Alan Shepard first American in space – 48 years ago today
When Alan Shepard was launched into space aboard Freedom 7 in 1961, he was (briefly) one of the most famous men on the planet.
Next year, when John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth, Shepard became less visible. And, due to a medical condition affecting his inner ear—and his balance—he was grounded. He wouldn’t fly another Mercury flight. And he’d miss flying Gemini entirely.
He became “chief astronaut” and worked with the flight crews. He was a tough guy, and angry at being grounded. His moods were, during this period, unpredictable.
Return to flight
But, after a risky operation, Shepard’s condition was fixed, and he was returned to flight status. With only 15 minutes of space flight experience, Shepherd was selected to command Apollo 14. On this mission, he became the 5th man to walk on the moon.
The “icy commander” felt the weight of his successful struggle to return to flight, and is believed to be the first person ever to weep on the lunar surface.
Shepard died of lukemia in 1998. According to John Glenn’s autobiography, Glenn was searching for any kind of treatmenet—even experimental—that could save his old astronaut buddy. Glenn is one of only two surviving Mercury astronauts. (the other is Scott Carpenter.)