After graduating from the Naval Academy in 1944, Shepard entered naval service the end of WWII. After the war, he went to flight school and became a Navy pilot and eventually a test pilot, logging more than 8,000 flight hours. In 1959, he joined NASA and was chosen to pilot the Freedom 7 for America’s first manned space mission. Launching on 5 May 1961, Shepard’s suborbital flight lasted 15 minutes and took him 116 miles above the earth. Shepard continued to work for NASA, although health issues kept him from space until 1971, when he commanded the Apollo 14 mission to the moon, where he famously hit two golf balls. Shepard retired from NASA and the Navy as a rear admiral in 1974.
Alan B Shepard
On 5 May 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American in space, aboard the Freedom 7. Just a month earlier, the Russians had put the first man into space, Yuri Gagarin on 12 April. Though Shepard’s flight entered space, it didn’t go into orbit, instead maintaining a ballistic trajectory. Shepard’s famous words to himself prior to launch were “Don’t f-ck up, Shepard.”
Meeting Adm. Shepard - "The Right Stuff"
In 1996 I met Admiral Shepard at Dulles airport, while we were both waiting for our luggage - we were the last two passengers on a flight from Phoenix. After introductions, I asked the Admiral about the movie 'Apollo 13' (coincidentally it was shown during our flight). He smiled and said that Ron Howard did a great job with it, that the movie was pretty accurate and that he was quite annoyed that he didn't make that flight. I then asked the Admiral about the movie "The Right Stuff", gushing and blushing that it was one of my favorite movies. He puffed up, reddened, became visibly agitated and said that he was not consulted about the content of the book nor the movie - that the movie was by in large 'totally Hollywood'. He casually dismissed my gushing and blushing - obviously, he was used to it. Adm. Shepard then switched subjects and became very interested in my career and company, he seemed truly interested in what I was doing. He said he was working for a investment firm that was taking software companies public. He was quite pleased of his most recent IPO - I don't recall the company's name, Wave, perhaps. He asked a number of questions about software design. We talked for about 20 minutes or more. Finally, his driver appeared, gathered his luggage, and off the Adm. went, casting a broad grin and wave, yet catching himself mid-step, stopping to ask if I needed a lift. (I didn't.) I found Adm. Shepard to be personable, professional, and proud. All the time I was talking with Adm. Shepard I couldn't help but think (screaming in my head) that I just shook the hand of the first American in space, a man who had visited to the moon, an incredibly brave man. I'll never forget meeting him... our own star-man, a true hero and despite his disapproval, a man of "the right stuff". Rest in peace, Admiral Shepard.