The first American to travel in space, he also commanded the Apollo 14 lunar landing mission.
Alan Shepard, Jr. was born on November 18, 1923, in East Derry, New Hampshire. His father, a colonel in the Army Reserves worked in the banking and insurance industries. Alan attended primary and secondary schools in East Derry and Derry, before receiving a Bachelor of Science degree from the United States Naval Academy in 1944. He also received an Honorary Master of Arts degree from Dartmouth College (1962), an Honorary Doctorate of Science from Miami (Ohio) University (1971), and an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities from Franklin Pierce College (1972).
Shepard began his naval career in 1944 on the destroyer USS Cogswell, deployed in the Pacific during World War II. He subsequently entered flight training at Corpus Christi, Texas, and Pensacola, Florida, receiving his pilot wings in 1947. He was then with Fighter Squadron 42 in Norfolk, Virginia, and Jacksonville, Florida. He served several tours aboard aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean while with this squadron.
In 1950, Shepard attended the United States Navy Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Maryland. After graduating the next year, he participated in flight tests, including high-altitude missions to obtain data on light at different altitudes and on a variety of air masses over the American continent. He also conducted test and development experiments of the Navy’s in-flight refueling system, carrier suitability trials of the F2H3 Banshee, and Navy trials of the first angled carrier deck. He was then assigned to Fighter Squadron 193 at Moffett Field, California, a night fighter unit flying Banshee jets. As operations officer of this squadron, he made two tours in the western Pacific onboard the carrier USS Oriskany.
Alan Shepard returned to Patuxent for a second tour of duty and engaged in flight-testing the F3H Demon, F8U Crusader, F4D Skyray, and F11F Tigercat. He was also the project test pilot on the F5D Skylancer. His last five months at Patuxent were spent as an instructor in the Test Pilot School. He then attended the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island, and upon graduating in 1957, was assigned to the staff of the Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet, as aircraft readiness officer. In his military career, he logged more than 8,000 hours flying time including 3,700 hours in jet aircraft.
Alan Shepard was one of the original seven Mercury astronauts named by NASA in April 1959. On May 5, 1961, he became the first American to journey into space when his Freedom 7 capsule was launched by a Redstone vehicle on a suborbital flight to an altitude of 116 statute miles. He landed 302 miles down the Atlantic Missile Range after reaching speeds of 5,100 miles per hour during his fifteen-minute flight. He had demonstrated control of a vehicle during weightlessness and high G stresses. Recovery operations were perfect; there was no damage to the spacecraft, and astronaut Shepard was in excellent condition. Three days later he was awarded NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal for his flight.
An inner ear problem then grounded Shepard, and in 1963, he was put in charge of the astronauts’ office. As designated Chief of the Astronaut Office, he was responsible for monitoring the coordination, scheduling, and control of all activities involving NASA astronauts until 1973.
After his ear condition was corrected by surgery, Alan Shepard, NASA’s oldest astronaut, made his second and final space flight as Spacecraft Commander on Apollo 14, from January 31 to February 9, 1971. With him on man’s third lunar landing mission was Stuart A. Roosa, Command Module pilot, and Edgar D. Mitchell, Lunar Module pilot. After reaching lunar orbit, Shepard and Mitchell separated the Lunar Module Antares and descended to the Moon’s surface. The Antares landed in the Fra Mauro Formation on February 5, less than 60 feet from the planned landing point. In their first extra-vehicular activity (EVA) the two astronauts collected a 43-pound contingency sample; deployed a TV S-band antenna, an American flag, and the Solar Wind Composition experiment, and took photographs. They also deployed the Apollo lunar surface experiments package (ALSEP) and the laser-ranging retro-reflector, and conducted an active seismic experiment, firing thirteen thumper shots into the lunar surface.
A second EVA period began on February 6. Shepard and Mitchell loaded the mobile equipment transporter – used for the first time – with photographic equipment, tools, and a lunar portable magnetometer. They made a geology traverse toward the rim of Cone Crater, collecting samples on the way. On their return, they adjusted the alignment of the ALSEP central station antenna to strengthen the signal. Just before reentering the Antares, Shepard dropped a golf ball onto the lunar surface and with a one-arm swing, drove it over 1100 feet. The second EVA had lasted 4 hours 35 minutes, making a total EVA time for the mission of 9 hours 24 minutes. The Antares lifted off the moon with 95 pounds of lunar samples on February 6 after a 33-hour sojourn.
Meanwhile, Stuart Roosa, orbiting the moon in the Command Service Module Kitty Hawk, took astronomy and lunar photos, including photos of the proposed landing site for Apollo 16. After rendezvousing with the Antares, Apollo 14 was placed on its trajectory toward earth after 34 lunar orbits. During the return journey, four in-flight technical demonstrations of equipment and processes in zero gravity were performed before the Kitty Hawk splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on February 9.
In his two spaceflights Shepard logged a total of 216 hours and 57 minutes in space. He retired on August 1, 1974, from both NASA and the Navy, with the rank of rear admiral. Shepard became chairman of Marathon Construction Corp. in Houston. He joined the board of directors of several other companies and started Seven Fourteen Enterprises (named for Freedom 7 and Apollo 14), which served as an umbrella company for several enterprises. He also served for many years as the chairman of the Mercury 7 Foundation, now known as the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.
Admiral Shepard was awarded two NASA Distinguished Service Medals, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, the Navy Astronaut Wings, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, and the Navy Distinguished Flying Cross. He was also a recipient of the Langley Medal (highest award of the Smithsonian Institution) in 1964, the Lambert Trophy, the Kincheloe Trophy, the Cabot Award, the Collier Trophy, the City of New York Gold Medal (1971), and the American Astronautical Society’s Flight Achievement Award for 1971. In 1978, Rear Admiral Shepard became one of the six original recipients of the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, for his Freedom 7 mission. Alan Shepard died near Monterey, California on July 22, 1998, at age of 74.