 1958, they announced Project Mercury, which is gon na, be their first manned space program, so NASA swept through the various test pilot programs.
In the military looking for astronaut candidates – and they had three mandatory qualifications, they must be under 40, have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent and must be under 5 foot 11 inches tall. There was actually some wiggle room in the first two criteria, but not in the height acquirement, because the mercury capsule was really small.
There was literally no wiggle room from an initial pull of 508 candidates that narrowed that down to 110. They started bringing those 110 in for interviews and from that they narrowed it down to 32 candidates, which were then put through a series of psychological and physical evaluations with the goal being to pick 6.
But the director of the space task group, a guy named Bob Gilbreath, whose job it was to pick these six couldn’t settle on six, so he went with seven. These best-of-the-best became known as the mercury 7 and they were scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Virgil, Gus, Grissom, Wally schirra, Alan Shepard and Donald K, deke slayton.
These were the heroes of the Mercury program, the guys with the right stuff, as they say, and one of the first things they learn right off. The bat was that being an incredible pilot was only a part of the job.
The mercury seven were rock stars of science: adventurers explorers fearless aviators. They were the ambassadors, the United States space program with all the hopes and dreams of an entire nation on their shoulders.
The astronauts were on magazine covers and billboards all over the country and with all this attention being paid to them, there was some concern about those bad boy waves of Alan Shepard, which had not quite gone away since flight school.
In fact, Alan was a bit of a mystery to the other astronauts. You know on one hand he was focused competent cool as a cucumber, utterly fearless a devoted family man with a solid head on his shoulders.
But then there was the other side of Alan Shepard. The hard drinking womanizing Corvette driving playboy the Cape that came to be known as smilin Al. He felt truly in his element at the Cape and he would climb down from his aircraft with a big goofy grin on his face and a swagger in his step.
That seemed to always be looking for action. In fact, a biographer later on described him as Donald Draper in a spacesuit. Apparently, this became such an issue that the other astronauts actually kind of staged, an intervention to try to rein him in, and one of his chief critics was John Glenn, who had been a rival of his for years and also had this perfectly clean-cut Boy Scout image And he basically told John Glenn to stick his moral, someplace, dark and damp.
Despite all this moral ambiguity and to the utter shock of the rest of the astronauts, Alan Shepard was chosen to be the first one to go up because he was just so damn talented. Actually, the official reason given was that he was the one that was known to be the coolest under pressure, which might have been true.
But another theory that came out later on that even Shepard subscribed to was that they were basically trying to represent the different branches of the military in the first launches that went up, Shepard being Navy, gus grissom, being Air Force in John Glenn being Marines.
In that order – and why did they give the first shot to the Navy because JFK, who was president at the time, was a Navy man? So the theory goes so Alan Shepard, the daring playboy of the Cape, got to be the first one to go, but like previously in his flying career, Alan was gon na have to wait.
He was originally scheduled to go up on April 26, 1960, but that got pushed and then it got pushed again and again and again again and again, some of those pushes were due to unplanned preparatory stuff.
But another reason why I kept beginning push was because NASA was kind of monkeying around literally before they put a human in space. Nasa wanted to test the effects of spaceflight on a chimpanzee so to Alan Shepards utter dismay.
He had to sit back and watch while NASA trained a chimp to do his job. Never have a job where you feel like a chimp could do what you do it’s, not a good feeling. January 31st of 1961 NASA finally got a chimp named ham up into space.
They learned what they needed to learn and then they focus their attention on Shepard and the mercury redstone rocket that was gon na. Take him into space and Shepard endured these endless delays. By going over the mission and a simulator over and over and over again, he actually simulated this launch a hundred and sixty times before he finally went up and during one of these delays with a scheduled flight.
Only a week away, Alan Shepard learned that the Soviets had done it again. On April 12, 1961 Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to go up into space, not only go up into space but actually orbit the earth.
So the Soviet Union, totally leapfrog, doesn’t every way seriously. Take just a second and imagine that you’re Alan Shepard here with all the ego and swagger that he had dealing through all these frustrating delays playing second fiddle to a chimp.
And after all that you have your big moments stolen out from under you, I think the word anger, doesn’t quite get there. Some accounts say that when he heard the news he punched a table so hard that the flight surgeons actually worried.
He might have broken his hand now if there’s an upside to this whole thing, it’s that just like Sputnik, this embarrassed the Americans enough to actually do something. So, on May 5th, just a few weeks later, Alan Shepard finally got his shot at space.
Now one thing that was different about Shepards flight to Eureka, Garren’s fight was that the Soviets launched totally in secret. So if they failed, then nobody would have known about that, but Alan Shepard walked out to that rocket to the glare of dozens of TV cameras that were broadcasting.
This live to the entire world. He famously paused and looked up to his rocket, and he explained this later on in an interview I remember saying to myself: well, I’m. Not gon na see this red stone again and you know pilots love to go out and kick the tires and it was sort of like reaching out and kicking the tires on the Redstone, because I stopped and looked at you know it looked back and up at This beautiful rocket and that well, ok, buster, let’s, go and get the job done, Shepard climbed to the top of the redstone rocket and entered his mercury capsule, which he had named freedom 7, both because it was the seventh capsule that had been Built, but also in honor of the seven astronauts, which was a naming tradition, that the other astronauts continued mercury capsules by the way were insanely, small and cramped.
In fact, John Glenn once famously said that you don’t get into a mercury capsule. You put it on Shepards capsule was so small and he was strapped in so tight that basically, the only thing that he could move were his eyeballs in one of his hands just a little bit enough to turn a knob mercury astronauts were not claustrophobic anyway.
The hatch was sealed, the gangway was moved and pretty soon after the countdown was stopped. They felt a problem with the inverter in the redstone rocket and by the time they got that fixed some weather had moved in that they weren’t too comfortable with so Alan Shepard sat there in those cramped conditions for more than four hours for Hours and conditions like that bad enough, but on top of that he kind of had to pee.
I got to the point where he finally asked Mission Control if he could just get out of the capsule to relieve himself, but getting in and out of the mercury capsule with such a production. They didn’t want to run the risk of something else going wrong, so they said yeah, sorry, no pee, for you later astronauts would have liquid waste collection systems built into their spacesuits.
But Alan Shepards flight was only supposed to last 15 minutes. So he had to go in his space suit. It’s, pretty gross, although here’s, Shepard talk about it later on. Apparently his undergarments were cotton and the head of a ventilation system inside of the suit.
So, by the time he launched, he was already dried, so maybe maybe not that gross – that’s still pretty gross after an entire year. Delays dealing with chimpanzees, getting beaten by the Soviets sitting there for four hours, his space suit soaked with urine Alan Shepard had finally had enough, and he growled to Mission Control the famous line.
Why don’t? You fix your little problem and light this candle and finally, they did at 9:34 a.m. the mercury redstone rocket with Alan Shepard on top cleared the tower and entered the history books. It rose 113 statute miles just past the Karman line, making them the first American in space while it was suborbital and it was overshadowed by CAG Aaron’s flight, both for being, first and for being orbital.
There were a few firsts for Shepards flight. One of which was that he actually performed a handful of maneuvers while out there, which gig Aaron’s. Flight was totally on autopilot. He was just along for the ride 15 minutes later: Shepard splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean 263 nautical miles from the launch pad and was recovered in minutes by a helicopter and taken to the USS Lake Champlain.
The whole recovery took only 11 minutes. Our boy Ellen became a national hero overnight, given ticker tape, parades in New York, Los Angeles and Washington DC. He met with President Kennedy and was given the National Distinguished Service Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross from here.
Alan Shepard was supposed to go up on another flight toward the end of the mercury program. In fact, he already had a capsule made for him and he had named it the freedom 7/2 in honor of his first one.
But after Gordon Cooper’s, flight jamesy Webb, the NASA Administrator decided they learned everything they needed from the mercury program and it was time to move on to the Gemini program, Gordon Cooper.
By the way he’s, not the most famous of the mercury astronauts, but he was up in space way longer than everybody else. In fact, his flight was more than twice as long as everybody else’s combined anyway.
Losing his second flight was a bit of a bummer for Alan Shepard, but he could console himself by the fact that he supposed to be one of the first people to go up into the Gemini missions, Jim and I of course involved two crew members.
Nee was supposed to go up with Tom Stafford, but in late 1963 he began to have sudden bouts of dizziness and vertigo, sometimes with nausea and a loud clanging sound in his left ear and the flight surgeon is diagnosed and was something called Meniere’S, disease, which causes a buildup of pressure in the ear canal, which leads to loss of orientation, and that sounds pretty awful for anybody, but for a pilot, and especially an astronaut that can be fatal.
So the worst thing that could have possibly happened to Alan Shepard happened Alan Shepard. He was grounded permanently. Obviously this was a huge blow, but he wasn’t completely out of the game. He was actually made chief of the astronaut office, which put him in charge of training and selecting future astronaut candidates.
This means he was selecting the astronauts for the Gemini and Apollo missions. He was personally handpicking the people that were gon na be going out to the moon. This gave Alan Shepard more power and control over the u.
s. space program than really any astronaut before or since, and while doing all of that during this time he also became a successful businessman. He invested in banks and real estate and cattle ranches like you do, but of course his heart was in flying.
I mean this is Alan Shepard for crying out loud. So in 1968, when he heard about an experimental procedure for Minnie Ayers disease, he flew out to Los Angeles, to meet with a doctor that performed this procedure.
A guy named William house. The surgery is performed in 1969 and was a total success which restored him to flight status and then NASA rearranged, the entire lineup of Apollo, so that he could be the commander of Apollo 14.
A couple of things here. First of all, a lot of people say that that air condition may have actually saved his life because early early on in the space program, he was considered a potential candidate for Apollo 1, which of course ended tragically in a fire that killed all three people on Board the other thing is, since Apollo 13 had to abort their landing.
He actually landed Apollo 14 in the Fra Mauro Highlands, which is where Apollo 13 was supposed to land. As a commander, he piloted the lunar lander, which was nicknamed Don tarae’s. To its landing point more accurately than any other Apollo mission and at 47 years old is to this day the oldest person to walk on the moon.
But what Apollo 14 is most known for is, of course, some Alan Shepard unbeknownst to the rest of the mission team. He snuck a 6-iron hit a couple of golf balls on board and became the first golfer on the moon.
Ellen Shepard was the only one of the mercury 7 astronauts that got to walk on the moon and was awarded the rank of Rear Admiral by Richard Nixon, the first astronaut to be given that rank. He was also named delegate to the United Nations and in 1974 he retired, from both the Navy and from NASA in later years, he devoted himself to his family and his business interest becoming a multimillionaire one of the most financially successful astronauts of all time.
He served on various corporate boards and established charities and scholarship grants, including the mercury 7 foundation, which confers college scholarships to kids who are interested in science and engineering fields.
In 1996, Alan Shepard was diagnosed with leukemia and he passed away two years later. In 1998, his wife, Louise, actually unexpectedly, passed away just a month later and they had their ashes scattered together at Stillwater Cove near their house.
In Pebble Beach, Alan Shepard was a legend period, his first flight, while small set in motion a program that would land us on the moon only eight years later, that was actually 50 years ago next month.
Ironically, that’s, the same amount of time since 2011, when the United States put out the last space shuttle mission, and we have not put up a single human being into space. Since then, that’s depressing, but that dry spell may end later this year, because Blue Origin is planning on putting up their first crewed mission on their suborbital vehicle that they’ve named the new Shepard after Alan Shepard, and I for One can’t, wait! Let’s.
Light this candle, I’m gon. Na be honest. I actually had a hard time putting this article together, because the whole space race thing is just fascinating to me. I think I left out twice as much information as I was actually able to put into this and it’s still a stupidly long article.
So I highly recommend, if you’re into this kind of stuff, to check out a book called moonshot. The inside story of America’s race to the moon, which I actually listen to to research. This article, inaudible moonshot, was actually co-written by Alan Shepard and deke Slayton and was also written by a guy named Jay Barbary, who’s, a journalist who has actually covered every single manned launch in the Unites States, history from Alan Shepard.
All the way, through the space shuttle program, it goes super in-depth. All the way back to the early struggles of you know, Wernher von Braun, trying to get the first rockets off the ground all the way to the moon landings and it’s, told from the inside perspective of the astronauts that we’Re actually, they’re.
Just the stories of the pranks that the mercury 7 astronauts played on each other is worth the price of admission. The Cape was basically a giant frat house back in those days and that price of admission by the way is free.
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You can imagine if you don & # 39, t want to read moonshot, but you’re, also interested in the space race. There’s, hundreds of other titles out there about that. If you want to learn about, I don’t know the history of shoelaces, weird flex, but do you boo audiobooks help you to kind of take this stuff in while you’re going on with your busy life and it’s free to check out so why not just go to audible.
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