(born Nov. 18, 1923, East Derry, N.H., U.S.—died July 21, 1998, Monterey, Calif.) U.S. astronaut. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and served in the Pacific during World War II. In 1959 he became one of the original seven Mercury program astronauts. In May 1961, 23 days after Yury A. Gagarin became the first human to orbit Earth, Shepard made a 15-minute suborbital flight that reached an altitude of 115 mi (185 km). He later commanded the Apollo 14 flight (1971), the first to land in the lunar highlands. Retiring from NASA and the navy in 1974, he entered private business.
Learn more about Shepard, Alan B(artlett), Jr. with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr. (November 18, 1923 – July 21, 1998) (Rear Admiral, USN, Ret.) was the second man and the first American in space. He later commanded the Apollo 14 mission, and was the fifth man to walk on the moon. He was also one of many famous descendants of Mayflower passenger Richard Warren.
Shepard began his naval career after graduation from Annapolis, on the destroyer USS Cogswell, deployed in the Pacific Ocean during World War II. He subsequently entered flight training at Corpus Christi, Texas and Pensacola, Florida, and received his wings in 1947. His next assignment was with Fighter Squadron 42 at Norfolk, Virginia and Jacksonville, Florida. He served several tours aboard aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean while with this squadron.
In 1950, he attended the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Maryland. After graduation, he participated in flight test work which included high-altitude tests to obtain data on light at different altitudes and on a variety of air masses over the American continent; test and development experiments of the Navy's in-flight refueling system; carrier suitability trials of the F2H-3 Banshee; and Navy trials of the first angled carrier deck. He was subsequently 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 to the western Pacific on board the carrier USS Oriskany.
He returned to Patuxent for a second tour of duty and engaged in flight testing the F3H Demon, F8U Crusader, F4D Skyray, and F11F Tiger. He was also project test pilot on the F5D Skylancer, and his last five months at Patuxent were spent as an instructor in the Test Pilot School. He later attended the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island, and upon graduating in 1957 was subsequently assigned to the staff of the Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet, as aircraft readiness officer.
He logged more than 8,000 hours flying time—3,700 hours in jet aircraft.
In January, 1961 Shepard was chosen for the first American manned mission into space. Although the flight was originally scheduled to take place in October 1960, delays caused by unplanned preparatory work meant that this was postponed several times, initially to March 6, 1961 and finally to May, 1961. On April 12, 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had become the first man to orbit the Earth.
On May 5, 1961, Shepard piloted the Freedom 7 mission and became the second person, and the first American, to travel into space. He was launched by a Redstone rocket, and unlike Gagarin's one-hour orbital flight, Shepard stayed on a ballistic trajectory suborbital flight—a flight which carried him to an altitude of 116 statute miles and to a landing point 302 statute miles down the Atlantic Missile Range. Unlike Gagarin, whose flight was strictly automatic, Shepard had some control of Freedom 7, spacecraft attitude in particular. The launch, return from space and subsequent collection by helicopter were seen live on television by millions.
Shortly before the launch, Shepard said "Please, dear God, don't let me fuck up." This has since become known among aviators as "Shepard's Prayer."
Later, he was scheduled to pilot the Mercury-Atlas 10 Freedom 7-II, three day extended duration mission in October 1963. The MA-10 mission was cancelled on June 13, 1963. He was the back-up pilot for Gordon "Gordo" Cooper for the MA-9 mission.
Also in 1963, he was designated Chief of the Astronaut Office with responsibility for monitoring the coordination, scheduling, and control of all activities involving NASA astronauts. This included monitoring the development and implementation of effective training programs to assure the flight readiness of available pilot/non-pilot personnel for assignment to crew positions on manned space flights; furnishing pilot evaluations applicable to the design, construction, and operations of spacecraft systems and related equipment; and providing qualitative scientific and engineering observations to facilitate overall mission planning, formulation of feasible operational procedures, and selection and conduct of specific experiments for each flight.
At age 47, and the oldest astronaut in the program, Shepard made his second space flight as commander of Apollo 14, January 31–February 9, 1971, America's third successful lunar landing mission. Shepard piloted his Lunar Module Antares to the most accurate landing of the entire Apollo program. This was the first mission to successfully broadcast color television pictures from the surface of the Moon, using the vidicon tube. (The color camera on Apollo 12 provided a few brief moments of color telecasting before it was inadvertently pointed at the sun, effectively ending its usefulness.) While on the Moon, Shepard played golf with a Wilson six-iron head attached to a lunar sample scoop handle Despite thick gloves and a stiff spacesuit which forced him to swing the club with one hand only, Shepard struck two golf balls, driving the second, as he jokingly put it, "miles and miles and miles."
Following Apollo 14, Shepard returned to his position as Chief of the Astronaut Office in June, 1971. He was promoted to Rear Admiral before finally retiring both from the Navy and NASA on August 1, 1974.
A model of the Redstone missile which was used to launch Shepard aboard Freedom 7 into space, is still on display in the Warren, New Hampshire town square.
Derry almost changed its name to "Spacetown", considering it in honor of his career as an astronaut. Following an Act of Congress, the Post Office in Derry is designated the 'Alan B. Shepard, Jr. Post Office Building'.
His high school alma mater in Derry, Pinkerton Academy, has a building named after him, and the school team name is the Astros after his career as an astronaut.
Alan B. Shepard High School, in Palos Heights, Illinois, which opened in 1976, was named in his honor. Framed newspapers throughout the school depict various accomplishments and milestones in Shepard's life. Additionally, an autographed plaque commemorates the dedication of the building. The school newspaper is named Freedom 7 and the yearbook is entitled Odyssey.
Other schools which honor his memory include Alan B. Shepard Middle School, Deerfield, Illinois; Alan B. Shepard Middle School, San Antonio, Texas; Alan B. Shepard Elementary School, Bourbonnais, Illinois, Alan B. Shepard Elementary School, Old Bridge, New Jersey and, formerly, Alan B. Shepard Elementary School in Highland Park, Illinois (closed).
Always a shrewd businessman, Shepard was the first astronaut to become a millionaire while still in the program. After he left the program, he served on the boards of many corporations under the auspices of his Seven-Fourteen Enterprises (named for his two flights, Freedom 7 and Apollo 14).
In 1994, he published a book with two journalists, Jay Barbree and Howard Benedict, called Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon. Fellow Mercury astronaut Deke Slayton is also named as an author, but he died before the project was completed and was an author in name only. The book generated some controversy for use of a deliberately faked photo showing Shepard hitting a golf ball on the moon (the only other usable photo was a grainy TV videotape), a photo which Barbree re-used in a 2007 memoir. The book was also turned into a TV miniseries in 1994.
Shepard died of leukemia near his home in Pebble Beach, California on July 21, 1998, two years after being diagnosed with that disease. His wife of 53 years, the former Louise Brewer, died five weeks afterward. Both were cremated, and their ashes were committed to the sea.
They had three daughters, Laura (born in 1947), Juliana (born in 1951) and Alice (born in 1951). He also had six grandchildren. Laura had a daughter, Lark and son, Bart. Juliana had a daughter, Ethney and son, Shepard. Alice had a son, Reid, and a daughter, Heather.