was the first, so his ride into almost-space, while mind-blowingly spectacular
from our prehistoric point of view back on the morning of May 5, 1961,
was really just a baby step before the marathon technological triumphs
that were to follow so quickly on his heels that, in realtiy, his flight
receded into the distant annals of NASA. When it was mentioned, it was
mentioned with a laugh. He just went up and down. That was it. In retrospect
it was laughably easy. Simple. Nothing at all. A walk in the park. But,
he was the first. He went up into the unknown, breaking a bond of mystery
and doubt, and then he came down into history.
He was 37. A father. Fit. And, many thought, finished in the space business after one flight.
The line of subsequent astronauts queuing up stretched off into the distance of Mercury and Gemini all the way to the then just dreamed-of Moon landings. He had been given the most dangerous mission into space of all, the first. It turned out to be embarrassingly simplistic, and certainly it was the easiest, least interesting, least challenging and the briefest of them all. It was over in less than 15 minutes. The monkies had done more.
But, for the next ten years he did something that will live long in the history of our space program and should serve as an example to all who follow in every walk of life: he never gave up.
He continued to serve as Mission Control, backup, teacher, consultant and he stayed in top physical shape. He kept his spirits up andhe contributed in every way possible to the program.
He overcame serious physical difficulties, hung in there, and then in 1971, ten years later, he was given the command of Apollo 14, the first mission after the disastrous Apollo 13.
He spent 33 hours on the Moon, became the only person to strike a golf ball in space, and set innumerable other records in space, some of which may never be broken.
And he retired from the Navy with the rank of Admiral.
Alan B. Shepard, Jr. was born on November 18, 1923, in East Derry, New Hampshire. His early education took place in a one-room K-12 schoolhouse, next to an airfield.
John Glenn's orbital flight quickly eclipsed Shepard's, as did Glenn's fame. But, unlike Glenn, Shepard made it to the Moon.
For those of you out there working every day, hoping for something special, remember Alan B. Shepard, Jr. Ten years of being a has-been, of being over-looked and passed by; ten years of lonely resolve. And then... guess what?
So, hang in there. Imagine how he felt on that day, February 5, 1971, standing in the dust of what the rest of us only look at and wonder, or kiss in the shadow of. There he was. On the Moon. If you listen to the tapes of that mission it is clear that it was one of the most flawless of all, some consider it the perfect Moon mission.
He is a legend, not just for his accomplishments, but also for his character and for his surprising faith in himself.
Keep an eye out for the Alan B. Shepard, Jr. in you: he'll take you places.
See you next time.