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The First American Astronaut - Alan Shepard

Abhijit Naik
On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard wrote a new chapter in the history of the United States by becoming the first American to go to the space.
Alan Shepard was a former NASA astronaut and a retired Rear Admiral from the United States Navy. Born on November 18, 1923, in New Hampshire, Alan has some distinctive accomplishments to his credit, such as being the first American in space and also the fifth person to set foot on the Moon.

Career in the US Navy

Shepard initially earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the United States Naval Academy. In 1944, immediately after his graduation, he began his naval career on destroyer, USS Cogswell in World War II. In 1947, he received his wings, after the successful completion of flight training in Florida and Texas.
After a brief stint with Fighter Squadron 42, Alan entered the United States Naval Test Pilot School in Maryland in 1950. After graduating from there and a brief period of participation in various flight tests, Shepard was assigned to Fighter Squadron 193 based at Moffett Field in California, as an operations officer.
He completed 8000 hours of flying time, of which 3700 hours were logged in jet aircraft. He flight-tested aircraft like F3H Demon, F8U Crusader, F4D Skyray, F5D Skylancer, etc. He also spent some period working as an instructor for a test pilot school.
Later, in 1957, he graduated from the Naval War College at Rhode Island, and was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet as aircraft readiness officer.

First Space Flight

In 1959, Shepard was invited by NASA to volunteer for the first manned spaceflight program. After going through some grueling tests, he was selected for NASA Group 1 on April 9, 1959, as one of the seven astronauts for the Mercury Project. He piloted this mission, which was originally scheduled for October 1960, but actually took place on May 5, 1961.
He was launched in space by a Redstone rocket. This made Shepard the first American and the second person in space, after Yuri Gagarin, who achieved this feat on April 12, 1961. Shepard was honored as a national hero on his return, with parades being held in major cities like Washington and New York. He also met the then President, John F. Kennedy.
Shepard was also scheduled to pilot Mercury-Atlas 10 mission in October 1963, but this mission was later canceled. In the same year, he was designated to the post of the Chief of the Astronaut Office, wherein he was responsible for monitoring, coordination, scheduling, and controlling all activities involving NASA astronauts.
In 1964, he was diagnosed with Meniere's disease, due to which his flight status was temporarily suspended.

Second Space Flight

After a successful surgery and speedy recovery, Shepard was back. His full flight status was restored in May 1969 and he was given the charge to command Apollo 13, but later exchanged the mission with the crew of Apollo 14, as it was assumed that the crew needed more training. Apollo 14 was the third successful lunar landing mission by the United States.
The nine-day mission was launched on January 31, 1971. Shepard was made the commander of this mission; it was his second space flight. At the age of 47, he was the oldest member of the crew. This was the first mission to successfully telecast colored pictures from the surface of the Moon. In this mission, Shepard, reportedly, played golf on the Moon.
After the completion of Apollo 14, Shepard rejoined as the Chief of the Astronaut Office in June 1971. He retired from NASA as well as the United States Navy on August 1, 1974. Prior to his retirement, he was promoted to the designation of Rear Admiral.
Shepard died on July 21, 1998, in California, after battling leukemia for two years. His wife Louise Brewer died five weeks after his death. They are survived by their three daughters, Laura, Juliana, and Alice.
The long list of awards and honors received by Alan Shepard include Congressional Space Medal of Honor, NASA Distinguished Service Medals, and Navy Distinguished Service Medal.
A navy supply ship was named 'Alan Shepard (T-AKE-3)' after him. In 2001, space foundation in association with Astronauts Memorial Foundation and NASA, instituted the 'Alan Shepard Technology in Education Award' to be given to K-12 educators or district-level administrators for their outstanding contribution to educational technology
So, ten years after his death, his legacy continues, and Shepard will always be honored as the first American astronaut to travel in space.