Astronaut of the Month - Alan Shepard
Alan Shepard grew up wanting to fly. After graduating from the Naval Academy in 1944, Shepard served on the USS Cogswell where he saw active combat in the Pacific. After the war, he attended flight training in January 1946 and was then assigned to the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt as a fighter pilot.
In 1950 he attended test pilot training. His first assignment as a test pilot gained him valuable experience flying jet planes, which he used during two tours aboard the USS Oriskany. After another assignment as a test pilot, he became an instructor at the test pilot school, then attended the Naval War College.
His upward trajectory in the Navy likely would have continued, but in 1959 he was identified as a potential candidate for a brand new space program and given the opportunity to volunteer. He did so, and was selected to become one of America’s very first astronauts. As one of the Mercury 7, he competed for and got the assignment he’d wanted.
On May 5, 1961, Shepard became the first American to get to space, less than a month behind Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. Although Gagarin’s much larger craft stayed in space longer, it was operated remotely from the ground. Shepard was responsible for some maneuvering of the Freedom 7 during his suborbital trip.
After being diagnosed with an inner ear disease in 1963, Shepard was removed from flight status, though he continued to serve as Chief of the Astronaut Office, which made him responsible for astronaut training. In 1969, surgery corrected the problem and he was reinstated to full flight status. This allowed him to take a spot on the Apollo docket.
Originally he was slated to command the ill fated Apollo 13 mission, but due to concerns about the relative inexperience of the combined crew, the crews of the Apollo 13 and 14 missions switched places. The two missions were expected to be similar. Instead, Jim Lovell and his crew underwent a terrifying ordeal, while Shepard got to walk on the moon in early 1971. He was the fifth (and oldest) man to do so.