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Alan Shepard's Death

Alan Shepard

The life and death of Alan Shepard:

He was the first American to ride a rocket into space and as a pioneering member of the NASA team not only got a chance to be the fifth man to walk on the Moon but to also hit a couple of golf balls on the orbiting sand trap.

Alan Bartlett Shepard was born in Derry, New Hampshire. His father was Lieutenant Colonel Alan Shepard Senior and his mom's maiden name was Renza Emerson.

Alan Shepard baby photo

Shepard was a descendant of Mayflower passenger Richard Warren. As a young boy he cleaned out aircraft hangars and got flying lessons.

Alan graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1944…

Alan Shepard, U.S. Naval Academy

…and went on to Naval service in World War II in the Pacific on the USS Cogswell. He saw combat action and earned his wings as a Naval Aviator after the war, in 1947. By 1950, he was a test pilot at the Naval Test Pilot School at NAS Patuxent River in Maryland and worked with several cutting edge aircraft.

Alan Shepard in naval aircraft

Less than ten years later, he was one of the 100 military test pilots to join NASA – the National Aeronautic and Space administration and after passing a series of very tough tests, became one of the seven Mercury Astronauts – the first team of Americans going into space.

Alan Shepard on cover of LIFE magazine

And Alan was first among the first, piloting the Freedom 7 mission on May 5, 1961…

Alan Shepard,  piloting the Freedom 7 mission

…the first American to fly into space…

…and only the second space traveler in history, after the orbiting Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.

Yuri Gagarin

Shepard didn't make it into orbit like Gagarin – he went up 116 miles and then came splashing down.

Alan Shepard back from first trip into orbit

But he was a part of history.

He remained part of NASA too, but was taken off flight duty when he was diagnosed with an inner ear condition. But following corrective surgery, he was restored to full flight status in May, 1969 and was part of the Apollo 14 crew , during which 47 year old Alan enjoyed his moon walk and golf ball driving practice.

After leaving the space program, he was named a delegate to the UN General Assembly by President Richard Nixon and served on the boards of several major companies.

Alan Shepard died at the age of 74 of leukemia in Pebble Beach, California and his long time wife Louise…

Alan Shepard with his wife

…died five weeks later. The remains of the couple, married 53 years, were cremated and their ashes were scattered together by a Navy helicopter in front of their Pebble Beach home. Alan and Louise Shepard had three daughters - two natural and one adopted…

Alan Shepard with wife and kids

…and six grandchildren.

Pioneers Of Flight